Burning the final rock of the game

What would you do? It wasn't a hypothetical for me.

This past weekend in our in-town mixed doubles bonspiel, the Mucky Duck, we played our C Event semis against another BG team. We agreed prior to the match that the outcome of this game would count toward our club mixed doubles league. The game was tied in the 8th end. They had hammer. We had played a marvelous end with frozen rocks stacked in the four, forcing them to draw to the button for the win. The shot was swept out of the hand the entire way. However the rock was burned as it approached the house.

It resulted in something like this (the burn happened somewhere on the X, maybe a bit before that):

A couple things here! First of all, the sweeper readily admitted it as it happened. This was crucial. We’re calling all our own fouls, rec league game or otherwise. Secondly, and it probably carried some weight to the matter, but they made the damn shot. And thirdly, maybe I should’ve thrown top 8 closer to the center line?

I've written about the gamesmanship of burned rocks before. It’s the violation that really gets to the heartbeat of the sport. Here's the rule, if you are unfamiliar with it: once the stone has been released, you can't touch it. Even inadvertently. If it's with your broom, or your foot, or something falls out of your pocket. (I ran an online poll to see if sweat beads falling on it are considered a burned rock. At press time, less than 25 percent think it is.)

If the burn happens prior to the near hogline, it’s a violation and removed from play. If it happens past the hog, the other team gets a choice for what happens. Basically I was in a new scenario: choosing whether we won or lost the game. Mind you, it was to advance to an event final, bagpipes and all. And let me tell you, it kinda sucked!

Here’s what was swirling in my head: I’m entirely within my right to take the win. Of course, I didn’t want to win it on a technicality. On the other hand, I thought we played well enough to make the event final. And then again so did they. And the other team seemed a little tired, maybe they didn’t want to play the game … but we were tired too! Everybody’s looking at us, we just have to come up with something, there’s no wrong answer!

After a few minutes of half-thoughts just bubbling out of me, we agreed — their idea — they would win the “league” game, and we would play the event final. Look at that. Some type of compromise. We’d again play another slog of a game to win the C Event.

The sport always pushes you to situations you haven’t seen, and you work through the spirit of curling to come to something. And it doesn’t matter what the decision is, so long as you’re honest.

Then on the other hand, something happened in Europe. The European Curling Championships began last weekend, and it’s quite an event to follow. There are basically two tiers of teams, with promotion and relegation aplenty, not to mention world championship berths at stake. Norway and Thomas Ulsrud’s new-look boring-pants team was leading England comfortably 8-3 at the break when they decided to get in their alternate for a few stones. They misinterpreted the rules, thinking that each player had to use their own broom, when in fact the alternate had to use the outgoing player’s broomhead. They used the spare broom for a few stones until an official reminded them, Norway corrected it, and they went on until England conceded, 9-5. After the game Norway was informed that they had to forfeit the game to England for breaking the rules. That ruling has been certified by the WCF and they say there’s no changing it. Norway vice-skip Steffen Walstad went on a (since deleted, but very much screencapped) screed against umpires on Facebook, basically saying why even have them if they’re not going to apply the spirit of curling to the letter of the rules, and the stink is still out there.

I guess we’re finally getting the #robotumps movement into curling.

Once again, this is a rule put into place about three to four years ago, when the Broomhaha (which is such a better term than its -gate cousin) resulted in the standardized yellow pad. They didn’t want any teams gaining an advantage somehow. At that level, players are changing out their pads every game, so it stands to reason that a new pad would be an advantage. So I get the reasoning behind the rule.

We’re thinking of Norway’s impact in all this, of course, because they won the game and were the better team, and are even an ECC contender. But what about England? They did nothing wrong and the rules say they should win. A “spirit of curling” enthusiast may want to say that they should be allowed to give the win back to Norway, instead wanting to win a game on their own. But this is England’s first go-around at the A-level since 2003. They have as much to play for — to stick around and also to qualify for the world championship.

The push and pull, in this case, is at what point do you let the players become arbiters of the rules? They could have written it to say that the non-offending team is given an option … but having been in that situation, again, it’s no fun, man!

Several Canadian curlers including Ben Hebert, Brent Laing and James Grattan have all commented/tweeted in support of Norway, taking a zing at the WCF, and hoping they don’t do this again in the future. They will, of course, so long as the rules are in play. They all just want some easy to follow rules, and as long as broomheads exist, we’re going to wrestle with fairness.

Oh, and one of the draws had a fire alarm and everyone, spectators and players, had to evacuate mid-game. Europeans, man.

• Jamie Sinclair won the Red Deer Classic in a rather wild game, going up 5-2, losing the lead, and stealing the final end. Again, we have a few months to decide if we like Sinclair or Tabitha Peterson better in the final. And we’ll change our mind several times.

• Via @curlinggeek, there are many ways to get the general curling populace to attend a bonspiel, and this is definitely one of them: “no games before 9 a.m.”

• Normally this is where I’d say “this is why you shouldn’t slide out without a rock” but it happened after he got up, so.

• And finally, when you get right down to it, SEGA never really quite nailed the equivalent to Nintendo’s Koopa, did they.