Calling for the right answer

Calling for the right answer

DALLAS, TX - After a recent match on the APP Tour, Megan Fudge walked off the court in defeat and then immediately forfeited her next match, giving up a chance to win gold. She took the bronze instead.

Then Fudge said she was done. Fudge announced she’s not going to play any more singles events on the APP Tour until something changed.

Her point, and this one wasn’t going to be overruled, was the system is broken. It needs to be fixed.

“It’s time to have harsher consequences,” she said.

Is it? Is pickleball headed in the direction of penalizing players for wrong calls, taking away points, games or even matches?

Maybe. And maybe Fudge is right.

Every pro tour, including the PPA Tour and Major League Pickleball leave making line calls up to the players. However, PPA and MLP have video review systems in place for many of its matches, including all medal matches and matches on its “Center Courts.” The APP Tour does not have video reviews.

The way pickleball is set up, from the recreational level, to the pros, the calls are left in the hands of the players. Refereed matches provide some recourse for questioned calls, but for the most part, players get the final say - which has become so problematic that Fudge said she won’t be back on the singles court on the APP Tour.

Cameras, video, whatever. That’s not the true issue. The fact is, pickleball is certainly at a crossroads. It’s exploding in popularity and prize money for the professionals is on a rapid ascension and the players are the ones in charge of a bulk of the calls. That’s a lot of pressure and responsibility.

"In a perfect world, players wouldn’t have to make their own line calls,” said PPA Tour pro Tyler Loong. "Being realistic and dealing with the economics and logistics, it’s not feasible.”

Loong is right. Tennis, the most-comparable sport to pickleball, has a lot more discretionary money to funnel toward cameras, replay and the like. Same goes for other sports which have made the move, somewhat, away from being entirely reliable on the human element. Basketball, football, baseball, soccer - all have video replay components to their game at the professional level.

But more significantly, all have penalties for the players for making the wrong call. And that’s Fudge’s point. Right now, in the system in place on the APP Tour, there is nothing to keep a player from repeatedly making a bad call. The only consequence, and it’s not much of one, is a referee overruling it.

“I’d like to see consequences for making the wrong line calls,” Fudge said. “I’m talking about repeated occasions. I’m talking about repeat-offenders. I don’t want anyone to be singled out. I’m asking for a general rule change where three overrules means the loss of a point, four overrules is the loss of a game, and five is the loss of a match.”

On the PPA Tour, if a player has a timeout they are allowed to challenge a call on any rally ending action. That means if the opponent calls it out, a challenge can be issued. It means if the ref makes a call that ends the rally, a challenge can be issued. A player cannot challenge a call that doesn’t end a rally - in other words, a player can’t go back at the end of the rally and argue about a shot that didn’t force the closure of the rally. In addition, only the loser of the rally may challenge. Also, in an effort for “fair-play,” the PPA Tour grants a free challenge on any match point.

The ability to go to replay on the PPA Tour is crucial for players. If they sense an opponent is continually making bad calls, they have the reassurance that video replay can back them up. On the APP Tour, that’s not the case, and all a player like Fudge, for instance can do, is hope for the best and hope the referee will overrule, despite the long odds it will happen, as referees won’t overrule unless they are 100-percent sure.

“Right now, we don’t have a video in place (on the APP Tour),” Fudge said. “And there’s no limit to making mistakes. Unfortunately, we have to be aware it creates more wishful thinking on the line calls. It’s time for harsher consequences.”

Similar to the APP Tour, the PPA and MLP don’t have a procedure in place to penalize players who are overruled on a particular call. Players who feel they have been wronged can always challenge, and if they are correct, they won’t lose a timeout, but the offending player can conceivably make calls to force a replay. And a player may not want to risk a timeout over and over again.

And, at least on the PPA Tour, there are no plans to start penalizing players for making the wrong call.

“I think there are other remedies other than a point or game deduction,” said PPA Head Referee Don Stanley. “Players are going to continue to make these calls. There’s too much mutual respect. They make the best calls to their ability and in good faith, plus, you get someone you’re facing today who might be your partner tomorrow. When you’re that close, you’re not going to make calls you’re not sure about.”

Fudge is making a simple request. If a player is overruled three times, it’s the loss of a point. Four times means it’s the loss of a game. Five teams means the loss of a match. College tennis has similar rules.

“When players are purposely ‘hooking’ in games, the integrity of the sport starts to lose validity,” said PPA pro Lindsey Newman. “Losing the current game you’re in after (multiple) overrules would be harsh, but it’s fair punishment for flat-out ‘hooking’ line calls.”

However, Stanley said there are other options, suggesting players can ask for a new referee, or ask for line judges.

In lieu of that, when the players are competing, a ball gets called out that should have been called in, what’s the feeling?

"It’s really frustrating and upsetting when a ball that I believe was in gets called out,” said PPA Tour player Catherine Parenteau. ”I do my best to always be fair and honest with all my calls, so it’s disappointing when my opponent doesn’t do the same. It can change the entire trajectory of the match when that happens and sometimes it is a critical point in the match.”

And just so everyone is clear, Fudge isn’t blaming anyone. She’s been a prolific winner on the APP Tour and has had success on the PPA as well as in Major League Pickleball. She’ll continue to keep winning.

“I want the sport to grow in the best way it can grow,” she said. “I just want it to be fair for everyone.”