There are some rule changes coming to MLP in Daytona for everyone to be aware of, first reported by The Dink. We’ll do our best to condense them here as well as provide our opinions on the updates. The changes are the result growing pains associated with figuring things out in a new professional sport. Half of the battle for MLP in 2023 is solidifying the product so fans can focus on the play instead of simply trying to understand what is going on.
This article is a summary of the rule changes with some unsolicited commentary.
Blue and Orange Cards
MLP is implementing a soccer style, blue and orange card system for on-court conduct. A blue card is similar to a yellow card, representing a technical warning. An orange card results in a loss of point. Cards can be given for unsportsmanlike conduct, which can include excessive taunting, profanity, verbal abuse of an official/player/fan, time wasting, excessive arguing with officials, and violation of the kitchen/court boundaries that have been implemented. A referee may go straight to an orange card if the offense is egregious in the ref’s discretion.
Opinion: The tricky aspect of a card system is the discretionary implementation of it. We see it in all professional sports that referees have different interpretations. Rules should be in place to regulate this and the hope from us is that referees are not clamping down too much on the emotions of MLP. Again, we don’t want pickleball to be the No Fun League (NFL). The email sent out specifically notes that MLP wants players fist pump, chest pound, finger wag etc. We’ll expect that in this first event we likely won’t see an orange card given the gravity of the penalty and how hard it is for referees to make that call as to what is over the line without being subject to intense criticism.
MLP is instituting a new challenge system to address the bad line call epidemic in pickleball. Each team will get 2 “free” challenges, meaning that a team can make 2 unsuccessful challenges with no penalty. However, if one team challenges and the call is overturned, the team that had their call overturned will lose one of its challenges. If the team that has a call overturned is out of “free” challenges, they will lose a point for an overturned call. Interestingly, a team that is out of challenges may still challenge a call at the risk of losing a point if that challenge is unsuccessful – this prevents scenarios where teams are at the mercy of an opposing team self-challenging their call.
There are scenarios in which a lost challenge could result in a loss of the match without a point won on the court. For example, a team serving could be down 20-19 and challenge a call when they are out of “free” challenges. In this situation, if the challenge is unsuccessful, the receiving team would get a point and the match would be over, 21-19.
Video replay challenges can only be made by the team captain and the decision must be made within 10 seconds. Note that referees have been advised that the standard for overturning a call is no longer indisputable. It is up to the referee to determine if they can “reasonably overturn a call based on the video evidence.”
Opinion: This is a super creative idea, and we like that MLP is trying to do something about the line call problem. However, it is as complicated as it is creative. It took a few times of reading the email that went out to fully comprehend how it works. It is not going to be easy for fans to understand or even players. Hopefully the team captain and coaches 100% understand this, and they are able to convey that information to their players who may or may not read the email as closely as they need to.
The rule should solve two things: (1) teams will be punished for too many overturned calls. Under the new rules, the 5’s would have lost 2 points for their 4 calls in a row that were overturned against the Mashers in their quarter-final match; (2) teams no longer have to rely on opposing teams to self-challenge if they are out of challenges as we saw in the Brooklyn Aces vs. Utah Black Diamonds fiasco. 10 seconds is not very long to decide on a challenge that could cost your team a point so it places a heavy burden on team captains to think quickly and understand all the implications, possibly while they are playing They may not be as strict on the 10 second rule, though.
While we commend MLP for somewhat changing the standard of review for referees, with the way it is worded, it is hard to believe referees will feel comfortable overturning a call without very close to indisputable evidence.
There will almost certainly be some issues this new challenge system but it is a definite step in the right direction.
Players can no longer ask the referee if a ball was in or out. MLP is putting the focus of the referee solely on foot faults and they are not involved in any line calls.
Opinion: This makes understanding the challenge system so important and the decision to challenge when your team is out of free challenges could be a literal game changer. It sounds like MLP will have an upgraded video replay challenge system on all 4 courts of play, so we’ll have to see what that looks like. How well we can see the lines with the cameras will be crucial for the new challenge and line call system to operate as intended. It seems MLP wanted to stop having the refs being made fun of for the “I didn’t see it” gesture they give.
On-Court Regulations and Communicating with Officials
Only one team representative (i.e. owner, coach or GM) is allowed on the court. The other representatives can sit in boxes immediately behind the bench. Furthermore, bench players and the team rep cannot step onto the court during the run of play with the kitchen line being the virtual boundary for the head official. The communication with the referee is only to be handled by the team captain other than for clarifications and explanations.
Opinion: This is a good rule change. We got tired of seeing 9,000 people on the court after every point, players and owners getting into the referee’s face, and excessive coaching that was happening between points at times. It is good to see they are trying to get that addressed. How it will work in practice is a different question. Some have been referring to this rule as the New Jersey 5’s rule.
Group / Gameplay
MLP is going back to match wins as the first tiebreaker to determine advancing from group play, which means teams will play all 4 games in a match even if it is 3-0. The tiebreakers to determine teams advancing are: match wins, net games and points won % (the tiebreaker from the last MLP).
Opinion: This is fine. It is probably better to allow everyone to play their matches for optimal tiebreakers.
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