* * *Skating Fans, the day is finally here! Yes, it's time for spangles, nude stockings, triple axels, twizzles, judging scandals, and thrillingly, the Return of Plushenko. There's lots of good stuff to watch for these Olympics, including the new team competition, the ice dance rivalry between Virtue & Moir and Davis & White, Jason Brown and his charismatic Riverdance program, and the lingering questions about whether Ashley Wagner deserves her place on the Olympic team. (For the record, I think she does.)
But today, I'm writing not to celebrate ice skating, but to gripe. As everyone knows, the old 6.0 scoring system was replaced by a code of points after the Salt Lake City vote-trading debacle. Each skating program now earns points on a rubric. If you have the most points, you win. Simple, right?
So why does the media (and skating itself) seem obsessed with the idea that this system is too complicated and "incomprehensible for casual fans"? Indeed, Brian Boitano (et tu, Brian?) just told the New York Times that skating fans yearn for a simpler time, when “they only had to know one number, 6.0, and how close did it come to that and show a close-up of the guy who gave 5.7 and we can hate him.”
Hogwash. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against the scoring system in skating. But "complexity" shouldn't be one of them. Figure skating fans may enjoy sparkles and music and artistry. But that doesn't mean that we can't understand the concept that you get more points for executing (and attempting) more elements, particularly when television coverage generally does a decent job of showing the viewer the skater's best scores and the score the skater needs to beat to win. There are plenty of sports with complicated judging or scoring system. Indeed, baseball fans basically make a hobby of learning and citing arcane rules. To lambaste skating for being "too complicated" is patronizing and dismissive, particularly in a context where everyone knows most "casual skating fans" are women. Skating fans deserve better. Clean up the anonymous scoring, the ties between the national federations and the judges, and the lack of meaningful qualifications for judges. But stop patting figure skating fans on the head and telling us that we yearn for the good old days, where we only had to know one itty bitty number. We're smarter than that.