March 2022 Rules Rule
by Dan Horner, National Rules Commissioner
There has been a lot of talk about rally scoring over the past couple months. It began when the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) changed their scoring method from the traditional way to a point being scored on every rally, effective February 1, 2022. To clarify, this affects international competition level racquetball at international tournaments as well as USAR qualifying divisions for the U.S. Adult and Junior Teams (since the Teams compete at international events). The scoring system has not changed for amateurs (recreational, league, and tournament matches), or during men’s and women’s professional tournament matches. At this time, USA Racquetball, the sport’s National Governing Body in the United States, as well as both the Men’s (IRT) and Women’s (LPRT) professional racquetball tours have no plans to change to rally scoring.
The traditional way of scoring in racquetball is that the person serving is the only one that can score a point. In order for the receiving player to score, they first must earn a side-out and get into the server’s box. With rally scoring, a point is earned at the end of each rally, by the winner of the rally, regardless of whether the winner of the rally is the server or the receiver. The main reason the IRF cites for this move to rally scoring in international competition is that matches are too long in duration.
I personally agree that many matches take too long, but not because we use traditional scoring, rather because the rules involving time limitations are not being adhered to in competitive play. I will explain below what time limits are listed in the Rulebook for serving, regular timeouts, and time between games. There are also time limitations on injuries and to replace faulty equipment that I will not be addressing in this issue.
Time limit to serve - 10 seconds
The server has ten seconds to serve the ball. The referee should either have a phone or stopwatch to track the time. Rule 3.5 states that “The referee may issue a technical warning or declare a technical foul for delays exceeding 10 seconds.” The 10-second rule applies to the server and receiver simultaneously. Concurrently, they are allowed up to 10 seconds after the score is called to serve and be ready to receive. From my experience, very few referees enforce this rule correctly.
In Rule 3.2 we see that “The referee shall call the score or ‘second serve’ as both the server and receiver prepare to return to their respective positions––shortly after the previous rally has ended––even if the players are “not yet ready.” The server may not start the service motion until the referee has called the score or ‘second serve.’” The players need to comply with this, but the burden falls on the referee to a) call the score at the right time and b) enforce the time limit by calling a technical warning first and thereafter calling technical fouls. Generally, if a referee explains the time limitation at the beginning of the match, then they will have no problems with the players pushing the limits.
When is the right time for the referee to call the score? According to Rule 3.2 quoted above, the referee should be calling the score as both players prepare to return to their respective positions. They should not be waiting until the server has picked up the ball, walked to the front court, and dinked the ball multiple times against the front or side walls. They should also not be waiting to call the score until the receiver has signaled they are ready. The right time to call the score can vary based upon the situation (e.g., players getting off the floor from a dive and needing to wipe the floor up), but generally it should be shortly after the previous rally has ended and before the server gets into the server’s box after picking up the ball. If they pick up the ball and don’t begin to walk directly to the server’s box, then the score should be called immediately at that point. The server is welcome to tap the ball against the wall, wipe their brow, or even tie their shoes, as long as they begin the service motion within ten seconds of the score being called. If they need additional time, the player may call a timeout.
Time limit for timeouts - 30 seconds
Each player is allowed three 30-second timeouts per game played to 15 and two 30-second timeouts per game played to 11. The referee should either have a phone or stopwatch to track the time. According to Rule 3.16(a), “If a player takes more than 30 seconds for a single timeout, the referee may automatically charge any remaining timeouts, as needed, for any extra time taken. Once all time allowed has expired, a delay of game technical warning or technical foul may be assessed.”
When and how should timeouts be handled by the referee? When a player calls or signals for a timeout, the referee should state the name of the player taking timeout #1, #2, or #3 and state “30 seconds.” They should then begin timing the 30 seconds once they see that the opponent is aware of the timeout. I highly recommend that the referee announces when there are 10 seconds left of the timeout. Once time has expired, if both players are back on the court, the referee should state “Time is in,” announce how many timeouts are remaining, and then say who is serving and what the score is. If both players are not back on the court, the referee should charge an additional timeout to the player that is not ready to play and announce the new timeout. This should continue until all timeouts are exhausted. At that point, a technical warning and then technical fouls may be assessed. If all of the players are ready before the time has expired, then the referee can begin to call the score. Generally, if a referee explains the time limitation at the beginning of the match, then they will have no problems with the players pushing the limits.
Time limit between games - 2 minutes/5 minutes
Each player is allowed 2 minutes between games #1 and #2 and allowed 5 minutes between games #2 and #3 per Rule 3.16(d). The referee should either have a phone or stopwatch to track the time. Once all time allowed has expired, a delay of game technical warning or technical foul may be assessed.
How should time between games should be handled by the referee? As soon as a game ends and the referee has announced such, the referee should state how long the break is (2 minutes or 5 minutes). They should begin timing this using their watch or phone. I strongly recommend that the referee announces when there is 30 seconds left and again when there is 10 seconds left. If all of the players are ready before the time has expired, then the referee can begin the next game early. Generally, if a referee explains the time limitation at the beginning of the match, then they will have no problems with the players pushing the limits.National Rules Commissioner Dan Horner welcomes questions from members and will respond timely along with featuring a few each month in USAR’s Serving Up the News. Write to Dan at email@example.com, and you may see your questions in a future issue of this newsletter!