CSAC Drags Boxing Into 21st Century with Tech Evaluations
By David A. Avila
Whether it’s boxing or MMA, nothing irks fans more than bad officiating or bizarre judging.
It’s a problem that goes back more than a century.
Seeking a more modern approach California State Athletic Commission has implemented a computer program to identify and analyze problems with performances by its judges and referees.
“This is gives us a better evaluation tool and it’s easy to find,” said Andy Foster, CSAC Executive Officer who began in 2013. “You can’t lose it like paperwork in some file.”
Foster said the abundance of boxing and MMA cards in California and the need for more ring officials also demanded a better evaluation process.
It’s the only athletic commission in the U.S. and maybe the world to adapt this method for combat sports. CSAC was also the first to use infrared scanning devices for possible head trauma in 2015.
When prizefighting first emerged in the early 1800s it was a battle to the finish. Fighters would slug it out for dozens and dozens of rounds until one combatant could not continue. William “Bendigo” Thompson won the heavyweight championship after 93 rounds with Ben Caunt in Stratford, England in1845. Later, Paddy Ryan knocked out Joe Goss in the 87th round in Boston in 1880.
In the so-called modern era that began in the 1900s, unless a knockout occurred, all fights ended in a no-decision after 15 rounds. That led to fan derision, so the media was given the power to pick a winner. That definitely did not work either and led to the formation of commissions who appointed judges and referees.
Despite the change to official judges and referees, problems always arise.
Any time a major world title fight takes place and ends in a disputed decision fans erupt in anger. In 1987 it was Sugar Ray Leonard beating Marvin Hagler. In 1999 it was Felix Trinidad getting the nod over Oscar De La Hoya and last year it was Andre Ward edging Sergey Kovalev.
Somebody is going to go home unhappy by a decision rendered by three judges and poor dictation of the fight by the referee. Whether it’s Conor McGregor winning on points against Nate Diaz in the Octagon or Gennady Golovkin defeating Daniel Jacobs in the prize ring. Poor decisions by judges and referees leave a bad taste.
CSAC has the busiest schedule for boxing and MMA in the country and supervises more fights than any other state. It has long had performance evaluations but would need to re-invent the process after each change in CSAC administration. Since 1997 it has gone through four changes in administration.
Foster, the Executive Officer for CSAC, saw the need for a more solid and lasting evaluation process and looked to other sports to discover one in the NBA.
A simple phone call to a computer software company led to a program designed primarily for boxing and MMA.
"We actually made the product for assessing athletes in any sport," said Gregg Jacobs, CEO and founder of SportsBoard, a 6-year-old company based in Sausalito, Calif. "And then the NBA approached us about using it for assessing officials, then the Pac-12 Conference started using it for assessing football officials, and then the California State commission heard about it."
Jacobs hopes SportsBoard will become the standard evaluation tool for all state athletic commissions.
So far, CSAC has found it useful in picking out weaknesses and strengths in its officials.
“It really works well for us,” said Mark Relyea, lead inspector for CSAC. “We sit down after major fights and take a look at what can be worked on with the referees.”
Combat sports have officially entered the 21st century.