SPECIAL TO HYDROINSIDER.COM: A Little Bit of Controversy Never Hurt Anybody - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

SPECIAL TO HYDROINSIDER.COM: A Little Bit of Controversy Never Hurt Anybody

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By David Nasternak

In the Winter before the 2008 ABRA Unlimited Hydroplane season, a change was made to the rulebook.  A rule was added that stated that each boat had to be "on plane" for the last minute before the heat began.  One of the initial reasons that the rule was inserted was the safety of the drivers.  In 2007. the Miss Beacon Plumbing with jean Theoret washed out the Ellstrom Elam Plus with dave Villwock in the same turn of the same race, taking both boats out of the race.

While the rule change may have been for a good reason, the change in rule has created quite a stir as the initially-determined "winner" of the 2008 Seattle race last weekend, violated the rule and was penalized by the referee.  Unfortunately for the ABRA that was not the only time the new "starting rule" has caused a ruckus. 

The 'on-plane rule' has been a part of unlimited hydroplane racing for a long time.  In fact, in earlier in this decade, the rule was taken off the books because of the same controversy. And as fate would have it, it was   Villwock who was then penalized for being 'off-plane' in the 2005 Nashville race, allowing Theoret to get the win in the Lumar boat. 

"The owners met and voted on the rule in the off-season," stated Sam Cole, after saying that he had been called by several owners who wanted to discuss the rule.  "I think the owners need to go back and decide what rules they actually want."

There will be a hearing with the entire ABRA board in the near future that will decide the outcome of the protest raised by Schumacher Racing.  According to Cole, there will be other objectives that also need to be reached at the meeting:

"We need to set a precedent on how you handle an appeal process."

There is obviously a lot of controversy and questionable decision-making on several levels in this sport.  But, at this point, is that such a bad thing?  I mean, obviously, officials, drivers, owners, etc. want everything to go smoothly.  However, aren't people drawn to controversy?  Isn't that why a lot of people say that they like hockey?  They want to watch toothless guys swing sticks at each other and brawl at center ice -something that if done on the street could land you 5 to 10.

Remember the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders?  Charles Woodson's corner blitz leveled Tom Brady, causing a "fumble" that would have potentially ended the game.  However, instead of watching Raiders QB Rich Gannon take kneel-downs, we heard about the "Tuck" rule.  That was one of the most controversial rulings in sports history.  Did people revolt and stop watching?  No, it put Tom Brady and the Patriots on the map and got nation-wide, water-cooler arguments going over what should have been done.

Likewise, after the WNBA fight a couple of weeks ago, every sports show on cable was talking about suspensions and showing replays.  Before that fight, most sport-watching Americans probably could not have named more than two or three WNBA teams.  However, with a controversial/attention-drawing event, more people can become interested in a game or league ever than before.

Can one compare the ABRA to the NFL or the WNBA - both of which have national television contracts- in terms of viewership and exposure? Probably not.  But, it is also not unreasonable to think that such a controversial call or ruling, though creating "negative buzz" among inner circles, could have an interest-drawing effect on the general population. 

Instead of driving people out of the stands, the arguments and frustration of these questionable calls and rules - coupled with the new found parity among racing teams - could inject life into a sport that can sometimes appear to be stalled in the water.