Commentary

Tiebreaker ruling not a practical one

Updated: June 24, 2012, 11:47 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

EUGENE, Ore. -- Unfortunately, USA Track and Field did not consider Justin Gatlin's suggestion for settling the tie between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh for the third and final Olympic spot in the women's 100 meters.

"I'm voting for Jell-O wrestling match," Gatlin said. "Red Jell-O. That's my favorite."

That certainly would have boosted ratings, but after debating the situation Saturday night and Sunday, USA Track and Field came up with another solution that is a confusing blend of democracy, athleticism and random luck. This is how it will work, and you better take notes because I'm only going over it once:

[+] EnlargeJeneba Tarmoh, Allyson Felix
Michael Heiman/Getty ImagesJeneba Tarmoh, left, and Allyson Felix finished in a dead heat for third place in the women's 100 final Saturday.

First, Felix and Tarmoh will be given the option of declining the spot on the team and becoming the alternate while the other runner takes the final spot. (Yeah, that's likely.)

If neither runner declines the spot, each will be asked whether she wants the tiebreaker to be a coin flip or a runoff. And this is where it gets complicated.

If both agree on a runoff, there will be a runoff. If one says runoff and the other says coin flip, there will be a runoff. If both say coin flip, there will be a coin flip. If neither runner chooses a method, there will be a coin flip.

Got that? Good. Because now we have to discuss when this runoff or coin flip would happen. And the answer is: We don't know, other than it has to be determined by the end of the trials next Sunday when the Olympic team is finalized. And given that both runners are entered in the 200, which has its final Saturday, it could take until then before the runners decide.

Oh, and one last thing. The winner of the runoff gets to host the World Series.

No, I'm just making that up. Although it almost seems plausible given how USA Track and Field was caught with its shorts down on this the same way Bud Selig was when baseball ran out of pitchers in the 2002 All-Star Game. With no backup plan in place, the commissioner abruptly declared the game a tie and sent everyone home, all thoroughly unsatisfied.

This whole mess could have been avoided if there had already been a plan in place. Granted, this is a very unusual situation -- USA Track and Field officials aren't sure whether there has ever been a third-place tie at one of its Olympic trials. "I was always told it was impossible to have someone across the line in the same time," Gatlin said.

But ties have happened at the trials in other sports, and it shouldn't have been that difficult to plan for the possibility here. After all, the NFL has an elaborate, 12-level tiebreaker system for the playoffs that ranges from head-to-head matchups to strength of schedule to most net touchdowns to the traditional method of last resort: the coin flip. As with most NFL procedures, it's probably overkill, but at least the league is ready in case of a tie.

The runners also should not be asked how they want to settle the tie. The guidelines should be hard and fast. If there is a tie, this is how it is settled. Athletes shouldn't get a vote. That may be harsh, but so are the trials.

Making all this somewhat easier to deal with is that both runners have a good chance of making the team anyway. Felix is favored to win the 200, in which Tarmoh is entered, as well. And both could be selected for the relay team pool.

At least they made a decision of sorts Sunday. I was afraid this was going to the Supreme Court, which would have debated the issues, written their opinions and dissents, and issued a ruling in time for the 2016 Games in Rio.

Bob Kersee, who coaches both runners, says he thinks a runoff is the best way to settle it, but that it should be held after the trials. I would think waiting that long would be an enormous distraction for Felix and Tarmoh, but he knows his runners, and I don't.

Gatlin, on the other hand, doesn't like the runoff idea. "I think Jeneba is a great young talent and Allyson Felix is a darling of the sport," Gatlin said. "The plight we have here is that not only are they great runners who put a lot of heart out there, they're coached by the same guy and they're training partners.

"They're both great 200-meter runners as well, so why put them in a situation where they have to run against each other in a real race when they run almost every day against each other? They have to prepare for the 200. They have a whole field that's ready to go out and make the field in the 200, too, so that's not fair to them."

In other words, bring on the Jell-O match. Or maybe penalty kicks. As long as Felix and Tarmoh perform better than England.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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