There's nothing wrong with the FLW Tour rules that led to the disqualification of three anglers at this week's season opener at Lake Okeechobee, including the newly amended portion of Rule 5, which restricts access for competitors to the tournament venues. A little tightening up in that area only adds to the circuit's professionalism.
There are, however, some issues with the rules' implementation that need to be dealt with ASAP. In fairness to FLW, the circumstances that led to the DQs probably had to occur before the problems could be fully recognized. And once those situations did indeed happen, the organization had little choice other than to hand out the banishments, as the letter of the rule was clearly breeched in each instance.
Two of the affected competitors have become, in essence, sacrificial lambs. Veteran Anthony Gagliardi now has almost no chance of qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup, which will literally take place just outside his front yard at South Carolina's Lake Murray in August. Big O stud Brandon McMillan misses a shot at a six-figure payday this weekend and has pulled out of the circuit altogether.
The third angler DQ'd, second-year pro Frank Clark of Illinois, simply was unaware of the provision that he could not practice with anyone other than a fellow competitor, immediate family member, approved sponsor representative, approved youth age 18 or younger or an approved media member. It's hard to work up a lot of sympathy for his fate in regard to this event, as the changes to Rule 5 were widely publicized last September.
Because of what's occurred at Okeechobee, there's a chance that the practice-partner rules will never be broken again. Competitors will be extremely cautious as to who they allow into their boats while on tournament waters within a month of the beginning of official practice. Nonetheless, FLW can take a couple of relatively simple steps to further protect its performers from such dire consequences due to inadvertent violations.
Let's look at Gagliardi's situation first. His breech occurred back in the first week of January as he was preparing for the Southeastern Rayovac at Okeechobee. He practiced with a friend from his home state who was competing in that triple-A event as a co-angler.
All well and good – as far as the Rayovac was concerned. However, since his buddy was not slated to compete in the Tour event and the timeframe was within the 30-day window of the start of practice for that derby, Gagliardi ran afoul of the amended Rule 5.
While legally practicing for a tournament that week, he was illegally practicing for a tournament the following month that's operated by the same organization. Now, how odd is that entire concept?
That's a situation that shouldn't occur, and FLW should take measures to prevent it in the future. Maybe the two Okeechobee events could be moved further apart on the calendar than they were this year (thus negating the 30-day issue), or perhaps the venue for the Rayovac could be changed to another Florida lake. There might not be a truly easy answer considering FLW's tight and longstanding relationship with the Big O, but there's got to be some middle ground between Gagliardi's innocent but "illegal" scenario and the very real possibility that a Rayovac pro could be paired with a local ace in the tournament who "legally" gives him a great deal of information that's useful for the Tour event.
McMillan's situation is slightly more complicated. He practiced with a good friend, Tennessee resident Cal Clark, who'd fished the event as a co-angler in 2013 and was certain (although Clark was negligent in confirming this) that he was signed up to do so again. When it was determined that there'd been a communication breakdown somewhere and Clark was not registered, it was McMillan who paid for the snafu.
The resolution to this matter doesn't seem to be all that difficult, though. Anglers have to be given access to a list of confirmed competitors that they can check at anytime. They all can easily identify immediate relatives and they need prior approval to go out with sponsor reps, media members or kids with whom they share no blood ties, so there's little chance of a mistake happening there.
Just who is a "contestant in the tournament" and who isn't is a bit more murky, and calling tournament director Bill Taylor should not be the lone path to getting a definitive answer to that question. Taylor may not be readily accessible for a variety of reasons that befall human beings. The potential penalty for an infraction demands a system that puts matters in black and white and is easier to use whenever a competitor desires.
Ironically, it was a sportsmanlike gesture on McMillan's part that landed Clark in McMillan's boat in the first place. McMillan could've legally hit the water with his brother Jared, an immediate family member and the runner-up at last month's Rayovac, but opted not to because some might have perceived that as an unfair advantage.
In the cases of both Gagliardi and McMillan, the punishment is massive overkill relative to their infractions. FLW didn't have much leeway in that regard this time around, but without great effort on the organization's part, it can do quite a bit to prevent similar blood-lettings from happening in the future.
John Johnson is BassFan's senior editor.