Coming to a head: Emotional debate as curlers look for a broom technology solution

The ice surface at the 2015 Brier, in Calgary. (Michael Burns/Curling Canada)
The ice surface at the 2015 Brier, in Calgary. (Michael Burns/Curling Canada)

The question of how much of an advantage a curler's broom should give them is being intensely debated this week. It is an issue that is at the forefront in the world of Canadian curling, so much so that a large group of people including elite players and organizers were invited to take part in a conference call on Tuesday night.

However, that call didn't happen.

Why, isn't completely clear, although technical glitches were being blamed. That might well be. However, it may also be true that the increasing temperature of the dialogue between some players is the reason.

Curling's discussion over just what should be done in the wake of a new wave of super brooms changing the game in incredible ways is continuing. Although there seems to be a fair consensus that regulation is needed, something is holding up that advancement at the current time.

As mentioned in my previous story on the broom issue, things came to a bit of a head over this past weekend, at a competition in Toronto.

Apparently, teams equipped by manufacturer BalancePlus debuted that company's newest broom heads; broom heads that were even more effective than those used by curlers equipped by Hardline Curling, makers of the IcePad head that had been the leader in what curlers are calling "directional" technology. One player estimated that the Hardline heads provided such an advantage for teams that used them last season, that perhaps 80% of men's teams had adopted either the IcePad or heads equipped with similar fabric by the time this season began.

The nylon fabric being used on broom heads has varying degrees of grit. While most brooms had employed a nylon with a grit rating of about 400 (the higher the number the finer the grain), the IcePad heads have a lower grit rating than that and that might be the reason why they'd been more effective.

What BalancePlus teams used on the weekend, were reportedly broom heads with a nylon covering rated at about 50, so much coarser than what had ever been used. The brooms were wildly effective, allowing players to guide the rocks like never before. If there is disagreement as to whether the IcePad heads damage the playing surface when they are employed, there may not be any uncertainty over the new BalancePlus heads, dubbed "the Blackhead." They most definitely do damage the ice, one of the Toronto competitors told me.

It is quite possible that The Blackheads were being used only to make a point and that they might never be utilized again. The point being that broom technology can just keep going and going and going if it's left unchecked.

That's precisely what the curling world is in a tizzy over at the present time, as there seems to be no one in sight who thinks it's a good idea to make brooms so effective, they basically remove the other skills from the game. However, Curling Canada seems to want the players to take the lead in forging a solution, while the players who I've talked with want Curling Canada to be more forceful. There have been assertions that the nation's governing body had a clear idea of where broom technology was heading, backed by concerns of some players, as far back as late last winter.

There is some bad blood brewing over this issue and some are having their integrity called into question, with emotions running high at that Toronto meeting on the weekend and then again afterward. There are reports of testy email messages and a little push back from some.

Team Glenn Howard, one of the rinks that employed the new BalancePlus broom heads on the weekend, seemed to take the lead on the situation when they issued a statement to fellow curlers and stewards of the game, ahead of Tuesday's scheduled conference call.

Their message was unequivocal: They want the "directional material" that has become the norm on broom heads to be removed completely from the game immediately. Howard's team vowed not to use theirs, returning to what they termed "acceptable products," and have stated that they will be using only their old BalancePlus EQ brooms, which were introduced a little over five years ago.

Team Howard's email ended with a sharp rebuke of anyone looking to curtail efforts to remove directional broom head technology from the game.

"Shame on all of us for letting this get to where we are now," the email reads. "Shame on anyone who understands the issue and the technology and does not want to be compliant moving forward."

Most everyone seems to want the broom improvement race to be regulated and there is the belief that an agreement will be coming in the not too distant future.

Not without some bad feelings, it seems.