Tomoharu Saito Suspended 18 Months by DCI

Tomoharu Saito Suspended 18 Months by DCI
As we brought you the news of Tomoharu Saito’s disqualification for Stalling at Grand Prix Florence 2010 earlier this week, we also bring you the news that Tomoharu Saito has been suspended by the DCI for 18 months. After what appears to be an extremely quick investigation and decision on the DCI’s part the following appeared sometime late Tuesday night on the DCI’s Suspended Memberships page:
Tomoharu Saito Banned for 18 Months

Tomoharu Saito has been banned from sanctioned play as of 11-30-2010 through 05-30-2012. Check out our full analysis after the jump!

As we previously noted, any potential suspension could be quite damaging to Saito’s candidacy for the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame, based on the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame rules posted on the Wizards of the Coast (WotC) official Magic website. It states:
In order to appear on the Hall of Fame selection ballot, a player must meet the following three requirements:
1. The player must have 100 lifetime Pro Points
2. The player must have participated in his first Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour at least 10 seasons prior to the current voting year.
3. The player must not be currently suspended by the DCI.

So if a player is suspended they can’t go into the Hall of Fame, right? Well from the wording as written it doesn’t appear to be a cut and dried case. Something that a reader brought up is that the wording solely relates to “appear(ance) on the Hall of Fame ballot,” and makes no mention of the actual induction into the Hall of Fame. At the time of the actual voting for the 2010 Hall of Fame class (this past summer) Tomoharu Saito was not suspended, but at the time of the induction ceremony (this coming December 9 2010 at the World Championship in Chiba, Japan) he will be suspended. The rules for eligibility as currently written outline no provision for a player who is suspended at the time of induction, just at the time they appear on the ballot. This was most likely an oversight by whoever drafted the original eligibility rules, but it does leave some wiggle room for Saito to argue that he should still be inducted. It will be very interesting to see how WotC handles this situation, and if they move to get out in front of the issue and address the topic on their official website this week before Worlds takes place. It will also be of note to see if they revise the HOF eligibility requirements in the near future to tighten the wording up or include additional provisions altogether.

CheatyfaceAccording to the DCI Judge’s Blog there is a formal procedure in place for review of investigations and disqualifications, and this usually begins on the first day of each month and can take up to three of four weeks to review all cases. In this instance it appears the DCI went above and beyond their standard operating procedure, and for their timeliness they should be applauded. You may or may not agree with decision as it was handed down, but a quick turnaround time in this case to decide on an outcome is fitting because of the profile of the case and the fact that Worlds is literally a week and a half away, and deciding the status of a player who would be playing in that event clarifies the picture for all parties involved.

Aside from Saito’s suspension, what else can be gleaned from this? While the DCI does believe in second chances (see: Bob Maher and Olivier Ruel in the Magic Hall of Fame) they do not take kindly to repeated violations of their rules, and are not above suspending or taking action against even their most noteworthy stars. The fact that they (again) suspended Saito, in the prime of his Magic career, speaks volumes about the organization and their commitment to cleaning up the game, and that they will not brush incidents like this under the rug.

Saito finished fifth in Player of the Year standings in 2006, won Player of the Year honors in 2007, finished fourth in 2008, finished second in 2009, and currently sits in third place in the 2010 POY race at the time of this suspension. This knocks out one of point leader Brad Nelson’s main competitors for the crown as we head towards Worlds to wrap up the 2010 Pro season. Even with his pending suspension Saito will probably once again finish in the top 10 in the overall standings, and will probably finish between eighth and tenth place.

As far as what will happen to Saito in this 18 month hiatus, no one yet knows as this is a breaking story and Tomoharu will probably be using this time to reflect on life. One thing we do know is that one of his main sponsors Channel Fireball has parted ways with him, and will no longer sponsor him or publish his articles on their site. Luis Scott-Vargas made the announcement quickly after hearing Saito’s take on the incident, and LSV must also be commended for his timely actions. Whether or not you agree with the sanctions as decreed by the DCI it is good to see other high level pros not condoning cheating of any kind, and addressing the situation respectfully but meaningfully.

The great irony in all of this is that just two weeks before his disqualification at GP Florence Saito actually wrote an article about other “lessons learned” for tournament success, in which half of the article is dedicated to “playing and enforcing an honest game.” He specifically addresses his suspension in the past as an experience that has engrained in him that “It is not enough just to refraining from cheating, it is also essential not to let others cheat,” so it is almost comical to read these words in light of his actions and his reputation.

While Saito undoubtedly has an impressive Magic resume (5 Pro Tour Top 8s – T-8th most all time, 16 Grand Prix Top 8’s – T-5th all time, 9th most Pro Points all time), the DCI has demonstrated that he and no one else is above the law with this decision. Magic is so important to Saito and has been so important to him that he will probably come back again, and we can probably expect more strong results from him upon his return. This and his past missteps have stained his legacy, but as Bob Maher’s experiences have shown, people forgive and forget and learn to welcome most players back into the fold. So even if Saito is held out of the Hall of Fame at this juncture I suspect he can still do enough to rehabilitate his image and enter at a later time. Arguably no player has put up better results over the past five years cumulatively (2006-2010) than Saito, so if he comes back and stays clean who knows what we’ll see?

As of this writing we could not reach Wizards of the Coast or the DCI for comment, but we will be following up to see if they are willing to provide additional comments regarding this situation and specifically the Hall of Fame issue. Keep it tuned to Eternal Central for more updates as this story continues to develop. We’ll stay on top of the breaking news and update this article as we get more information!

[UPDATE 12-01-2010]: After reaching Wizards of the Coast today seeking comment on the Saito suspension I was directed to an official spokesperson who could speak on behalf of the DCI, and they were unwilling to comment or answer any questions. However they did say that there would be an article posted later this week that would address the Saito issue, so we will keep an eye out for it and keep you informed.

[UPDATE 12-08-2010]: Wizards of the Coast has finally released an official statement on the matter of Saito’s Hall of Fame status:
“Tomoharu Saito’s status as a Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame member-elect has been rescinded and he will not be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2010 World Championships.

Wizards of the Coast continually strives to apply consistent standards within the Pro Tour system and throughout all of our organized play programs.”

There is no mention of his future Hall of Fame eligibility, but without a statement otherwise we can probably assume he would be eligible down the road after rehabilitating his image in the eyes of potential voters.