There's no snow on the ground, but the Iditarod rule makers were in mid-season form on Friday.

The Iditarod Trail Committee's Board of Directors amended, discussed, debated and decided in a full day of deliberation at the Lakefront Anchorage. One big change: Mushers would be able to begin the race with a maximum of 14 dogs, down from the current 16.

Among other rules which were adjusted was Rule 42, a hot-button issue among mushers. Under the revised rules, a dog death on a team could force a musher out of the race.

However, there are extenuating circumstances if the death "was caused solely by unforeseeable forces." That would leave the door open for the musher to remain in the race. Officials would do their best for a timely decision. It's not a done deal, though. Initially, the rule was voted down. Now, it's in play again but the verbiage needs to be tweaked.

Veteran musher Wade Marrs is the IOFC president-- even when his term on the board ends. He's concerned about how mushers will be perceived in such a circumstance. 

"There's unnatural things that happen sometimes. There's accidents," he said after the meeting. "And it's so hard for me to go put all that time and effort into something that an accident or somebody else's doing can take me out of the race. I just see this rule as being very controversial."

With a huge financial stake in the race, he feels there should be protection.

Four-time champion Jeff King disagrees. His team was hit by a drunken snow machine driver two years ago. One of his dogs was killed and others were injured. The incident received worldwide attention. King finished the race.

"People go, 'gosh, it clearly wasn't your fault.' I disagree. I carry packed iron now and I have more lights on," he said in an impassioned recital during the meeting. "I will never not turn around quicker than I didn't turn around that night.  I'm not saying it was my fault, But there's too many deaths in this race that are somebody's fault."  

Rule 53 also received attention. The Personal Conduct Policy states that "mushers will be held to a high standard of personal conduct both on and off the trail on a year-round basis."      

Abuse, statements "injurious" to the race and illegal activity may result in penalties ranging from losing an entry fee to banishment from the race "for a period of years."

The look of the board has also been a topic and the concern of having perceived conflicts of interests, such as relatives who are competing in the race. A change is coming, though. The Foraker report, an independent review of the Iditarod's operating procedure came out this past year. It recommended some shakeup in the way things had been done.  

Stan Foo, a board member and part of the nominating committee, says those changes are being made. Two seats will be added to make 11 voters.

"With the transition coming up, we anticipate three current board members will be stepping down based on conflict of interest or term expiring," he said.

In all five new members will join on the 11- member board in June. With the term limits, the board will be completely different in two years.   

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