Recently the practice of awarding a 1/2 point for not playing the last round has become prevalent. I do not know how it has come to be, but if there is a right and a wrong, then it is, most assuredly, wrong!
I have heard it said that if a half point bye is allowed in any round, then it should be allowed in the last round. A case can be made for allowing a half point bye in the first round for those who must work; or for the third round on Sat night for those (including me) who simply cannot play three games in one day. Some players take a half point bye in the fourth round Sun morning in order to attend church. There are those (including me) who are opposed to a half point bye on the last day. The Legendary Georgia Ironman says, "When I'm at the board on Sunday morning, I am at church!"
The last round is special; different from all those that have come before it. The last round is called "The money round" for a reason. Have you ever heard any other round called 'the money round'?
While working at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center I had one player tell me he loved the last round half point bye because, if he was having a good tournament, he would be paired up in the last round, and invariably lost.
In the recent US Open three of the top five players going into the last round took a half point bye and did not play! Three of them (that's 60%!) took the gift half point bye. The current woman's world champion took not one, not two, but THREE half point byes in the last three rounds. She did not play even one game of classical chess!
Having worked at Daytona, I know NASCAR is the king of sponsorship. I recently made contact with someone who works in that field and described the format of major chess tournaments in the USA and asked him to give me his thoughts. He was incredulous that players did not have to play in the last round, mentioning golf and what would happen if a player could 'opt-out' of playing the last round by taking a par score. There would be no more sponsors for golf!
If you look at the tournament announcement for the Louisiana State Championship you will find this regarding byes: Byes: Up to two 1/2 pt byes available if requested before rd 2, but byes for both rd 6 AND 7 is not permitted.
Because of the wording it was not clear to me whether that meant that a player could take a bye in either the penultimate or the last round, but not both; or whether a player could not take a bye in either of the last two rounds, so I emailed to find out. This is the reply I receiced from Mr. Alex Steger: "A bye is not allowed in round 6 or 7. We don't want IM's to come in and play the 3 day schedule Saturday and Sunday, go home Monday, and win the tournament."
I do not know how it has come to be that a half point is given to a player who choses not to play in the last round, but the USCF should outlaw it, now!