Pack No-Starts: An Analysis and Condemnation

This past weekend, the Philly Roller Girls swung through Colorado to take on both Denver and WFTDA champs Rocky Mountain. Philly was obliterated by Rocky Mountain by the score of 183-32 on Sunday and was well-beaten at Denver 138-89 the day before.

While I make it a point to see WFTDA games between highly-ranked teams, I was only able to catch the second half of the Philly/Denver game. However, I saw all I needed to see in the first couple of jams after halftime.  I was greeted with repeat of an infamous turn of events at the end of last year and a potentially dangerous path teams may start taking, possibly to the detriment of roller derby.

At the start of the second half of the game, Denver led by the score of 75-41. Heather Juska had the star for Denver and immediately creamed Philly for a 25-point jam, a feat made more impressive with both jammers on the track and a majority of blockers in the pack for the whole two minutes. Philly, completely befuddled, called a timeout suddenly down 59 points.  Both teams have a blocker in the penalty box during the timeout, with 28 minutes left in the game.

The thing that got me going happened immediately following the timeout. After the subsequent jam started, skaters stood around and did nothing. The jammers were not jamming. No action was taking place on the track. The crowd was not enjoying themselves. I wanted to gouge my eyes out out of sheer disbelief. This went on for half of the jam—a full minute of inaction and non-excitement. If you want to tell people how exciting and awesome roller derby can potentially be, I dare you to show them this video:

It’s the dreaded pack no-start. You’ll recall that this perfect storm of nothingness was famously first documented at the 2010 WFTDA Championships, between Gotham and these very same Philly Liberty Belles. In the three instances during that game, and the one instance in this game, you had a situation where literally nothing was happening during live game action. No one was showcasing their athleticism. No one was exerting any effort. No one was even really skating.

I hate this. I hate, hate, HATE this. This isn’t roller derby. In fact, it’d be a stretch to even classify this as a sport at all. Have you ever seen any sporting event where standing around and doing nothing is a viable tactic at this point at the game? What we have here are two teams standing around and getting (or not getting) what they want. I’ve never seen a hockey or basketball or football player do nothing and get rewarded for it.  If flat-track roller derby is a real sport as people claim it to be, then why is a situation like this a part of it?

In this post, I aim to explain why this happened, what both teams may have been thinking, and denounce the circumstances that make it possible as detrimental to the growth of roller derby. Remember, like everything else I aim to do with this blog, I’m speaking from the view of a sports fan.  Keep that in mind as you consider my perspective.

Philly, finding themselves down a lot of points at the start of the second half, all of a sudden found themselves down a lot more points one jam later thanks to Denver’s amazing 25-point swing. During the ensuing timeout, both teams presumably talked strategy.

While I’m not privy to the conversations that took place in those huddles, I’m pretty sure that Philly wanted to start scoring points as soon as possible to limit the damage done, and Denver wanted to stop Philly from scoring in order to prevent them from starting to make a run or claw their way back. Seems like the things that your coaches would talk about or outlay strategies during a timeout called in that situation.

However, judging by the (in)actions of both teams during the jam no-start, I knew right away what both teams were trying to do, or at least what they were wanting to do during that jam. The reasons for it are very bad for roller derby. To understand why, we need to put ourselves in the skates of both teams and figure out what it all means.

What Denver was thinking

Obviously, doubling your already-big halftime lead in one jam does wonders for your confidence. Still, Denver would have been well aware that Philly is one of the best teams in the country, whether or not they’re down a few key skaters. If I was Denver’s coaching staff, during the timeout I would have told the Mile-Highers to still play the same game they’ve been playing, but err on the side of caution and defense. If Philly started scoring some points or gets a big jam right back, it could swing the momentum away from Denver, and with plenty of time left on the clock for Philly to take advantage of it.

At the start of the jam, Denver wasn’t immediately trying to do anything fancy. They started rolling off of the line normally, just like they would on any other jam. However, when they saw that Philly wasn’t moving and didn’t have any intention of moving, it was in their best interest to play along.

With a big lead, Denver was more than happy to let time burn off of the clock. There was no reason for them to stretch the pack and split it, since doing so would put the jammers in action sooner, possibly giving Philly more time to score during the jam. Plus, they had a blocker in the box, so by standing pat and stalling the start of the jam, that blocker penalty would be of little consequence.  They would get the double benefit of a full pack and an easier time playing defense against a possible Philly surge, should that situation arise.

When the penalized Denver blocker came in to rejoin the pack, she went right for the remaining Philly blocker behind the pivot line and took her out of bounds (and out of play), causing the pack to be beyond the pivot line and ultimately, the start of the jam. Personally, I think she knocked down the Philly blocker because she just wanted to participate in the action after sitting for several minutes (including the timeout) and the hit was there to take. It just so happened to be a hit that caused the jam to finally start.

As the penalized blocker wouldn’t have been in the huddle during the timeout, she wouldn’t have known if there was a specific plan for the jam. You can’t say she acted on instruction of the team, which can therefore only lead me to conclude she did it on her own initiative. Thank goodness she did, because otherwise Denver may have still been standing there, still having little reason to want to start the jam.

Once the jam started, though, Denver thwarted Philly’s plans (see below) with superior blocking and a better jammer, taking an easy 2-0 jam win and a few minutes off of the clock. All in all, I think Denver was being pretty smart given the circumstances of what Philly was allowing them to get away with. That doesn’t mean I think don’t think what they did was a good thing, looking at the bigger picture.

What Philly was thinking

Coming out of halftime, being down 34 points isn’t the end of the world. As one of the more veteran and experienced teams on the WFTDA circuit, Philly knew it was completely possible to nickel and dime their way back to a more reasonable deficit and get into a better position for a big or decisive jam to swing the momentum or scoreline in their favor. Even though Philly was down some key skaters, the Philly coaching staff still has enough game experience to help guide their team through it.

However, they probably didn’t plan on giving up a  25-point jam right out of the gate, especially while at full strength. In similar situations in other sports, panic and doubt would start settling in, making the task of recovering seem impossible. Very correctly, the Philly bench called a timeout so they could talk things over and settle everyone down. The DNN commentary crew noted how smart Philly was for doing that, and I agree. That’s a timeout you’ve just got to take.

Again, I don’t know exactly what was said in the huddle. I would assume the Philly coaches wanted to figure out a plan for at least the very next jam in order to get lead jammer however possible, to ensure that they’ll get some points back or at the very least stop Denver from scoring again.  Despite the uncertainty of what may have been planned or said, though, Philly’s actions at the start of the jam made it crystal clear to me what they were trying to do.

Look at the video again and concentrate on the three Philly blockers. They were clearly planning to not move at all. Two Philly blockers only felt it necessary to inch past the pivot line after a Denver blocker decided to get behind them some 30 seconds into the jam. The third Philly blocker only crossed the pivot line because she stumbled out of bounds after getting hit by the Denver blocker coming out of the penalty box halfway through the jam, ultimately starting the jammers off of the line. That probably wasn’t a part of the plan, given the team’s insistence of wanting to stand where they were.

Despite that, Philly got what they wanted. Even though it took a minute off the jam clock, and even though wasn’t ideal (for reasons described below), Philly felt that the minute of clock lost was not as important as getting the pack positioning that they wanted. You can clearly see how Philly was positioned when the jammers finally approached the pack:

During the jam, Philly got the pack positioning they wanted with a wall of blockers at the rear of the pack. But was the way they did it a good thing for roller derby? (Screengrab credit: DRD/DNN)

You’ll see a wall of three Philly blockers positioned all along the rear of the pack, with all of the Denver blockers in front of them. Philly’s reluctance to leave the line was to ensure that they would have control of the rear of the pack, under the assumption (or hope) that Denver would get out in front and force a split-pack start.

When this didn’t happen, for reasons explained previously, you could tell by Philly’s attitude that they were relying on Denver to take action for their plan best work. When a Denver blocker got behind the two Philly blockers on the line, the third Philly blocker—looking directly at the rearmost Denver blocker—started to skate forward towards the pivot line as if to say, “okay, we’re starting to move now…you can start moving too,” as if to fake out the Denver blocker.

Even if you disagree with me on that one, it’s still a bit curious to see that the Philly blocker didn’t cross the pivot line.  She could have just as easily crossed the pivot line and then skated backwards to regain rear positioning. Of all the places to stop, why did she choose to stop short of the line?  And why did it ultimately take a hit from the incoming Denver blocker (a hit she may have not seen coming) to remove her from that spot?  Perhaps because she wanted to stay behind the pivot line at all costs?  As with everything happening during this jam no-start, there’s a reason for that, too.

The last blocker across the pivot line effectively gets to control when the jammers start. In this situation, had all of the Philly blockers been forward of the pivot line, the Denver blocker could have crossed the pivot line anytime she wanted to start the jam, spoiling what Philly had been planning. Already standing around for 20 seconds at this point, Philly was clearly focused on being the team that started the jammers off, because they wanted to be positioned across the rear of the pack.  That is, they wanted all of the Denver blockers in front of them.  You can’t do that if a Denver blocker is the last one across the line behind you.

There’s a very good and strategic reason why you would want your blockers positioned this way at the start of the jam, as this handy diagram will demonstrate:

(1) The blue team elects to stall on the line. To force the jam start, the red team presses forward to create a no-pack jammer start. (2) The pack reforms and the jammers engage the pack. The blue jammer passes through her blockers and approaches the wall of red blockers at speed. (3) As the blue jammer presses forward, the red jammers are forced to match speed to block, pushing the red blockers outside of the pack definition area and creating a no-pack. All blockers are not allowed to engage, so the blue jammer passes the red blockers and picks up lead jammer. (4) Meanwhile, the blue blockers can skate forward to reform the pack while keeping the red jammer behind them, effectively springing their jammer out of the pack without making any contact with the red blockers.

I see this happen all of the time during games, and not just during jam starts. When the pack is split between two teams and both jammers are on the track, the team holding the rear of the pack is at a huge advantage.  If the teams stay split within the pack, the two halves of the pack will inevitably drift away from each other, creating a no-pack situation. This means the blockers are no longer able to engage the jammers.

However, this situation always favors the team holding the rear of the pack.  The jammer up front gets a free pass by the out-of-play blockers in front of her, but the jammer at the rear still has to pass through the blockers at the rear of the pack, which only need to skate forward to reform the pack and put themselves back into play. What easier way is there for a team to get lead jammer and effectively screw the other team?

This is one of the things in the WFTDA rulebook that makes me go mad.  In general, teams would have more of a reason to want to stay behind at the start of the pack, knowing what an advantage it is to have  a wall of blockers at the back.  Because teams are allowed to stop or skate backwards, you can get scenarios where both teams don’t want to leave the line, because one team wants to not move for one reason, and the other team doesn’t want to move for the same or a different reason.  Either way, nothing happens on the track.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this is exactly what Philly was trying to do, especially considering the situation where they were in.  Although, as I previously alluded to, the situation wasn’t exactly ideal for Philly. The common counters to the stalling start tactic is to force a pack start, by way of taking a knee before the whistle or stretching the pack to cause a no-pack split. Philly didn’t want to pre-position their blockers and give away their plan, denying Denver the chance to counter that by taking a knee before the pivot whistle. Philly was therefore hoping for the split pack, as that would allow them to have 10 feet of uncontested space in front of their blockers and an ideal situation to quickly cause a split no-pack and get lead jammer.

Denver decided to not play along, for their own reasons. When the jam did start, the Philly blockers were positioned where they wanted, but Denver managed to stay close enough to plug up the pack and the Philly jammer. Thanks also to superior jamming by Denver, Philly’s plan failed and Denver scored two points before the Philly jammer could get into scoring position.

However, the way that the teams went about doing this screams of immaturity.  Sure, there was a strategy stare-down going down at the start of the jam, and I guess some people like that.  However, there sure as hell wasn’t any athleticism, action, or excitement during that minute.  Much like the crowd at the Philly/Gotham game at 2010 Championships, you could hear people were getting upset over this one.  Did they appreciate what was going on?

When will roller derby start acting like a real sport?

Regardless of strategies involved, Denver was the better team for the entire game and the outcome was pretty much determined after that 25-point jam. Whether or not Philly’s tactics are good or not isn’t the issue, either. The problem here is that the tactics that both teams were employing to try to get the result that they wanted.

Let’s talk about strategy for a moment, specifically and how strategy is applied in sports. Generally, a coach or individual comes up with a game plan and strategies to execute that game plan. Coaches tell their players the game plan, and it’s up to the players to execute it. The other team or the opponent, of course, is trying to do the same thing on their side.  The one that gets the outcome they want is the team that executes better than their opponent.

Chess is a highly strategic game. 100% effort put into high-level chess is trying to out-think and outfox the player across the board from you. If you can do that every step of the way, you will win. However, chess is classified as a game, and not a sport, because chess requires no athleticism whatsoever.  A full-blown sport requires athleticism required by the participants, as well as strategy. In a real sport, not only do you need to out out-think your opponent, you need to outrun, overpower, and physically outmatch your opponent every step of the way.

Given equal athleticism, the clashing of opposing actions is what makes sports entertaining and individual plays exciting. Hence, the playoffs and championship games of sports being the most exciting of them all, as the teams that face off are generally very equally matched.  However, a true sporting contest should be entertaining on its own, be it a pre-season, regular season, or championship game. People wouldn’t bother showing up if there wasn’t something worth watching, after all.

With that in mind, let’s get back to roller derby. It’s a common strategy to want to try and stall the pack at the start of a jam. This could be to try and burn penalty time for their boxed skaters (such as what Denver may have been thinking), or to attempt to gain control of the rear of the pack (such as what Philly was definitely wanting).

Contrary to what you may be thinking while reading this, I have no problem whatsoever with these strategies. A strategy is merely a plan or concept, and a team is free to come up with any plan they think will help them win. I also have no problem with teams trying devise counter-strategies to this strategies. Part of the fun in sports is seeing coaches try to out-coach each other.  However, coaches don’t play the game—players do.

No, the problem I have is not the strategy in roller derby.  My gripe is the execution of those strategies. If Philly wanted one thing and Denver wanted another, in a normal sports situation they would be fighting each other tooth and nail to outwork each other and find out which team wanted it more, regardless of the game situation. Instead, you had them standing around for a minute. Not very entertaining or exciting, if the crowd reaction was any indication.

Just think of what happens during a no-pack knee start. If one team wanted to use a strategy of stalling to burn time on a jammer penalty, and the other team wanted to try and counter that, what could they do to outwork each other and execute the strategies they wanted to use? How could they demonstrate their superior athleticism? Here’s a common one: Take a knee and do nothing. Here’s another very common one: Stand around and do nothing.

That’s not how sports are supposed to work. That’s not how roller derby has ever worked. If you’re playing a sport and decide to stand around and do nothing, the other team is going to beat you very badly. That it’s even possible to get something from literally doing nothing is one of the problems WFTDA roller derby is going to have to get rid of if it really wants to consider itself a true sport. I’ve seen far too many instances where team can literally do nothing for an advantage, all without needing to outwork the other team. This goes against the very definition what a sporting contest is.

Let’s pretend roller derby had slightly different rules, rules that would make much more sense from a sporting perspective.  Again consider the strategy of wanting to stall at the line to try to burn off penalty time, but this happens instead:  The pivot and other blockers on a team desperately tries to hold back as many opponents as possible from crossing the pivot line, which would start the jam. If the other team doesn’t want the penalty time to come off the clock as easily, they should be doing their best to get around the other team and force the jam start by a pack split or a faster pack crossing the line.

In that situation, the team that can perform better in outworking the other team is the one that gets what they want. In modern derby as we know it, the team that stands around and does nothing at the right time in that situation is the one that gets what they want. But the strategy (stalling at the line) is the same either way, isn’t it? Which one of those two options would you rather see on a regular basis?  The execution of that strategy is what people cheer or boo for, and ultimately, crowd appreciation is how popular a sport is in the long run. If people don’t like what they see, they won’t bother showing up.

That’s my fear, anyway.  I had hoped last year’s Philly/Gotham pack no-starts were an a one-time anomaly, a perfect storm in an imperfect set of rules.  However, when I saw the exact same scenario play out in this past weekend’s Philly/Denver game, red flags went up. Once is chance.  Twice is a coincidence.  Three times is a pattern.  If something like this happens again—and I have the sad feeling in my gut that this will happen again—the WFTDA had better step in and do something about  it, either with a rules re-clarification or rewrite.

As a sports fan, I only really want to see the best teams play in the best games.  Outside of my local or favorite sports teams, I’m not likely to want to see two bad teams low in the standings or rankings play each other.  I’d rather see top teams play.  Most sports fans and all TV networks feel the same way.  In the roller derby world, I circle my calendar for any game featuring two DNN-ranked top ten teams, because that’s the WFTDA’s best showcase of what roller derby ought to be about.

Instead, the second thing I see between two top teams is a minute of standing around and doing nothing.  If that was the first thing someone saw about roller derby, it’s going to be really hard to convince them to change their minds, isn’t it?  So why have that situation be possible in derby at all?

As always, I welcome comments, in the negative or positive, about what you think about my perspective. I’m not going to be offering a “solution” to this “problem,” as I’ve done that and more in The Pack Problem post (specifically, Chapter 9).  I recommend you read it from top to bottom, if you haven’t already.

  • I’m not sure that’s what Philly was thinking because how could that possibly be worth taking a minute off the clock? They have position at the rear of the pack in the first 2 seconds of the jam. Is it really worth a full minute (or possibly a full jam) to get Denver to move 10 feet forward? The only thing that makes logical sense to me was that they had conceded the loss and wanted to make sure they didn’t get blown out anymore than they already were for rankings purposes.

    Seriously, because if you’re down 60 points, you should be doing everything in your power to make sure you get as much playing time as possible even if it means sacrificing position otherwise you’re just giving the other team the game.

  • I disagree with you about Philly “conceding the loss.” After giving up that 30-point jam, Philly outscored Denver by 15 points in the remaining 28 minutes of the game. Too little too late to make a dent on the scoreboard at that point, obviously, but that’s hardly a sign of throwing in the towel.

    Regardless of the actual reason Philly did what they did, the fact remains that they still did it. I believe they felt giving up some time on the clock was worth the advantage (whatever they thought it was) they wanted in that specific situation. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t have done it, although I doubt they had planned on standing there for as long as they did for the reasons I speculated on in the post.

    You can’t start worrying about the clock when there’s still half the game to be played. A team needs to play their game until it’s clear the clock is a bigger threat than the other team. Even with Philly as far down as they were, they’re a team that’s still capable of getting 20+ points in a jam or over a couple of jams. There were plenty of jams yet to go at that point in the game, and as we all know, anything can happen in sports. (Not just derby.)

    Contrary to what you said, if you start rushing things during play to try to save time instead of trying to play the game you know, then you ARE giving the other team the game. While it’s certainly possible to score quickly if you rush things along, that also means the other team will have more time to score on you.

    In fact, you’ll usually see a sports (not just derby) team running out of time start to become more predictable when rushing things. When the other team starts getting in the way, the team rushing things can start to get desperate, do riskier things, get more sloppy and/or commit penalties, which usually leads to that team falling further behind. I see it all the time in the fourth quarter of NBA or NFL games.

    Basically, there’s no point in saving time if you’re making it easier for the other team to score on you. The exception is when you start getting near the end of the game, when you really don’t have a choice. Still, Philly kept playing their game after that big Denver jam, and got back some points to at least make the second half box score look more respectable than the first.

    Denver was probably going to win that game no matter what Philly did, so trying to save an extra minute or two for later in the game was never going to change the outcome or probable rankings impact, although Philly’s Colorado swing won’t officially affect the only ranking that matters: Their #2 slot in the WFTDA East region.

    • “In fact, you’ll usually see a sports (not just derby) team running out of time start to become more predictable when rushing things. When the other team starts getting in the way, the team rushing things can start to get desperate, do riskier things, get more sloppy and/or commit penalties, which usually leads to that team falling further behind. I see it all the time in the fourth quarter of NBA or NFL games.”

      While this point may be true, it is necessary and there is often no other choice, and derby teams should be doing this more. In derby, I see teams continue to play super conservative as they drop further behind on the scoreboard and the clock keeps ticking. To me, they right thing to do is in fact become more risky, even if that means predictable, because you just might catch the opponent off guard and perhaps pull a 20 point jam to get back in it. If you keep pulling 0-0 jams or 2-0 jams or even 4-0 jams when you are down by 50+ and there’s approaching 5 minutes, you are going to lose. And you are usually squandering a rare lead jam advantage in doing so. Of course, for those desperation moves to work every single player on the team has to expect it and all be on the same page about it, which is rare… Great discussion!

  • I don’t necessarily mean that that is what they were doing. I just mean it’s the only thing that’s logical because they already had position. I just don’t see how getting Denver to move 10 feet forward is worth a minute off the clock. That just makes no sense.

    When you’re down by 60 points, you have to take risks. That’s the only way of getting back in the game. You’re at a gigantic disadvantage and it’s already been proven that playing “your game” isn’t going to get the job done. That’s why you’re down 60 points. Something has to change and a lot of times changing things could make things worse but a lot of times, it could give you a chance to win. What we do know is that standing around burning clock every jam for the rest of the game gives you ZERO chance of winning even if you have control of the back of the pack.

  • Black Eyed Skeez

    Send jammers and blockers on the first whistle…make a back end to the blockers starting position so they can’t line up right in front of jammers and then send everybody for the love of gawd…it’s our only hope to end this nonsense because i completely agree..we have to roll to play a sport..

    and to derbytron, it doesn’t make any logical strategical sense..they had the back wall from the get go, play defense and start climbing out of your hole now..why stand around and wait..3 on 3 is always exciting for fans too…

    if you’re Denver of course you don’t want speed the jam up, if the roles were reversed then you take off and do the split pack, be the better blockers up front, or you run behind them and hit the snot outta people that don’t want to roll to play derby…

    so tired of this play..and yes, i get strategical set ups, but standing around is not what i signed up for..

  • Slaughterhouse Jive

    Basketball once had a similar problem. Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith pioneered the four corners offense where after his team built up a huge lead, they would spread their players out on the floor and pass the ball around without trying to score. This took the slow-down game to an extreme, and it put fans to sleep as the game ground to a halt. The solution was the introduction of a shot clock to limit just how slow the game was allowed to become. Maybe derby should add a time element to its starts, so if the pack doesn’t cross the pivot line in 15 seconds, the jammer whistle blows. That seems like a good compromise to me to keep some element of strategy in the starts.

  • @Black Eyed Skeez – Banked track rules (LADD/WORD) have a “start box” for all the blockers. Blockers line up on or behind the pivot line, and in front of a second line five feet behind it. Since banked track rules penalize standing still or skating backwards, blockers don’t have a choice but to move forward at the start. While you’ll still get the occasional slow-start in banked track, the rules make it extremely rare and ultimately pointless, since jam time doesn’t start until the jammers do.

    But the one-whistle start is starting to make more and more sense, at least as a temporary fix to the real problem.

    @Slaughterhouse Jive – A “shot clock” in roller derby won’t fix the problem, just truncate it. If you tell people the jam will start in 15 seconds no matter what, then instead of standing around for a minute, they’ll stand around for 15 seconds. While start strategy is good to have, WFTDA rules need to be written so a team is forced to execute their strategies by taking action, not by inaction.

    A possible solution to this problem (and it is a problem) would be to redefine what constitutes a no-pack. In the example split pack/no-pack scenario I visualized in the post, if the two teams are completely separated like that, instead of calling a no-pack, it would make more sense to define the pack as the largest group of skaters at the front of the engagement zone, with only the skaters at the rear being called out of play.

    That way, a team at the front of the pack would be in a better position to control their own destiny. This would create a situation were a team would have every reason to want to control the front of the pack (as opposed to the rear) since they would get to dictate the initial speed of the pack. If a team didn’t want to have the pack start right away, they would have the ability to hold the other team back before crossing the pivot line.

    If this was the case during the Philly/Denver no-start, Philly would know it would be impossible to get their jammer through without actually pushing the Denver blockers out of the way, as there would no longer be a free pass for a jammer at the front in a no-pack situation. It would have also ensured blockers from both teams were evenly distributed throughout the pack, since holding a wall at the front won’t put your team in a position to help your jammer through at the back, and vice versa.

    As I said in the post, the team that outworks the other one in a situation like this is the one that gets the result they want. The strategies wouldn’t change that much, but instead of teams doing nothing to get what they want, they would need to do something to get what they want, under all circumstances. That’s all I’m asking for.

  • The thing I don’t like with the solutions presented so far is that there is a reason that the rules required all the blockers to cross the pivot line before the jammers start. It made sure the jammers started outside of the engagement zone and gave them enough room to pick up some speed. I think this is still important.

    One solution could be that you keep the rules exactly the way they are now but if a blocker hasn’t crossed the pivot line in, say 5 seconds (or 10 or 15), then that blocker is given a “delay of game” penalty and is sent to the box. This still allows for pre-jammer positioning and still requires the blockers to cross the pivot line but won’t delay the jammers for more than 5 or 10 seconds.

  • Derbytron, I agree with you about the reason for the pivot line. However, if you implement a “play clock” of sorts to force blockers over the pivot line, you’re still not solving the root problem.

    But just for argument’s sake, let’s say there was a 10 second play clock rule. If a blocker hasn’t cleared the pivot line within 10 seconds of the pivot whistle, they get a major penalty. Okay, so what happens when a team takes a knee before the start? The jammers start and engage the pack immediately. If the blockers are blocking the jammers and still aren’t over the pivot line in 10 seconds, do they get penalized? If they all haven’t crossed the pivot line while blocking the jammers, do they all get penalized?

    You need to be extra-careful when wording suggestions for rules, because people like me–and eventually, good teams–will look for ways to read between the lines and bend them to their favor. I know what you meant by what you suggested, but even giving a penalty to a blocker or blockers who are deliberately stalling at the line to delay the jammer start isn’t going to change the fact that a team can take a knee to force the start of the jam and circumvent that altogether.

    Everyone who I talk to about my view on things like this admits there’s a problem, but thinks simple fixes are the solution to it. While I’d love to see someone come up with a quick fix, I think there’s a lot more to it. I believe the real problem here is that teams have no motivation to take the front of the pack at the start, because the rear is more desirable. If you make the front of the pack the place to want to be, how does that not fix a lot of problems? And why are people so adamant that the strategies this may or may not change are a bad thing for roller derby?

  • Oh yeah, left that part out. Jammer whistle doesn’t blow if the pack is destroyed.

    It seems kind of weird that you would want to start a jam with no pack, anyway, since the sport isn’t really being played if there is no pack.

  • Brad Example

    If the problem with a single-whistle start is that the jammers need more space to get up to speed before entering the zone of engagement… start ’em back further! I’d be fine with a single-whistle start, and it would make explaining the game easier.

    I had to announce that stalled jam, and it wasn’t easy. I have no problem with extreme pack speed control, and those who say that it doesn’t take athleticism have never tried to do it, but this was more than I’d ever seen — and I say that as Denver’s announcer.

    Still, as far as comments about it being “good for derby” go… when you’re on the track, and you’re playing, you’re going to make your minute-to-minute decisions about what it takes to win the bout, not what’s “good for derby.” And that’s the way it should be. So, sure, criticize the rules that you disagree with, and propose alternatives, but don’t blame the skaters for not doing what’s “good for derby.”

    (Very minor correction — as the screenshot shows, Juska had a 25-0, not 30-0. Doesn’t change the debate at all, I just remember that particular jam.)

    • Thanks for pointing out the correct number of points on the jam. I fixed it in the post.

      Still, as far as comments about it being “good for derby” go… when you’re on the track, and you’re playing, you’re going to make your minute-to-minute decisions about what it takes to win the bout, not what’s “good for derby.” And that’s the way it should be. So, sure, criticize the rules that you disagree with, and propose alternatives, but don’t blame the skaters for not doing what’s “good for derby.”

      I’m not criticizing the skaters, I’m criticizing the actions that they’re allowed to do given the rules they have to work with. They’re going to do what they feel is best for them to win games, and in that context I have no issue with things. That’s a part of sports. But for other, more legitimate sports, in no way, shape, or form will standing around and doing nothing help you win the game.

      When I question it whether or not tactics like this are “good for derby,” I’m not questioning how hard the girls think or work during a play. I’m questioning why the hell standing around a minute doing nothing is a good thing to have in a sport trying to reinvent itself as a modern, legitimate sport.

      I had to announce that stalled jam, and it wasn’t easy. I have no problem with extreme pack speed control, and those who say that it doesn’t take athleticism have never tried to do it, but this was more than I’d ever seen — and I say that as Denver’s announcer.

      I have no problem with extreme pack control, either. Since a lot of people seem to have not read “The Pack Problem,” I’ll repeat this here: I have no problem whatsoever with the pack stalling to a crawl. If a team can gain that much control over the pack, then that’s their advantage.

      However, can you look a new fan in the eye and say that it takes athleticism to control the speed of the pack by not moving off of the line, or coasting around at the rear of a split pack situation? That’s my problem. If a team wanted to speed or slow the pack down, they should need to earn it through physical superiority AND superior strategy. Not one or the other when it’s convenient.

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