The biggest story at Nightmare on 95 wasn’t who won the East Region playoff tournament. Gotham was simply on another level from every other team in attendence, and that they took the gold medal was a surprise to nobody. Gotham’s victory was so obviously inevitable, I wrote this sentence six hours before they were scheduled to
beat play Philly for the regional title.
That Gotham is so good says everything about their individual skill and teamwork. They are so good, in fact, one of their opponents saved themselves the trouble and didn’t even bother playing them.
That decision turned out to be one the biggest controversies in modern roller derby’s young history.
Citing strategic reasons, Lancaster, Pa.’s Dutchland Derby Rollers forfeited their quarterfinal game against Gotham Girls Roller Derby. The game was not played and was recorded as a default 100-0 Dutchland loss. To fill the scheduled two hours lost by this non-game, Gotham scrimmaged against Maine and Carolina in two 30-minute play-arounds.
Derby News Network spoke to Dutchland coach Merv the Perv for an explanation behind the team’s decision:
Dutchland chose to forfeit because they felt it was strategically better for their final placement in the tournament to not play a game that they were likely to lose to by a significant margin and to go into the consolation rounds with a fresher team.
Later, Merv commented on the DNN post to provide further explanation. “I made the decision that having a chance to moving up a rank or two was worth missing one blow out game,” he said. “Sports teams often pull starters from a game that has no meaning to them. It, too, is not a fan favorite, but they do it to protect there [sic] players.”
While the coach is saying he made the decision, there is no way this was a decision made lightly or without the consultation of the team. We can never know what was discussed internally at Dutchland, but I’ve seen a second-hand report that there was some “convincing” being done within the team. Ultimately, we can only speculate. Had a majority of the players wanted to play the game after weighing their options, would they have played the game? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? But in the end, the team decided not to.
And the shitstorm of criticism started immediately.
The most immediate backlash criticised Dutchland for such a “shameful” decision. Claims of them “chickening out” or “not wanting to win” poured in. “Anything can happen in derby,” said those thinking Dutchland should have played in case a miracle happened. “You should be lucky to play against Gotham, you could learn a lot from them even if they beat you,” said those that believe any game experience is better than no game experience, even if it’s a blowout.
It continued. Some commenters wondered why they even bothered showing up if they weren’t going to play all their games. One said Dutchland should be banned from the rest of the tournament altogether. Many people started throwing around heavier words like “unsporting” and “pathetic.” A scant few were understanding of Dutchland’s position, but even they were mostly coming from the negative side of the fence.
But I’m not one of those people. I support Dutchland’s position 100%, and I have zero ill will against their coach, their skaters, their team, or their organization.
Let’s be realistic here: Gotham was going to beat Dutchland in an unholy blowout. Wanting to see these two teams play each other is like wanting to see a high school football team play in an NFL game. If both teams gave it everything they had, not only would the pros obliterate the high schoolers, it wouldn’t be a pretty thing to watch or be all that fun to participate in for either team.
And I doubt the kiddies would really learn enough to justify the bruises, broken bones, and humiliating experience they would likely go through.
This is what I don’t get about the criticism directed towards Dutchland. Gotham knew they were going to obliterate Dutchland. Everyone at the venue knew that Gotham was going to obliterate Dutchland. Everyone watching the coverage at home knew that Gotham was going to obliterate Dutchland. Everyone that filled out a bracket knew that Gotham was going to obliterate Dutchland…including those that are currently criticizing Dutchland.
Yet, because Dutchland was just as informed as everyone else, and knew that Gotham was going to obliterate Dutchland, that they decided to put their own interests ahead of those of everyone else and strategically forfeit all of a sudden makes them poor sports and justifies the ill will directed towards them?
Give me a break.
Just for a moment, forget about what you think of Dutchland’s decision. Take a step back from everything, put yourself in Dutchland’s skates, ignore all other outside factors, and THINK: As your inevitable Gotham beat-down is looming on the horizon, you have a decision to make about your well-being in the overall tournament weekend. Do you:
1) Choose to play against Gotham, despite not being fully recovered after just having finished playing a tough game against Maine just four hours ago. If you just go for it under the auspice that “anything can happen” and give it your all, the best you could hope for is maybe only losing by 250~300 points. After Gotham finishes running circles around you for two hours, you come out of it even more tired and banged up—with possible injuries*—leaving you in a less-than ideal position for tomorrow’s infinitely more fairly-matched game.
2) You choose to forfeit against Gotham and skip the game. Not needing to worry about being put through a blender for a few hours, you can mentally and physically relax for the rest of the day. With more time recover and focus on tomorrow’s game, this will give you what you believe is the best possible chance of getting a high as a final placing as possible in the final tournament rankings.
Obviously, Dutchland chose option two. In their opinion, it was the option where pros greatly outweighed the cons, and the lesser of two evils (or so they thought) that they believed would give them the best possible chance of finishing with the highest ranking possible.
In my opinion, they made the right decision.
*(In retrospect’s opinion, too: During the Carolina half of Gotham/Maine-Carolina scrimmages, the track began to degrade to the point of no longer being playable, which could have led to dangerous and unsafe playing conditions—conditions Dutchland (and Gotham) would have been playing in had the game not been forfeited. At least someone had the time to thank Dutchland for this accidental blessing on the tournament.)
I think Dutchland realized there was no value to play against Gotham at that day, at that time, during this tournament. What information Dutchland may have gleaned about how to improve themselves “down the road” via a Gotham pummelling may have not been worth the spending extra energy and effort needed to play the game at a high level (the only level where you learn something about yourself) and still be 100% effective for their more important (to Dutchland) consolation bracket game the next day.
In effect, they were trading a theoretical learning experience against a top WFTDA team—something they can schedule any other time of the year—for an opportunity to rest up for an important game that was certainly not theoretical: A once-in-a-year chance to jump up (at least) two ranking spots in the east region by beating a team that they had a much more realistic chance of beating.
If their game against Gotham was the only one they were scheduled to play that day, I’m sure Dutchland would have played it without hesitation. If Dutchland didn’t have to play two more games in the next two days, I’m also sure they would have played Gotham without thinking twice.
But if you’re going to give it your all for this one chance, this one opportunity…why would you waste any of your precious energy getting throttled by Gotham then and there, when you could just as well schedule a game against another top team down the road at a better time and place?
Like Dutchland’s coach said, the forfeit option was a strictly a strategical decision meant to put their team in the best position possible for their Saturday game in consolation bracket. Considering the stakes for Dutchland, I don’t see how anyone could honestly blame them for making that decision, in that situation, at that time.
But instead of people taking a step back and take the time processing all of this, they immediately blamed Dutchland for not putting “derby first” and “tarnishing” derby’s “reputation.” Those that still choose to blame Dutchland feel that their 255-124 loss to Montreal, the team they ultimately played on Saturday, was “proof” that their forfeit strategy “didn’t work,” and that Dutchland “deserved to lose.”
Give me another break.
First of all, Montreal has proven themselves to be a top team in the East for a few seasons now. Dutchland is still an up-and-comer. The brackets meant it was all but inevitable that they would be playing Montreal the next day, worst-case scenario, and they knew that it was going to be an uphill climb to stay with Les Skids—all the better reason to go into the game as fresh as possible. (If they wound up playing a weaker team at that spot in the brackets, even better.) That they ultimately fell to the Canadians isn’t surprising in the end, and they very well would done so anyway even if they did play Gotham.
To those that are criticizing Dutchland’s forfeit strategy for “not working,” I have this question for you: Are you therefore implying the “playing Gotham strategy” would have “worked,” and Dutchland would have beaten Montreal because of it? (Because that’s not what your bracket says.)
Second, as people at the venue and across the derbyverse realized what had happened, the backlash was immediately negative and constantly down-putting. Crowds booed at Dutchland and even went as far as making anti-Dutchland signs to display during the game.
In my opinion, that was the most shameful thing about this whole mess. I have never seen so much unjustified hatred directed towards a roller derby team. It seems that everyone forgot that roller derby is supposed to be “fun,” even when it’s being played in a serious manner at a competitive level.
This nastiness demonstrated that behind the facade of a light-hearted, “for the skaters” approach to derby, there are some (that’s some) people that have a vitriolic undertone that only comes out when there’s something they don’t like, or something they think is not “fair” to everyone. Modern roller derby is still a young sport, but with youth comes immaturity…and I think the reaction to Dutchland’s decision was far more immature than the decision itself.
(Never mind the fact that Dutchland had to deal with all of these bad vibes directed their way going into their game against Montreal. This had to be on their minds, and it had to affect their performance—and possibly their chances of winning—through no real fault of their own.)
But even these details are small potatoes to the real problem with the forfeit. Everyone quick to blame Dutchland is probably doing so because there is seemingly no one else to blame. They made the decision, so therefore the resulting consequences should be entirely their fault, right?
Thankfully, Dutchland coach Merv the Perv said the exactly correct thing that needed to be said about the situation in his comment on the DNN news story regarding his team’s decision:
“I was thinking, what would be best for this team, during this tournament,” he said. “I did not consider what ‘your’ feeling would be.
“I am a roller derby lover but above all, a Dutchland lover.”
All Dutchland did was put their own interests first. All they wanted to do is give themselves what they believed the best possible chance at giving themselves and their fans a better ranking coming out of the tournament than going into it. This is no different from what the other teams wanted for themselves and their fans: To put on an good overall performance at the tournament.
However, the unfortunate fact that Gotham was in the same bracket as them forced Dutchland to make a tough decision:
1) Play the Gotham game “for the good of derby” but diminish your chances of putting on an overachieving tournament showing overall, due to being physically and mentally drained after playing two tough games within the span of eight hours.
2) Forfeit the Gotham game to rest up for tomorrow’s game and serve your own goals of putting on a good overall tournament showing, even if that may anger a lot of people and make roller derby look bad.
No matter which option they picked, it was going to be unfair for someone: Unfair to Dutchland for needing to play a draining and meaningless game that went against their best interests; or unfair to Gotham, their fans, the WFTDA and their sponsors, and everyone who paid to see the game in person at the venue or streaming in high-def with their money.
No matter which option they chose, Dutchland was in a catch-22. It was either hurt themselves, or hurt roller derby.
But wait a minute… shouldn’t Dutchland’s best interests also be in roller derby’s best interests, no matter what? And shouldn’t a game forfeiture during a high-profile event, something that clearly puts egg on roller derby’s face, also be something Dutchland would never do unless they had no other choice? In this case, neither of those seemingly common-sense principles applied.
And you heard their coach: They love roller derby. They love themselves. I take it on their word that they love both a lot. That anyone questions either of those things is naive and childish. However, they still had to pick one over the other.
Here was a situation where, for the first time, they couldn’t have it both ways.
Dutchland eventually had to make a decision. Their decision to forfeit—which is not against the rules outlined by the WFTDA, by the way—is causing their team to get shit on by people who are completely oblivious to the real problem:
That Dutchland was put into a position where they needed to make this lose-lose decision in the first place.
If you’re going to blame someone over this mess, blame the current WFTDA regional structure. To make a long argument short, having Gotham and Dutchland in the same region is like having…well, like having a professional football team and a high school football team grouped in the same division. As their (second) blowout victory over Philly has shown, Gotham is light-years ahead of the teams directly behind competition within their region, and they have been for years. Gotham, many have commented, is about as close to a “professional” organization, top to bottom, as exists in amateur roller derby today.
But expecting the high schoolers to play against the pros—and criticizing them when they don’t—is as stupid as lambasting the deer for jumping away from the oncoming headlights.
There will always be arguments that the teams under Gotham in the East will eventually improve and someday challenge Gotham. But let’s be realistic again: While those high school kids are crafting their art and improving their game, Gotham will also improve in the same time period. And judging by Gotham’s victories over the east this year, Gotham is getting a lot better a lot faster than any of the teams behind them.
What’s the point of the Gotham pros wasting their time against the likes of high school teams like Philly (267-34; 248-97), Montreal (257-37), Steel City (271-34; 404-30), Boston (260-24) or Dutchland (1000-0, more like it), when everyone would much rather see them play Rocky Mountain, or Oly, Denver, or Windy City, or Kansas City on a regular basis, some of the few teams that have a realistic chance of actually putting on a competitive and complete game against them?
I really hope that this incident will eventually help the WFTDA to reconsider their current one-size-(doesn’t-always)-fit all approach to regions. As top teams separate themselves from the rest of the WFTDA, there may soon come a point (and we may very well be on the verge of it now) where just lumping together the “best” regional teams into a single, straight-up grouping or tournament bracket will be counter-productive and produce more boring blowouts than more engaging and closely-matched contests.
If they can re-structure things into regional divisions (not just regions), or a regional-national division hybrid of some kind and still allow a fair way for teams to self-place themselves or naturally move up/down into higher or lower divisions, that would ensure that all games are always close, competitive, and will have real value to teams looking to improve their game. And you can do this in a way where teams are still free to make their own schedules outside of their region/division. An up-and-coming team wanting to play against a top-ranked veteran can do so when it’s best for them—not when it’s forced upon them at an unideal time.
That’s the most important thing to take way from this whole episode, something a lot of people seem to have forgotten in their search for a scapegoat: There is no single model an individual or team needs to follow for them to better and improve themselves. If a team wants to take things at their own pace, let them. If a team wants to decline an ass-kicking by a a national top-3 team because they don’t feel they’re ready for them, playoffs or not, let them.
Yet, people are blackballing Dutchland as if they did something to bring shame to the game, or set the progress of roller derby back a few years.
Who is anyone to question the motives of 14 girls who just want to play roller derby and better themselves they way they want to do it? Isn’t this game about being for the skaters? So why can’t that group of skaters decide what’s best for them, in their way?
If Dutchland aspires to someday take on the likes of Gotham, that’s great.
If they don’t, that’s great too.
If they want to improve, they’ll get there eventually. Like the high school football player to aspires to be in the NFL, they’ll get there. It just takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of heart…and a supportive environment.
As a great man once said, let them “work it out” on their own. In the end, only Dutchland knows what’s best for Dutchland.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
But if we’re going to pin the blame on “the game,” that leads to an important question:
Does roller derby know what’s best for roller derby?