Into the Great Unknown, Part 2: USARS Regionals 2012

The playoff previews continue with the debut of USARS. What's going to happen with a brand-new rule set in play?

…Continued from Page 1

Southern Region

October 13 – Mobile, Ala. – Hosted by Deep South Derby
Live Streaming Coverage on Derby News Network

Here’s another USARS regional tournament with only three teams. But the South may be different than the other regional with only three teams (the North Central) in that two of them here were specifically created to focus on and eventually play under the USARS ruleset. The teams in this region have also appeared to been the most vocal and most active in recruiting others to join them, though only the three managed to enter the tournament.

Despite that, this region may be interesting for more than a few reasons. First of all, DNN will be streaming it unopposed to the WFTDA tournament season, with no other major roller derby action happening this weekend. (The MRDA Championships will be held the weekend after this regional.) Second, the hosts are attempting to put together a men’s and/or co-ed game to showcase during the break between scheduled games; like other alternative derby rulesets, USARS rules are written to be co-ed friendly.

Host Deep South Derby has also released a bit of video featuring some co-ed scrimmage jams, which I’ve stitched together and annotated with some basic rules and strategy explanations, if you’d like to see the fundementals of the USARS game in motion:

USARS Tournament Info Page
Event Website
Tournament Structure and Schedule (PDF)
Team Rosters (PDF)

Participating Teams:

Deep South Derby All-Stars (Mobile, Ala.) – The host team is working with a big advantage: They were one of the few who participated in the USARS beta tests late last year. Although the finalized first version of the rules have some significant differences from the beta (chief among them: the beta used WFTDA pack definition), that doesn’t change the fact that these girls may be one of the most experienced in the USARS game, at least on paper.

Birmingham Roller Derby (Birmingham, Ala.) – BRD is another league in the south that’s gone all-in with USARS rules, training under them exclusively. According to their Facebook page, they are “interested in fostering the best concerns and most logical rules regarding roller derby for both women and men.” (No wonder they don’t play under WFTDA rules….)

Pensacola Roller Gurlz (Pensacola, Fla.) – Despite their opponents’ relative familiarity in the USARS rule set, Pensacola isn’t coming into this tournament a sitting duck, as they are a ranked team playing under WFTDA rules—22nd out of 34 teams under the Derby South banner, a collection of regional teams that make it a point to play each other with regularity. (The DSD All-Stars, as well as ranked South Central WFTDA teams, are also a part of this coalition.) Pensacola is 4-4 in their eight interleague games played this season within Derby South.

Again, all three of these teams automatically qualify for the USARS national championship on account of them being the top three teams in the region, barring a catastrophic breakdown in basic mathematical principals. This makes it sound as if USARS put the cart before horse a bit, maybe working under the assumption that there would be plenty of teams entering its first tournament to green light locking in the top three everywhere…except that three is almost all they got for each of their tournaments.

Another thing USARS may be ill-prepared for in its debut championship is the fact no amount of beta testing can ever properly stress-test a set of rules. Making matters potentially more catastrophic, the USARS regionals will be the very first time any kind of real gameplay is done under USARS rules. Even if they think the kinks got worked out on paper, and even if with teams and officials dedicated to the rules, when there’s something significant on the line and players are doing whatever it takes to win, even the most water-tight set of rules will start taking on water.

But the problem here is, I’m not even sure USARS realizes their rules aren’t water-tight to begin with.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Return(?) of “Runaway Pussy”

So, about that USARS pack definition rule.

Regular readers of this blog will know that it is the proposal put forth, word-for-word, in The Pack Solution. Readers will also note that despite the numerous advantages this style of pack definition brings to derby, there was a rather glaring issue with it that I made clear at the end: It harbors the potential for the return of the “runaway pussy” situation where a team just goes to the front of the pack, accelerates, and just keeps on going.

This is something that’s completely possible, and completely legal, in USARS rules. Note that a team would have to be pretty bad (or their opponents really, really good) to make this happen under normal gameplay conditions, but it’s in there all the same.

One of the yucky things that might happen as a result of this, besides the obvious situation of a conga line going 25 miles per hour (as opposed to zero mph in the WFTDA variant of this problem) is the potential for a team’s half of the pack to completely skate around the track and lap the opposing blockers, which would be the capper to an already ugly situation.

A team with no reason to play defense has no reason to engage the pack, so if they have the means and ability to do so, they could just skate forever.

How often this may happen is a pretty big question mark, as is how boring it could make the game when it does. But there are a few things to consider that could prevent it happening in the first place.

For one, teams should realize that if they can get all of their blockers to the front, they can exercise full control over how fast or slow the pack goes, which is very good for them in virtually all gameplay scenarios. They should also therefore realize that if the other team gets all of their blockers to the front, that would be bad, bad, bad news.

Therefore, good teams should be working pack strategies that show a severe bias toward keeping members of the other team behind them at all costs. This is made easier by the fact that both pivots start at the front, so a team will always have a fair chance to hold up the other team–remember, four blockers need only hold one opposing blocker behind them to keep the pack under control–if that team has reason to charge toward the front.

But realistically, as long as both jammers are on the track a situation like this will just not happen. Sure, a team could sprint the pack indefinitely, but they’re never going to score points if their blockers (and therefore, the pack) is going just as fast as their jammer is. Too, should a team try to use the maneuver defensively just before a scoring pass and surprise their opponent by busting through to the front of the pack, the lead jammer will probably call off the jam immediately, knowing that it doesn’t benefit her team to tire themselves out and chase a team they failed to contain.

But once you put penalty scenarios in the mix, things change dramatically.

During a power jam situation, the team without a jammer has no reason to block for offensive purposes—a pivot cannot break to score if their jammer is sitting in the penalty box—so if they can get around the other team and get to the front of the pack, they could just keep on going and going like the Energizer Bunny. If the other team can’t call it off because they don’t have lead status, or they have not made an initial pass, we may see something looking more like a USARS Speed Skating competition.

Worse, if a team is starting with a power jam, their opponents could crowd nearer the pivot line behind the pivots—a task made easier if their bench is nearer to it. If the power jamming team’s pivot is in the penalty box, there would be little or no chance to slow the other team before their jammer can pick up lead status. There is also the potential for 2-minute penalties (think a more severe version of a WFTDA major penalty) and up to four(!) players in a team sitting in the penalty box, which may compound the problem even more.

But at least with the USARS rules, teams that do not engage and do not hold back their opponents will not be successful, in any way, shape, or form. To that effect, its version of non-engagement boring derby punishes the team that can’t block and rewards the team that is better, as opposed to the WFTDA version of non-engagement boring derby which rewards the team that doesn’t engage (or commits destruction of pack penalties) and punishes the team that is working their asses off, even if they have more players on the track at the time.

So yeah, as much as the USARS game may potentially breed some very fun-to-watch roller derby, there’s just as much of a potential for very dumb-to-watch derby to happen as well. But this is a new set of rules, and to think that anyone could make a “perfect” ruleset in that short of time is unrealistic by anyone’s standards. Hell, it’s been six years and the WFTDA still isn’t anywhere close to getting there.

No rules are perfect at this point in the modern roller derby revival. But that doesn’t mean that some rules can’t be less imperfect than others.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Northwest Region

October 20 – Coeur D’Alene, Id. – Hosted by Snake Pit Derby Dames
Live Streaming Coverage on Derby News Network

Although the final regional tournament is just four teams strong, it’s the most interesting considering who is participating in it. It’ll also be interesting because by this point, all of the participants should have a very good idea of what to expect with the USARS style of game, having (by then) seen the previous tournaments via DNN. The Northwest tournament will also has some of the best skating talent in the country, mostly by way of one team you’ve definitely have heard of—and one you may be about to hear from.

USARS Tournament Info Page
Tournament Structure and Schedule (PDF)
Team Rosters (PDF)

Participating Teams:

Snake Pit Derby Dames (Coeur D’Alene, Id.) – Unaffiliated Snake Pit is no stranger to big-time derby events, having participated in Wild West Showdown this past March. They’re also not too many degrees away from playing against a top WFTDA team, having played against one of Emerald City’s three home teams earlier in the year. (Emerald’s all-star team was ranked #W14 at the time; they are now ranked #W20.) Alas, the results of those games are unknown to the world.

Oly Rollers (Olympia, Wash.) – Yes, you’re reading that right. The 2009 WFTDA Champions and 2012 WFTDA playoff team currently ranked #4 in the west, will be contesting the inaugural USARS roller derby championship.  There’s nothing more that needs to be said about that, other than perhaps what team Oly will send to the one-day tournament. Will it be their WFTDA tournament team sans Hockey Honey? How about Atomatrix? Or perhaps one of their other two teams will go instead? Those questions will be answered when USARS releases the team rosters in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

Undergrounds Derby Death Dealers – (Olympia, Wash.) – Olympia’s other derby team doesn’t want their big sisters to have all the fun, so they’ll be joining them in Coeur D’Alene. There isn’t much info available on this team, except for they don’t appear to do much travelling outside the comforts of Skateland Olympia, the home venue they share with Oly. The connection doesn’t end there, as Undergrounds had played against Oly’s fresh meat team (the Bella Donnas) two months ago, but the score of that bout is yet to be revealed.

OneWorld Roller Derby (Bellevue, Wash.) – OneWorld is both a league and a nationwide derby community. The team going to regionals is an all-star collection of their best local skaters, but OneWorld itself is “a community designed for growth and inclusiveness.” Founded by former Rat City and Tilted Thunder skater Donna “The Hot Flash” Kay, their driving philosophy is “skills before drills,” but everyone has a place with them regardless of experience. OWRD has a small but growing number of leagues in their “family” in places like Oregon, Texas, Iowa,  Pennsylvania, and Canada.

At first glance, Oly would have to be the runaway favorites to win the region, and maybe even win the whole national tournament. While that’s more than likely to happen, the fact that OneWorld is also in this tournament is going to make it very, very interesting to keep an eye out for.

OneWorld normally skates under OSDA rules which, like USARS rules, allow for the pivot to immediately break from the pack to chase down the lead jammer and score points. (Contrary to the beliefs of some, OSDA does not practice “fake” derby or otherwise choreograph their games for entertainment purposes; it is legit just like the WFTDA is.) So right off the bat, they’ve got an advantage in that they’re the team most familiar with the USARS style of game.

While Oly has to juggle training under the vastly different strategies required within WFTDA rules and USARS rules, OneWorld doesn’t need to do much retooling to what they know to compete in this new rules environment. However, where Oly has the definite edge is their more than three years of interleague experience; OneWorld’s skating core barely has three games of interleague know-how.

So how well they do against Oly, or the other teams in the Northwest Region, is another unknown in a tournament chock-full of them. But if I had to pick just one game to watch out of the 23 that will be taking place over the four USARS regional tournaments, it would be Oly vs. OneWorld. Not just because it might be a great game, but because the players playing on both teams are going have so much fun playing against each other, it would be special to witness indeed.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Skaters

I’ll wrap up this preview with what this whole USARS tournament is really all about.

As those knee-deep in the derby community may know, OneWorld’s Donna Kay has been in an ongoing battle with breast cancer. It’s a battle she’s winning, thankfully, and through it all she still skates and runs OneWorld. Oh yeah, and she’s over 50 years old young.

All who know of her or have been lucky enough to meet her instantly fall in love with her and her derby spirit. So it would come as no surprise that she would post this comment on the OWRD Facebook page:

I’m going to get my old ass out there and skate in this and THEN I’ll have my other boob whacked off. I will take this possibly small window of opportunity and run with it.!!  What a gift!!!!!

Now, you can say whatever you want say or think whatever you want to think about USARS. If you believe they’re just in it for the money, or that they’re destined to ruin roller derby just like they’ve done with other roller sports in the past, or if you think they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Fine. Whatever.

But this roller derby tournament isn’t about USARS. It’s all about players like Donna Kay who want to take roller derby to a new level … and skate for all they’re worth to get it there.

The fact is that much of what’s happening in USARS roller derby is being driven by skaters, or those with close ties to the roller derby community. Of the five people currently on the USARS Roller Derby Sport Committee, two of them are active skaters and two more were at one point directly affiliated with WFTDA leagues like Windy City or Kansas City. USARS also wants to add more people to the committee as well as find the right person—potentially a skater—to sit on the full USA Roller Sports board of directors as the new roller derby representative.

Also, USARS isn’t pocketing any money from the team entry fees for this tournament. Of them, half goes to the host league for assistance and the other half goes right back to the skaters in the form of purse money for the winning teams. In other USARS sports, the organization provides a travel stipend for athletes going to national or international competitions; that may not immediately happen for USARS roller derby, but if teams playing under USARS charter can one day get some financial help going to major events, that can only be a good thing for everyone.

USARS is trying to change how it operates to better cater to how some of the players playing the game want things to be done. (You can hear more about that on episode 121 of Derby Deeds.) Whether or not the “new” USARS will be any different than the “old” USARS will take time to realize. But in the end, the success or failure of their version of roller derby has less to do with them, and more to the skaters that play their game.

The teams that made the decision to participate in the USARS tournament likely did so for different reasons. Some may have done it just for a new challenge. Some may be doing it purely for the hell of it. Some may be doing it for the potential of playing for a decent cash prize. Others may have shared in the belief that derby may one day be in the Olympics and decided to join USARS on their quest to perhaps someday get it there.

Whatever their reasons, it was ultimately the skaters and their teams that made the decision to play USARS derby, not USARS. And if USARS was to ever drop the ball moving forward, the skaters will always have the power to pick up that  ball and go home to the WFTDA ruleset—or, if the WFTDA rules are still inadequate to them at that time, some other alternative.

But the initial reports I’m hearing from leagues and players up and down the grapevine is that, so far, they are overwhelmingly positive on playing under USARS rules. For the most part, everyone is elated that they actually get to skate to play roller derby again. I’ve seen many players used to practicing under WFTDA ruleset commenting on how much harder, more intense, and just plain ol’ fun the USARS game is in comparison.

So regardless of how the regional tournaments ultimately pan out, we should not measure their success or failure by how many people turn up or tune in to watch, or how good or bad the roller derby may appear to be in the opinion of others, or by any quantifiable measure in comparison to the WFTDA. The derby cadre that plays under alternative rulesets does not and has never measured success by those benchmarks. The only thing we as a community should judge the USARS regionals is simply this:

Are the skaters having fun?

If the answer to this question is yes, the USARS tournaments were a success. If no, they were a failure. In a community that has always been about having fun in a competitive environment, this is really the only thing that matters, and has ever mattered.

As of late, the some players and leagues playing in the WFTDA rules environment have not been answering that question in the affirmative. If they were, there would not be those who would take it upon themselves to go as far as create an entirely new set of roller derby rules, organize a national derby tournament using these rules that no one has played under before, and then convince leagues to play in a tournament using a style of roller derby that is mostly foreign to them.

The most amazing thing about all this? Nearly two dozen leagues said “yes, we want to try this.” Whether or not they’ll stay with USARS rules going forward is not certain. (More likely most leagues will play USARS and WFTDA rules concurrently.) But one thing is for sure, more skaters and teams are starting to use their voice to play the roller derby they want to play, whether the WFTDA status-quo provides it to them or not.

The first USARS regional tournaments are not about USARS. They’re about the skaters that have chosen to play in them, and the decisions they and other players will make about the sport in the near future. If the first five years of derby were about discovery, and the last five years about organization, the next five years will be about direction, and what directions the players want to take the sport in.

To be frank, it’s both exciting and kind of scary to think about. But of course it would be.

Roller derby is heading into the great unknown.

  • Can 3 teams really be called a tournament? My biggest issue with this attempt by USARS is how hurried and under thought it seems. As far as we know, only a handful of games were played under the USARS beta rules, and none by the final set (which aren’t very different). Now, my opinion differs from yours about how they look on paper. They may encourage forward play, unlike the WFTDA rules, they are very incomplete. From a reffing point of view there’s a major lack of direction on how to actually interpret the rules. That’s going to lead to severe inconsistencies in officiating, which can ruin a bout/tournament very easily.

    What’s worse about this USARS attempt is the lack of any men’s bouts. Apparently they decided there weren’t enough interested men’s teams to put on any men’s tournaments. I don’t recall anyone asking my team. USARS prides itself on being coed, not just a single gender. Well, how about showing it? Rather than a lame attempt at regional tournaments (again, I don’t qualify 3 teams as a tournament anyway) they could have hosted a national tournament that had women’s and men’s bouts. Nope, easier to go about it the wrong way.

    The only saving grace that USARS has is WFTDA’s paywall. If WFTDA was giving out their feed for free like last year, then USARS would pretty much be ignored.

    If I watch at all, it’s because I like a good train wreck. If it goes well, good for USARS I guess. My expectation is that it will be a mediocre mess.

    • Can 3 teams really be called a tournament? My biggest issue with this attempt by USARS is how hurried and under thought it seems.

      Well yes, 3 games does a tournament make. Technically. I guess. But I agree, the whole thing feels rushed and kind of held together with glue that could come undone at any moment. Still, they got it together by some miracle, and even though the number of entrants is almost laughable, it’s … more than they had last year.

      USARS prides itself on being coed, not just a single gender. Well, how about showing it? Rather than a lame attempt at regional tournaments (again, I don’t qualify 3 teams as a tournament anyway) they could have hosted a national tournament that had women’s and men’s bouts. Nope, easier to go about it the wrong way.

      I disagree with it being “the wrong way,” because you have to consider that all the problems you rightly pointed out about the rules and the officiating have to be worked out, and they can only be addressed through meaningful interleague gameplay. USARS putting all their eggs in one basket with a showcase national invitational tournament, but then having all those problems happen when a lot of teams traveled a potentially long way to play, would be even a bigger disaster, wouldn’t it?

      USARS stated that they were only going to do a women’s tournament (uh, “tournament”) this year, and start doing men’s/co-ed next year. Given how they handled things over the last two or three months, that’s probably a really smart decision. Because even if they won’t admit it publicly, this whole national tournament is really a big proof-of-concept/continual beta test for their rules. If they don’t completely suck, they’ll fix what needs fixing, clear up what needs clearing up, and see how many teams want to try it again. Like I said, as long as the teams have fun, there’s no reason to think they won’t try it again in the future. That’s the most important thing.

      By the way, I’ve been talking with a ref who is of the understanding that USARS will be providing tests and other materials to assist them with interpreting the rules. So even if they aren’t doing it publicly—and they should be doing it publicly—doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t in the process of trying to address it.

      My expectation is that it will be a mediocre mess.

      Like I said in the preview, this is a potluck tournament in every way. There’s no denying how good teams like Oly or San Diego RD are, but everyone else? Who the fuck knows. I’m trying to temper my expectations so that I won’t be completely disappointed if the train flies off the rails. But I also know that there are certain things in this rule set that have been proven to work, either in other modern rule sets or in the previous history of (legit) derby. I’m just hoping the teams that play it (and the officials that call it) are good enough to make a competent showing of it all.

  • Hi, WindyMan. Just wanted to let you know that USARS SW is NOT going to be the first chance people have to see the USARS rules in tournament play. I’m broadcasting the USARS NC tournament from Dubuque, Iowa this weekend. As you pointed out, it will be the first ever USARS roller derby tournament – a historic event! Read more about it here:

    You might want to update your preview article accordingly.

    • Yes, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I didn’t realize DNN had also secured a stream for the NCs. I added a link to the DNN live page for the region, but I maintain the Southwest still should be the first real showcase of the USARS rules to the community at-large, if only because there are a lot more games spread out over two days.

    • Because 3 games isn’t a tournament.

  • Another view point

    USARS would have been better off spending the next year doing open invitational tournaments with plenty of lead time rather than trying to fake a National tournament structure with only 16 teams competing in it. It would have allowed them to showcase whether their ruleset worked, train officials properly and fine tune things where needed.

    Personally, I think the ruleset is a disaster, easily exploited by any half-skilled team and will result in tedious games but we shall see. I also believe that Oly, if they choose, could make it so that no team involved ever scored a point against them.

    I’ll be watching the first ‘casts but I fully expect a boring mess.

    • Personally, I think the ruleset is a disaster, easily exploited by any half-skilled team and will result in tedious games but we shall see.

      You say this, but you don’t explain why. So I’ll ask: Why do you think this? Please explain your reasoning, specifically.

      I also believe that Oly, if they choose, could make it so that no team involved ever scored a point against them.

      Team USA beat Sweden by like 630-6, didn’t they? They almost had a shutout there. Regardless of the rules being used, if a team is on a completely different level than their opponent, they scores will be comically lopsided. If (and probably when) we see that during the USARS games, that’s not necessarily because the rules are bad, it’s because one of the teams are bad compared to their opponent.

      To that effect, you’re basically complaining that the better team will win in a boring blowout, which happens all the time in the WFTDA.

    • Another view point

      I think Oly could hold pretty much any team in the world to zero with the USARS ruleset if they chose to do so.

      I think people greatly the underestimate the difficulty in preventing runaway pussy, especially without being able to go clockwise on the track. Also, since there is always a pack, if you are the goat, you just abuse RD40.07 and the race is on again.

      The false start rules are a mess and can let a jammer kill vital time off the clock if they wish.

      I dislike the pivot role in USARS / MADE / OSDA. I find it makes for boring games.

      The penalty system is a mess. I know the style of play reduces physical contact (which is one of the reasons I dislike the pack is front, pivot/jammer game) but 2 minutes is a long time to be in the box for what would be still be 1 minute in a WFTDA game. Why bother trying to keep your balance when you can dive to the ground and draw 2 minutes? 3 majors and you are out which means most skaters will be reluctant to engage at all during a game. If they do, I will not be surprised to see a team have to forfeit a game because of all their skaters fouling out. And really, 4 skaters/team in the box at once?

      Essentially, USARS has set up a rule system where blockers need to skate like pylons so they can actually continue to play the game. At least that is the case if the game is properly refereed. It is a low contact version of roller derby and I’m sure that appeals to some but the full contact nature of the sport is what attracted me in the first place and this is not what I care to see.

      I fully realize that these are MY opinions and I could be dead wrong about how the games work out. However, no one has really cared enough about the rules in order to bother finding all of the loopholes. There is a lot of wiggle room in there for a team that wishes to game the system.

      • I think Oly could hold pretty much any team in the world to zero with the USARS ruleset if they chose to do so.

        Among others, Gotham, Rose City, Bay Area, the L.A Derby Dolls and Team USA would disagree with that. But again, you’re essentially complaining that the better team will beat a worse team in a boring fashion; I again refer you to Team USA’s blowouts, and Gotham’s 500-point-plus wins earlier this season. Those were played under WFTDA rules, and I don’t see you discrediting them like you’re trying to do with USARS rules.

        I think people greatly the underestimate the difficulty in preventing runaway pussy, especially without being able to go clockwise on the track.

        I’m not disagreeing with you that it’s difficult to prevent runaway pussy. (Although, what does skating backwards have to do with that?) I even pointed out situations where it would be virtually impossible to do so, but those are loopholes will probably be closed immediately.

        But ignoring the loophole aspect of it, guess what? Sports are supposed to be difficult. The question is just as much whether or not the teams playing by the rules are good enough to play in them, as much as it is whether or not the rules themselves are good. Again, that’s an issue facing roller derby on the whole, not just one rule set.

        However, no one has really cared enough about the rules in order to bother finding all of the loopholes.

        Uh, hello? Of course no one has “cared” enough about the rules before this point. Because no one has played games by them before this point! Now, 20 or so teams care and 16 of them will begin working out the loopholes. That number will either shrink, grow, or stay the same next year, depending on how things get worked out.

        Like I said in this preview, the number one determiner of success is whether or not the players playing the game had fun. Even if you may personally hate the rules, hate the style of gameplay, and think the games are boring, if a skater walks up to you and says, “I had fun playing this game,” are you going to tell them, “sorry, but you’re wrong?”

    • Another view point

      So, since the majority of skaters are having fun playing roller derby using the WFTDA ruleset you are going to stop demanding changes to the rules?

      I’ve gone to see low contact roller derby before and I know full well that the skaters are having a blast and I would never tell them that they aren’t. However, it is, as a viewing experience, intensely boring to watch.

      You hate the conga line but that does not happen in every jam of every WFTDA game. I hate the pivot being able to become lead and that pretty much will happen in every jam of every USARS game except when there is a big enough power disparity.

      I hope WFTDA fixes their ruleset, over time. Adopting pack is front and pivot as jammer is not the solution though.

    • Crotch Rock-It

      [I]I think people greatly the underestimate the difficulty in preventing runaway pussy, especially without being able to go clockwise on the track. Also, since there is always a pack, if you are the goat, you just abuse RD40.07 and the race is on again.[/I]

      Not true. If a goat intentionally goes out of bounds to alter the status of the pack, she will be subject to a skating out of bounds minor penalty. At which point, the opposing team may have more blockers on the track and will be able to define the pack and control the pack speed at will. Runaway pussy is only possible when the pussy team has at least as many blockers on the track as the opposing team.

      • You sure about that, Crotch Rock-It? Here’s what I think is being referred to:

        When two or more groups of Blockers exclusively comprise players from the same team, the Pack is the group comprising all Blockers on a team and positioned most forward on the track.

        This is one of the exceptions to the “pack must contain members from both teams” default definition, and as I understand it (and as I originally envisioned it) this means once a team gets to the front of the pack, they are the pack regardless of how many skaters they have in it. Technically, that means a minority of players could be defined as the pack, including a lone skater for a team if they can get to the front as they would be the “group comprising all Blockers on a team and positioned most forward on the track.

        Unless USARS gave you specific clarification on that, this is what I’m assuming will be the case, and why I’m worried that things may not go completely well this first go-round with the regionals.

    • So all a team needs to do is recruit speed skaters (of which USARS has a huge membership) and just race the pack forward the entire time. Hell, then roller derby would be right back where Leo Seltzer started it! A marathon race. Woot!!


    • Another view point

      That is the way I’ve read the rules regarding runaway pussy. Speed skating is the requirement now.

      The only way to stop it is for a goat to allow themselves to be a goat. Take the penalty, or just make it look good since it is “his/her best efforts” and stop your opponent from scoring points.

    • Crotch Rock-It

      WindyMan, you are correct. I had misread the last sentence in RD40.05. The exception would be if the goated team only had two blockers on the track. If the goat gets sent to the box for skating out of bounds, the sole remaining blocker would no longer be considered a pack, because you need at least two skaters to form a pack.

    • Another view point

      Hmm. Can you point out where the USARS ruleset says 1 player cannot be a pack?

    • Crotch Rock-It

      “The Pack is the largest group of Blockers…”

      One player is neither a group nor a plural form of the word blocker. I did clarify this point with USARS to make sure that I didn’t put my foot in my mouth again. 🙂

    • Another view point

      That makes for an interesting loophole where a team with only 1 blocker is extremely disadvantaged (they were already but…) and it means we should still see some slow derby with extremely devastating consequences because the pack will be with the opposition and moving as slowly as they can skate.

      I’m not sure that makes things better or worse. I can see some entertainment value in one skaters running for their lives from a pack of four opposing blockers in the hopes that their team mates get out of the box. One blocker trying to stop the jammer while 4 skaters skate as slowly as possible without the need to engage though? Hmm, that sounds even worse than the WFTDA Sausage. Looks like winning through non-engagement is in USARS as well.

      • One blocker trying to stop the jammer while 4 skaters skate as slowly as possible without the need to engage though? Hmm, that sounds even worse than the WFTDA Sausage.

        And this is just ridiculous on your part. Here’s what I’m hearing you argue: “This extremely rare happenstance is the exact same thing as in the WFTDA, but it’s worse just because it’s USARS and not WFTDA!!”

        Now look, I agree with you that having four people in the box and one on the track for any extended period of time is dumb. But trolling isn’t going to get you anywhere.

        Looks like winning through non-engagement is in USARS as well.

        What’s better, in the context of being more fair: Winning by non-engagement, or losing by non-engagement? And which ruleset, for the most part, does a better job of ensuring one or the other?

    • Another view point

      WFTDA does not really allow for only 1 blocker to be on the track. It happens occasionally but only for couple of seconds.

      USARS is set up so that 3 blockers can be in the box for 2 minutes at a time. When that happens, the lone blocker can do nothing to move the pack.

      WFTDA has a problem with the sausage because of a loophole.

      USARS has this problem officially built into the rules.

      When it happens it will be FAR worse than the problem you see in the WFTDA ruleset. It could easily result in massive point jams. When you consider the scoring under USARS should be considerably lower than in WFTDA, these Death Jams will be the pivotal points of the game and nearly impossible to overcome unless you get one of your own.

      A team getting the first Death Jam of the game can likely run up the score and then skate fast for the rest of the game, keeping contact to a minimum and win handily.

  • maim-bow brite

    I’m super excited to see USARS play personally. When USARS contacted my team we all wanted to do it, but we have a very small team and many of our members can’t travel super far. We were going to make an all star team with other teams from the area, but then as far as we know all skaters have to be in the same USARS league…so we couldn’t do that. We are however forming an all star team over the next few months and transferring the skaters insurance to all one league so we can skate in next years USARS tournament.

    I think the USARS rule set is better than WFTDA. Even if “runaway pussies” happen, I’d rather watch people skate fast to prevent points than skate slow to get points.

    • Another view point

      If you had been watching in the days before WFTDA fixed “runaway pussy” then you would not be saying that. It would have killed the sport if they had left it that way.

    • maim-bow brite

      I would posit that slow derby is killing the sport now…but either extreme is probably not great to watch. However, as a spectator, I would rather watch blockers have to BLOCK to slow a pack down rather than just skate slow and wait for the pack to break…i.e. skating with your “ducks in a row”. How embarrassing is that to explain to an audience? “And here you see team A pretty much stopped on the track- why are they doing that you ask? Oh, because they are choosing to win through no effort. Awesome to watch folks. Awesome.”

      As a skater, I would rather win through effort than manipulating rules to allow lazy skating to work to my benefit. Does that mean I don’t skate “lazy” now? Hell no! Just like most other skaters, I’m going to do what is most effective out there, even if I hate it while I’m doing it. When I’ll yelling at my fellow skaters to “slow down, stop skating forward, let the pack break”, I feel like an idiot. When I coach this technique to other skaters, I feel even worse. But, as much as I would like to take the high road and play “fuck you get past me derby”, I can’t do that if I want my team to win when the other team is playing slow stroller derby.

      This rule set is going to have some problems for sure. I don’t like the longer penalties (2 mins is a LONG time) and I don’t like that you foul out after only 3 penalties. The pivot being able to score could be interesting, or it could be dumb, I don’t know that yet.

      And, who knows, I could be totally wrong with all of this. Maybe runaway pussies will be worse than backaway pussies after all, and I’ll be singing the praises of WFTDA rules by the wintertime. Either way, I’m glad to see an alternative rule set getting some attention and skaters being able to test them out- because if they work, awesome, lets incorporate them…if they don’t, awesome, lets ditch them.

    • Another view point

      When does “the sausage” happen in WFTDA play? Generally during a power jam.

      When should “runaway pussy” happen in USARS play? Every jam if teams are executing strategy properly.

      • As I believe I made clear in my WFTDA preview, the sausage is beginning to happen during many regular jams, too. It doesn’t matter if a team is on a power jam or not, dropping back and splitting the pack is the easiest and fastest way to get a jammer past the other team’s blockers, no matter the game situation. I expect to see a lot of this happening in the rest of the regionals.

        And you’re actually incorrect about runaway pussy happening on every jam. If a team is executing strategy properly, they will be holding back some members of the opposing team to score points. It’s silly to think a team will want to purposely sprint the pack on most every jam, because if they do, they’ll never score points and will lose the game. Besides, with a pack that’s moving at a moderate speed, accelerating around someone takes more time to do, which therefore makes it easier for a blocker to keep another player behind them.

        Not to say runaway pussy won’t happen during power jams. But I anticipate the sausage happening during more regular WFTDA jams than I do runaway pussy during regular USARS jams.

    • Another view point

      Are you being deliberately obtuse Windyman?

      The team that has lead jammer obviously does not want Runaway Pussy to happen.

      The team that does not have lead jammer obviously does want Runaway Pussy to happen.

      There are two teams on the track. At least one of them wants Runaway Pussy to happen.

      Therefore it is the correct strategy for at least one of the teams in every jam.

      How many times did the Sausage happen during North Centrals when there was not a power jam? I watched every game. I can’t think of a single time. I’m sure you were taking notes though so I look to you for information regarding this.

      The sausage works, to a degree, during power jams because one team does not need to worry about points being scored against them. You can try to pull it against a team in a regular jam but if it does not work immediately, you’ve allowed the opposing jammer to get all the way around the track and all of your points are waiting for her.

      I’m not saying it hasn’t happened. I’m saying that it is a losing strategy, in the long term, in a regular jam.

      Runaway Pussy should be a regular feature of USARS if the teams know how to play. The Sausage will happen only occasionally in the WFTDA tournament and most of the time it will be during a power jam.

      • Therefore it is the correct strategy for at least one of the teams in every jam.

        Yes, it is. But you make it sound like the other team is just going to fall over and die to let that happen on every jam. You’re calling me obtuse, but you don’t stop to consider how difficult it would for a team to do this on a jam, let alone every jam. Is there a reason why you’re ignoring the fact that even if it’s sometimes good “strategy” for one team to race to the front, the other team isn’t going to let them do that?

        Because unlike the WFTDA sausage, the USARS pullaway has a fair and effective counter-strategy: Keep some of the other team’s blockers behind you. (As I pointed out on this blog previously, if a pack is moving it is easier to keep players behind you.) You make that sound as if such a basic roller derby skill is beyond even the most inexperienced teams—which it might be. But I’ll take my chances in trusting a team’s blocking skills to make this a relatively minimal, albeit possible, problem.

        How many times did the Sausage happen during North Centrals when there was not a power jam? I watched every game. I can’t think of a single time. I’m sure you were taking notes though so I look to you for information regarding this.

        I said in my WFTDA preview that the North Central teams rely the least on non-skating tactics. I wasn’t expecting much, if any, of that kind of crap to happen during their tournament, and it didn’t. But I am expecting it, to varying degrees, in the West, East, and South Central, which I’m basing on the observation that teams in these regions (particularly the East and South) have been doing it more frequently as of late.

        I’m not saying it hasn’t happened. I’m saying that it is a losing strategy, in the long term, in a regular jam.

        Again, in my WFTDA preview (do you even read my blogs?) I singled out Rat City specifically for this reason. In their game a few months ago, Bay Area was crushing Rat City defensively. But Rat was constantly splitting the pack to free their jammer instantly, preventing Bay Area from racking up big regular jams. This allowed them to keep the game close enough—with nothing Bay Area could do about it—to where they could have a chance to do nothing during a power jam and win. And Rat actually won the game, if not for a last-jam mistake on their part.

        The point here is that the splitting the pack isn’t a “winning” or “losing” strategy. All that matters is that is can be extremely effective, it allows completely outworked and inferior teams to keep games unnaturally close, and it’s pants-shitting boring and stupid to see.

        Runaway Pussy should be a regular feature of USARS if the teams know how to play. The Sausage will happen only occasionally in the WFTDA tournament and most of the time it will be during a power jam.

        Let’s see how the games pan out before jumping to conclusions. That applies to me just as much as it does you, my friend.

  • Amy Handyside-Rule

    My name is Rowdy Piper, I am a player, assistant coach, and manager of the Tulsa Derby League All Stars. First off I would like to thank you for inspiring my team and other teams to bring their best to the USARS regional tournaments. Your article not only inspired players but it has now intrigued other leagues and spectators. I hope that DNN’s coverage of these events will be watched by derby skaters everywhere.

    You mentioned in your article under our league, Tulsa Derby League All Stars, that we were a former WFTDA Apprentice Program, please note that our decision of leaving the apprentice program had nothing to do with the USARS Regionals; our decision was made on what was best for our league. On another note, you posted scores from our past bouts from the 2012 season, I would like to state that yes, the point deficit was high on both bouts, however the Tulsa Derby League All Stars team was not the team playing those bouts. With that being said we just bouted a WFTDA North Central Region team and took the victory 151-141. But the point being you didn’t have all the facts straight to which you tried to make us look bad.

    We all know the Oly Rollers are a top contender with WFTDA and is going to be a good contender at USARS Tournaments as well. But, the team that is going to be the victor of the USARS Nationals will be the one that not only plays as a team but also keeps their players from fouling out. Many games have been lost by sitting in the penalty box. And just maybe the new USARS rules will have a surprising twist to your predictions. This is not to imply anything about the Oly Rollers just stating how the new rules may change things up.

    Athletes and Teams don’t always become instant Champions, they all start somewhere and sometimes it’s at the bottom. Our team may not be the first ever USARS National Champions, (but who really knows yet), but that WILL NOT stop us from training, bouting, and striving to be the BEST we can be. And may some day become the USARS National Champions which is what all of the teams competing would like to be.

    Another thing, the roller derby world needs to realize we should not be trying to bring leagues and players down, but we should be trying hard to inspire and build them up. Bringing something new to the table like the NEW USARS RULES might spark new interests in leagues, players, fans and hopefully will help to promote roller derby in small towns and cities everywhere.

    Again, I would like to thank you as your article has motivated us to work even harder. We look forward to the new challenge ahead of us. And I, Rowdy Piper, along with the Tulsa Derby League All Stars wish all the leagues in the North Central, Southwest, Southern, and Northwest Regions the BEST OF LUCK at their USARS Regionals.

    • Thanks for the info on your results. I updated the article with a few clarifications. And note, I never set out to make a team “look bad.” I just go what what I know and make an observation based on that. There’s so little current info on a lot of these teams (and frankly, the game itself) that I’m not going to be surprised if I’m completely wrong about anything I’ve previewed.

      But I’m glad I’m helping leagues like you follow your dreams. Now get out there and play some good roller derby!

  • I am with the host league for the USARS North Central Regional. While I agree there will be probably many bugs to this 1st tournament as we truly did not have time or enough information to fully prepare and this ruleset is new to both the skaters and the officiating crew. I think we all feel like Bambi on thin ice.
    We were just as saddened by the fact we only have 3 teams participating. I believe this tournament should have been planned earlier allowing more teams to enter and have more notice to be available this weekend. Many teams in the area already had their season booked naturally. With anything new there will always be opposition. I am not sure I will like the ruleset- but I am willing to give it a shot. Everything has to have a beginning. So while we are not well known in the big scheme of roller derby- we are excited to be hosting and look forward to trying something new. As far as possibly playing Oly in the Nationals-that thought is very intimidating, but if we weren’t playing in this tournament we would NEVER get the chance to play Oly. So while USARS is new it did open a door to play with some high level teams that we would have never received the chance to play against. Win or lose- we all gain something invaluable-EXPERIENCE.

    • I would like to add to Michelle’s post…..I am the Captain of the Rushmore Rollerz….that team of 10 that looks as though you are mocking.

      WE ARE FROM SOUTH DAKOTA NOT NORTH DAKOTA!! Yes, there is a difference! Look up Mt. Rushmore (hence the name) and you will find Rapid City!

      Now….rather than mock teams with blowout losses seriously look up everything and anything you can about these teams. I know for a FACT that there is a ton out there about our team. Blowouts…of course…but as far as the A’Salt Creek loss you should
      look up the Roster, we had 8 with 5 new players who were willing to travel due to wether here on the Plains…to their full team at home of seasoned players.

      • Oh good heavens! Sorry about the state mix-up. I fixed that.

        But on the other hand, you’re telling me to look up your rosters. Okay, where can I find those? Because I spent a good hour trying to locate as much info about your games as I could, and I wasn’t finding much. And the only reason I picked out that one game is because it’s the closest connection that I could find against a team everyone knows (Rocky Mountain).

        I made every effort to gather as much info as I could about all the teams in the USARS regionals. Remember, just because YOU know about it, doesn’t mean that everyone else does. Please understand that.

        Regardless, I’m genuinely thrilled you ladies are giving the USARS game a try, and I hope to see you do well. Good luck, and have fun skating!

    • Chaz Pearson

      I found their roster in less than 15 minutes.
      Click the ‘Rosters’ link very near the top of the page.

      After checking around the usual sites (DNN, USARS, Rushmore’s website; where I wasted most of my time), I searched (google) for “USARS North Central Derby Regionals 2012” It’s the very first link result.

      • She was referring to the rosters of the WFTDA-rules game between Rushmore and A’Salt Creek, weeks before the USARS regional. Rosters are not publicly available for that; believe me, I would have found them if they were.

        By the way, I had linked the USARS rosters in this very preview; that’s why I knew Rushmore only went to the regional with 10 skaters. It was on the roster!

  • Great article, WindyMan! I will be watching the USARS tournaments and look forward to your comments about the games.

  • Moonbat

    Watched the first tournament and now I know what runaway pussy mean because I saw a lot of it. Big thanks to Rushmore for making the long trip and congrats to the Okies for bringing the speed skates.

    • Another view point

      It will only get worse once teams actually figure out the strategy appropriate for the USARS ruleset.

      I don’t think this first tournament was a good test of the ruleset. However, if the Westerns had not been on and I was not already parked in front of the computer in derby-watching mode, I’d have turned off the USARS tournament within about 15 minutes of starting to watch.

  • Another view point

    Week 2: I find myself unable to watch the feed for any extended period of time because:

    1) one of the teams obviously does not know the rules

    2) one of the teams is lacking in skating ability and should not be there

    3) the ruleset makes for mindnumbingly boring roller derby on a level I did not imagine.

    The USARS ruleset will destroy roller derby fast than any sausage ever could. I’m glad the WFTDA Easterns has been on as well so that I can cleanse my palate every time I decide to dive back into the USARS cesspool. At least there is contact and physicality when the pack stops (even during a sausage) under the WFTDA. All I see is bad skating under USARS.

    I’m trying to find the good in it but I can’t.

    On a side note, I heard mention that Windyman himself has received funds from USARS. I don’t know if this is true but if it is, you should probably disclose it in the interest of clarity.

    • AVP, I’m *this close* to putting down strike two on your trolling scorecard. Consider what you’re saying here:

      1) one of the teams obviously does not know the rules

      2) one of the teams is lacking in skating ability and should not be there

      3) the ruleset makes for mindnumbingly boring roller derby on a level I did not imagine.

      In point 1, you’re blaming a team’s inexperience with the rules a problem. In point 2, you’re blaming a team’s lack of skill and ability a problem. But then you directly blame the rules, when you just said team inexperience and lack of skate skill were issues? Did it ever cross your mind that the derby was in part boring because the teams playing it weren’t very good at skating (would a football game be good if the players weren’t very good at running?) and/or trying to use WFTDA strategies in a rules environment where they don’t work?

      Naturally, there was a large discrepancy of skill between many of the teams playing at the SW regional. I counted five completely worthless, horrible games with little to no entertainment value. Four others were, in my opinion, as competent as your average competent WFTDA game. But another game–Port City vs. Resurrection-was an absolute gem, and if you haven’t seen it, you should watch it and tell me how much action you see in the pack:

      I should mention that the atmosphere in the building during this game was off the charts. If you don’t get excited watching this, that’s fine. But you should at least attempt to appreciate why the crowd was going insane during this game, at the minimum.

      At least there is contact and physicality when the pack stops (even during a sausage) under the WFTDA.

      See the above game.

      On a side note, I heard mention that Windyman himself has received funds from USARS. I don’t know if this is true but if it is, you should probably disclose it in the interest of clarity.

      This is absolutely ridiculous and not true. Pulling rumors out of thin air in an attempt to discredit me, for whatever reason you think you need to do that, isn’t going to help anything.

    • Another view point

      Windyman, my comments were in regards to multiple games that I watched on the weekend, not a single game.

      I have watched the Port City v Resurrection game and it is BORING. I stuck it out for the whole damn thing and it is still boring. Even with the close finish, it is still boring. There is no flow to these games. They are horrible to watch. It was the closest thing to a proper roller derby game USARS has managed so far but it is perhaps a 2 on a scale of 10 for entertainment value (every other game gets a zero from me).

      BTW, my bringing up the rumor was to give you the opportunity to address it. It is something that is being said out there and if it is untrue then I’m glad you have had an opportunity to say so.

      I have no doubt the crowd was into it. I once attended a rec roller derby game that ended up being close and all the moms and dads and family friends were going nuts. The game was horrible but they enjoyed it. Good for them but it doesn’t make it good derby.

    • Doomsayer

      Receiving funds from USARS is quite an accusation. I have never heard such, but perhaps this rumor lies in the possibility that Windyman is on the USARS derby BoD.

      • Now, that’s a stupid accusation when the truth is readily available.

      • perhaps this rumor lies in the possibility that Windyman is on the USARS derby BoD.

        Hilarious. I guess this “rumor” got started because I’ve been down on the WFTDA for the past two years—never mind that a lot of people in derby have been as well—and simultaneously cautiously optimistic on USARS. Imagine that, I have opinions that differ that most people!

        Get your heads out of your collective asses, children. I love roller derby. That’s it. That’s all. If someone out there is playing some form of roller derby, no matter what it is, I’ll give it the time of day. If I like it, I’ll support it. If I don’t like it, I’ll respect it. Either way, you sure as hell know I’m going to have my opinions about it.

        Don’t read into it any further than that. If you try, all you’ll be doing is exposing your own personal biases.

        I will say this, though: If I got offered a paying job that let me do nothing but roller derby all day, why the fuck wouldn’t I take it?

  • Thank you for your insight. You were a great resource leading up to the tournament. Thanks for your coverage and breakdown of the USARS game. We participated in SW Regionals and loved the game. I don’t like that people dismiss the game without really understanding it yet. As a team, we agree that this game is really exbiting! We trained hard learning the rules for this tournament and I think our game play proved that. We’ll see you at USARS Nationals! We couldn’t be more excited. -Dirty Carie, Resurrection Roller Girls

  • Moonbat

    So this past weekend I saw quite a few more bouts and all but one were blowouts, (I didn’t see ALL the bouts so there may have been others that were close or even fun to watch…) The one that wasn’t a blowout was still quite boring with scores not topping the 50’s if I recall. Lot’s of scoreless jams, at least two forfeits, broken skaters and a broken photographer. I only saw one lead change which means the drinking game has to have new rules as well. Lots of TO’s as the refs and coaches try to figure out wtf is going on so I guess those could take the place of lead changes as far as that goes.

    Afterwards there was still a tournament going on in Australia that I was able to watch and I have to tell you, it was refreshing to see “normal” rules and real contact once again. But I don’t know If I’ve seen the requisite ten bouts yet under the USAR rules yet. I’ll keep watching for now just in case teams learn how to play “capture the goat” since that seems to be the cure for the boring play, or so I’ve been told. . I’m no expert by any means, but I think the pack definition rules should Require that in order to be a “pack” it has to include players from both teams. When there are two packs I don’t see how you really have A Pack..

    Other ways to equalize teams would be to require any team with a 20 point lead to remove one skate from everyone on the team, or maybe have to carry a NSO on their back. This would eliminate the RP problem for the most part I believe…. and it would be fun for the NSO’s! And the scoring pivot.. it’s confusing for everyone. It confuses the refs, it confuses the blockers, it confuses the jammers, it confuses the fans, it confuses the people selling popcorn… It makes for more scoreless jams though. So far it ain’t making for closer scores though as far as I can tell… so what’s the point of it?

  • Thank you for posting the Port City vs. Resurrection game. It reaffirmed that THIS is the derby I want to play. It was incredible watching the skating abilities and the strategy needed to win the game. I really think that if you give it time, more games will look like this one than the other ones that people are saying were boring to watch…people need time to understand and execute a different rule set, and USARS didn’t give teams the time they really needed to do so.

  • I felt a lot like where derby was in 2006.

    • genxmike

      Which is not a good thing.

    • Not a good thing? In 2006 roller derby moved and didn’t stand still. Teams and skaters were interested in making the game fun to watch. There was action and excitement. Nowadays roller derby is all about winning. I remember when we were taught that winning isn’t everything. There’s also integrity of sport, sports(wo)manship, fans, etc. I wish derby would go back to where it was in 2006.

      • Actually, the problem isn’t that derby is “all about winning.” It’s that the method for winning and the methods for having fair and entertaining derby are not the same. Teams wanted to win badly in 2006-2009 just as badly as they want to now, but they were under the impression they had to work and skate hard at all times to do that. As a result, the derby was great.

        But that was before teams realized their rules let them win more easily by not working hard all the time. Before this slow derby mess, they thought they had to skate hard to win. Now they know they don’t have to skate hard (all the time) to win. The only way this issue is going to be fixed is if the rules are made so teams know they have to skate hard to win. Then, we’ll get back on track.

  • Trent Rasinor

    I like the game that the ladies created, not the one usurped by the big ol’ nasty governing agency. I know some would rather a big bureaucratic organization be in charge so that the skaters can focus on skating but it’s better for everyone when private organizations are sailing the ship creating a product that many people can get behind and feel like they have a voice in decision making. That’s democracy!