2013 WFTDA Rules Analysis

Finally! The long-awaited, long-delayed WFTDA rules update has landed. Have improvements been made? Find out with our comprehensive analysis!

After a too-long revision cycle and a six-month delay, the WFTDA has officially released its new rule set for flat track roller derby.

Although this is something that probably should have happened in 2011, that it’s finally out now is good news no matter how you look at it. Just about everyone had something negative to say about the outgoing 2010 rules, or specifically, the kind of game those rules created on track once teams and players began to understand what kind of loopholes existed between the lines.

With the new ruleset, which will become officially active on January 1, 2013, some of those loopholes have been tied off. However, because of the popularity of some of the newly discovered tactics, some of them have remained in the rules.

Still, regardless of what the general public may think about the rules and the resultant gameplay that is created from them, they were a consensus of the 159 WFTDA member leagues who voted on virtually every bullet point in the rulebook. So whether the new rules ultimately turn out great or wind up being just as spotty as the outgoing ruleset, it’s the rules the skaters wanted to play by.

But let’s not get ahead of things. The 2013 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby, as well as a multitude of official and unofficial resources for getting up to speed on the newly updated rules, can be found below:

Official Resources:

2013 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby – Online Version | PDF Version
MRDA-Branded Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby (PDF)
WFTDA Rules Central Page
Change Summary for 2013 WFTDA Rules
Minor Penalty Reclassification Guide (PDF)
WFTDA Rules Reporting Database
May 26, 2010 WFTDA Rules (PDF) (for reference)

Official Resources – Coming Soon:

Official German Rules Translation – January 2013
Official Spanish Rules Translation – Mid-2013
Official French Rules Translation – Mid 2013

Unofficial Resources:

Derby News Network Rule Changes Overview
Roller Derby Rule of the Day on Facebook
Comprehensive Line-by-Line Rule Changes from RDRotD (PDF)
Zebra Huddle WFTDA Rules Forum

I have personally gone through the rules to take a look at the changes and see if I could get an idea of how the game might be played next year, compared to how it has been played in the last couple of years. Below is a comprehensive analysis of what the updates might translate to in terms of actual gameplay, based on past history, current strategy trends, and the overriding competitive nature of doing whatever it takes to win.

So without further ado, let’s jump right into it, starting with…

The Pack

The pack is arguably the most critically important function of the game of roller derby. Get it right, and you’ve got a solid base with which to build from. Get it wrong, and you’re going to have a lot of problems to patch up in other aspects of the game.

It seems as if other roller derby rulesets have picked up on this, and have changed their pack definitions to better-suit the realities of competitive play. The WFTDA has had a lot of time to examine their pack definition description and all the gameplay consequences that come out of it. From all that time to look at improving it, the rule has ultimately been changed to…

Section 4 – The Pack

4.1 – Pack Definition

4.1.1 – The pack is defined by the largest group of in bounds Blockers skating or standing in proximity and containing members from both teams.

Wait … what?

Although the rule has been enforced like this for nearly two years, the member leagues of the WFTDA just went ahead and made it official: Standing in place is an acceptable way to form a pack.

As the main driver of gameplay, it’s disappointing that something wasn’t done to address pack definition in a meaningful way. Changing what drives the pack would solve a multitude of issues all at once, but instead of tackling this problem—and it is a problem—the WFTDA decided to stand pat for at least another year.

This is particularly troublesome because of public enemy number one with this style of pack definition: The no-pack situation.

4.1.2 – When two or more groups of Blockers equal in number are on the track, are more than 10 feet (3 m) from one another, and no single group meets the pack definition, no pack can be defined. Skaters will be issued a penalty for intentionally creating a no pack situation, or destroying the pack…

Like pack definition, this rule remains intact. Despite it and the warning of penalties it brings, teams have had no problems whatsoever in inducing no-pack situations without any of their blockers getting sent to the penalty box. Convenient for them, especially because they’re always at the back of the pack when that happens, watching their jammer get to go through the opposing wall at the front of the pack for free.

Unfortunately, this is a practice that looks set to continue into the new rules environment. It’s all because of what this years-old loophole, also in the 2013 rules, means for the entire game:

Section 6 – Penalties

6.10 – Out of Play Penalties

6.10.2.1.1 – The rules do not define pack speed. Illegally destroying the pack penalties shall not be given for gradually deviating from the speed of the pack as established through game play, unless said deviation is sudden, rapid, and marked, leaving the opposing team no opportunity to adjust and maintain a pack.

This is the rule that guarantees that “the sausage” and other variants of pack-splitting strategies are not going to go away anytime soon. As long as a team can “gradually” slow the pack down while hanging at the rear, they will not be penalized even if it was their intention to split the pack all along.

This mechanic guarantees that the blockers that are towards the front of the pack, with all of the opposing blockers behind them, will continue to be at a massive disadvantage. There are exceptions, but in general the rear 4-wall is still going to be disproportionately advantageous during regular jams to the blockers holding that position, for the usual reason: Once the pack (legally) splits, the team in the rear can skate up to reform the pack and keep blocking the opposing jammer, while the team at the front cannot.

Of course, there have been other rule tweaks and penalty changes to try and address this. However, because the core workings of the pack and the major loophole that makes it easy to make it disappear, and how it permeates throughout all phases of the game, it may create some unintended consequences with other aspects of play.

Jam Starts

Let’s start with a change that’s been a long time coming in all derby rule sets, not just that of the WFTDA.

Section 2 – Game Parameters

2.4 – Jams

2.4.2 – A jam may last up to two minutes. Jams begin at the jam-starting whistle and end on the fourth whistle of the jam-ending signal.

One simple change from a split-whistle start to a one-whistle start eradicates many issues from WFTDA roller derby.

Delayed jam starts or two-minute non-jams are now completely impossible. Also out the window is the major reason for slow-starts, the conflict between one team burning off of penalty time by standing around and doing nothing, and the other team not wanting to get out of position by pushing forward to force a split-pack jam start.

Immediate jam starts were pretty much par for the course over the last two seasons, thanks to the knee-down no-pack start. That should mean that knee-down starts will go away, right?

Well…

4.2.1.2 – At the jam-starting whistle, Blockers are permitted to be either upright or down on one knee.

That’s curious, isn’t it? The reason why players did the knee start, presumably, was to get the jam to start immediately. But now, every jam is guaranteed to start immediately. So why add the language in that allows blockers to start on a knee anyway?

Let’s back up a bullet point in the rules to find a clue to help answer that question:

4.2.1.1 – Blockers must be in a position pre-jam so that the pack will exist behind the Pivot Line and in front of the Jammer Line at the jam-starting whistle, or immediately after the jam-­starting whistle should the jam begin with a no pack.

The wording of these two rules make it likely we’re still going to see some knee starts in the new rules. Logically, the only reason why the rules would still make knee-starts kosher and keep language stating that no-pack starts are still possible within a single-whistle jam start environment is because teams voting for this specific language were still wanting to start they way they’ve been starting for the last two years, down on a knee. Otherwise they would have simply mandated a standing start to close any and all remaining jam-start loopholes.

The reason for this seems to tie directly into the rear-wall advantage afforded to teams due to the pack definition rules.

Knee starts started life as a jam insta-starter, but evolved into jammer line crowd control. By sticking out knees across the jammer line and interlocking arms, a team can ensure no one from the other team can line up next to them back there. Four standing blockers can’t cut off access to the jammer line as easily as four kneeling blockers can, and it’s much harder to make a solid back wall when someone from the other team can get along or inside of it from the start.

Past that, the updated jam start sequence is one one of the first dangers I see with the 2013 WFTDA rules. One-whistle jam starts, or in fact any rule updates this go-around, will not prevent players looking to gain the rear wall advantage to do so in potentially dangerous ways.

As I’ve been seeing happen more and more throughout 2012, teams that are desperate to line up their blockers on the jammer line will do crazy things between jams to guarantee the location. As observed in my WFTDA Westerns 2012 Diary, this entails blockers belly-flopping onto the track directly into the path of players winding down from the end of a jam, creating a tripping hazard. There have also been occasions of players knee-sliding at speed into the lower legs of skaters coming right at them, just because they happened to be skating in the vicinity of the jammer line at the time the fourth whistle sounded.

It’s extremely disappointing to see nothing was done about this. Also disappointing is that eight-a-stern jammer line scrum starts don’t look like they’ll be going away, either. (Sorry, pivot line, but you’ll be staying irrelevant in this rule set for at least another year or two.) Although other rules improvements may make the pack more liable to move forward after the start—more on that in a moment—that doesn’t change the fact that blockers may be putting each other’s health in jeopardy between jams just to make sure they line up 2 inches closer to the jammers.

Despite this annoying carryover, there will probably be more standing starts than knee-starts in the WFTDA next year. Thank goodness for that. Adding in a few loophole-closing bullet points for some off-the-wall jam start happenings (4.2.1.1.1, all blockers starting behind the jammer line; and 4.2.1.2.1, blockers starting a jam in a dog-pile to prolong a no-pack start) is nice, too.

But because of the pack definition rule that rewards a team for maintaining a rear position—a position they don’t need to engage the other team’s blockers to gain—there may not be as much improvement in the area of jam starts as there appears to be on the surface.

No More Minor Penalties

The most sweeping change in the 2013 WFTDA rule set is the implementation no more “minor” penalties. Long story short, a player that does something that is illegal and is deemed to have an impact on gameplay will be immediately whistled off to the penalty box, with no “in-between” type offenses that accrue to a player’s account.

There will be no more ticky-tack fouls that don’t really affect gameplay. There will be less of a gray area for referees to judge fouls upon, theoretically making penalties much easier to pick out. NSOs will have fewer things to keep track of, simplifying their jobs and (hopefully) making that large and ugly infield penalty whiteboard obsolete. It will be more clear to everyone that a whistle and a hand signal means a penalty, eliminating confusion during already-hectic jams.

Most happily of all, there will be no more poodling—taking an intentional fourth minor penalty as a blocker to clear a jammer of her penalty burden at a convenient time. Good riddance!

For a look at what else a no-minors environment might mean, click here to read on the WFTDA no-minors beta tests of 2011.
For a look at what else a no-minors environment might mean, click here to read on the WFTDA no-minors beta tests of 2011.

But more than any other change in the rules, what no-minors will do is keep games moving. Maybe not the “everyone in the pack has a reason to skate forward” kind of moving, but it will definitely make games and tournaments flow much better. For instance, there should be fewer stoppages and timeouts spawning from situations that arise from minor penalties, such as minor vs. major penalty clarifications.

From the spectator perspective, this is good news. To them, nothing kills the tempo of a good game like a bunch of people standing around for extended periods of time while waiting for the action to resume. So while there’s nothing the referees can do about those power jams (hah!) at least they can move proceedings along with what should eventually add up to fewer zebra huddles in the long run.

From a gameplay perspective, however, it’s somewhat more complicated.

Consider the 2012 WFTDA playoffs, which was final played using minor penalties. It turned out to be the second straight year that penalty totals increased from the year before; through all 80 playoff games this past year there was a per-game average of 40 major penalties and 163 minor penalties committed.

This worked out to approximately 73 box trips per game, with more than 30 of those being attributed to accumulation of minor penalties alone.

Obviously, previous penalty statistics will now need to be looked at with a grain of salt now that the no-minors environment will change how blockers and jammers attack things. But for players (blockers in particular) who were used to playing with minors—and at over 160 minors a game, they were REALLY used to it—they may go through a harsh transition as they cope with the no-minors environment for 2013 and beyond.

So at least initially, there could be games featuring more whistled penalties than ever before. Whether or not that normalizes as teams get to grips with the new rules will take time to discover.

There’s also an unknown in if no-minors play in general is compatible with the rear-of-the-pack slow game that has become a staple in the WFTDA. Remember, the no-minors beta tests of 2011 took place at a time when players were still playing “Fuck You Get Past Me” derby, and we haven’t heard about further testing since then; internal WFTDA testing (which one must presume has been happening since then) is no replacement for live, sanctioned interleague gameplay, especially if teams are playing for something of significance.

Still, with both jammers on the track I expect the no-minors gameplay environment, combined with some good common-sense changes in penalty enforcement and points scoring, to be noticeably improved. However, the single biggest change in the no-minors penalty environment, coupled with the likely ramifications of that change, may create a wildcard in how games play out.

General Gameplay and Scoring

Let’s take a look at how a typical jam might play out under majors-only gameplay that the 2013 WFTDA flat track roller derby rules bring to the table.

Part of the thing that made scrum starts scrummy was having eight blockers on defense, refusing to let the two jammers go forward to play offense. Despite the 2010 rules stating that stop-blocking or clockwise blocking was illegal, it still happened all of the time owing to the fact that such blocking fouls were generally minors. Pack referees doing their best windshield wiper impressions and calling all those direction of gameplay minors—33.5 per game in the 2012 playoffs, the most-called minor by a whopping 40% over other minors— didn’t deter packs from blocking against the grain during jam starts.

But in the new rules, all such contraflow blocking is an instant major penalty:

6.9 – Direction of Gameplay Penalties

Major Penalty

6.9.15 – A block by a stopped skater that includes physical contact which forces the receiving opposing skater off balance, forward, backward, and/or sideways, but does not cause the opposing skater to lose relative position.

6.9.17 – A clockwise block that includes physical contact which forces the receiving opposing skater off-balance, forward, backward, and/or sideways, but does not cause the opposing skater to lose relative position.

6.9.18 – A skater who comes to a stop while blocking an opposing skater but does not begin counter-clockwise skating and/or stepping again at the first legal opportunity.

Major penalties are now immediately assessed to players who stop or skate backwards if they make meaningful contact to opponents, even if the receiving player doesn’t lose position. Players will also get a sit-down if they stop on the track as a result of a block but don’t immediately skate forward again.

It’s a huge change to how slow-blocking penalties are enforced. The mere threat of individual players getting sent off for physically bringing an opponent to a stop should help get the initial scrum moving at a more decent pace than it has been.

Though keep in mind, tippy-toeing forward is still moving forward. There’s an equal chance we’ll see scrums that legally barely inch forward as opposed to illegally not moving forward, as has been the case in RDCL’s banked track rules for years. Their rule that requires constant forward motion doesn’t prevent teams from going as slow as possible when convenient; I don’t see why a rule that effectively mandates forward motion while blocking would make it any different in the WFTDA.

This change in penalty enforcement also gives the rear blocker wall a new advantage. If the front wall makes any significant contact against the rear wall before it gets up to speed, blockers in the front wall will likely be whistled off the track for a direction of gameplay penalty. This means they can’t rock back to try and punch a hole in the rear wall for their jammer—that’s a major penalty now.

So right from the start, an isolated front wall is pretty much powerless to assist their jammer, even if they wanted to. That’s not good. Still, if the rear blockers get too cute with keeping the pack slow it they’ll be sent off, which would then thin the wall out and give the rear jammer some more room to operate. At least that’s an improvement.

Even though blockers will have fewer tools at their disposal to stifle jammers physically, they may have picked up on strategically thanks to more relentless cutting penalties:

6.11 – Cutting the Track

Major Penalty

6.11.10 – A skater cutting any opposing in-­play skater.

6.11.11 – A skater cutting more than one in-play teammate.

It used to be that jammers could trade a minor cut of a single opponent within the pack to make it easier to get through to the front. With the 2013 WFTDA rules, that’s no longer the case. A track cut of one opponent or any two teammates will immediately send them off the track. (This also applies to blockers cutting other players, of course, as does it to players returning to the track from the box with illegal procedure penalty 6.13.16.)

The cutting major is an extremely harsh penalty upgrade, one that gives a lot of power to a defense that can smash an enemy jammer over the track boundary and retreat quickly. Though the defender retreating will need to be extra-careful not to initiate contact with an opposing blocker—that’s an instant major penalty now, remember—the jammer getting pinned out has no choice but to recycle, seeing as how giving up a power jam isn’t a desirable alternative.

This change may not make much of a difference for the jammer that manages to get out of the pack first and grab lead status, since they would have had to legally pass all players in-bounds to begin with. But I foresee this making life more difficult for trailing jammer, especially if they’re behind a rear 4-wall. Taking a minor cut to make a break was always worth it once lead jammer status was awarded to the jammer in the lead, but now the only options an isolated jammer could be faced with would be to give up a big jam with her behind a big wall or while sitting in the penalty box.

Okay, so a jammer manages to get out of the pack and loop around for a scoring pass. To make sure they get every point possible, jammers will have to watch out for tweaks made to the “hips passing hips” parts of the rules that deal with situations where their skates aren’t touching the ground:

Section 8 – Scoring

8.3 – (Scoring Passes) … In order to receive a point for passing an opponent the Jammer must:

8.3.1 – Pass opposing skaters’ hips while in bounds and upright, legally, without committing penalties.

8.5 – Points

8.5.8 – In order to earn points for passing while airborne, the Jammer must maintain in bounds and upright status after landing.

These provisions require jammers to stay on their skates if they want points officially credited to their tally, meaning they can no longer knee-slide their way to a few extra points while calling off a jam. This seems as much as a safety thing as much as it gives a fair chance for blockers to block, seeing as the rules disallow initiating a block on a downed skater. Now a downed jammer cannot score, which balances things out nicely.

Also a nice add to the rules is this little gem:

8.5.1.1 – The Jammer earns a point for each opposing skater who is not on the track immediately upon scoring the first point on any opposing Blocker in each scoring pass, including those opposing Blockers who are physically on the track but have been directed to the penalty box.

Previously, a blocker that got penalized just before a jammer scored on them would immediately be considered “in the box” for scoring purposes, meaning they wouldn’t become a ghost point until after said jammer passed another opposing player further up the track. Annoying, especially when that player was worth an extra 1 or 2 points due to other penalties being served.

In the updated rules, that blocker is still considered “on the track,” as it were, if the jammer physically passes them in the normal manner. Doing so will immediately count as a legal pass and award that point (and any additional ghost points) on the spot. This is something that I noticed every time it happened, and wondered why it wasn’t this way to begin with. But now it’s that way for good.

Finally, we come to the end of a regular jam, and the one rule change that I feel is amazing that it’s taken this long to finally get in writing:

6.13 – Illegal Procedures

No Impact/No Penalty

6.13.9 – A Jammer attempting to call off a jam without establishing Lead Jammer status and the jam is not called off.

Of all the minor/major changes, this one makes the most sense of them all. Now a jammer ref that sees a not-lead jammer trying to call it off will just look at them curiously, not issue a minor penalty as has been the case previously. (A jammer successfully ending a jam without having the privilege to do so will still be penalized, per 6.13.25.) And really, it should be that way. It’s like if a blocker smacked hands on the hips to try and call it off; who cares that they’re trying to? They can’t end the jam anyway, and neither can a jammer sans lead. Both situations are now treated accordingly.

So from the looks of it, the WFTDA has greatly improved things for general gameplay during regular jams. The threat of an immediate box trip should prevent blockers from stopping opposing jammers in their tracks, though that will be counterbalanced by tighter cutting penalties. And closing a few scoring loopholes points will make sure every point is earned on-skates, like they should be.

However, these changes may not necessarily compel blockers on a team to engage opposing blockers or directly assist their jammers. A team at the rear of the pack will still be able to take advantage of the no-pack situation and get their jammer out without assistance; a team at the front of the pack will not want to retreat to the rear to assist, as that would just make their forward defense that much easier for the forward jammer to defeat.

What the 2013 WFTDA rules may ultimately wind up causing during 5-on-5 gameplay is pretty much what we’ve been seeing 5-on-5 during the last year of gameplay under the outgoing ruleset, with the exception that individual blockers will need to choose between moving the pack while blocking jammers or going to the penalty box for not doing so. On the surface, this seems like a change that will move the game positive direction.

But unfortunately, the same penalty changes that may get two-jammer regular play moving forward will make one-jammer power plays come to a grinding, penalty-filled halt.

~ ~ ~ Continue to Page 2 – Power Jams, Additional Changes, What it All Means ~ ~ ~

  • TOP

    Two rules that I think would help things out.

    1) Intentional Splitting penalties get assessed to the Jammer, not the pivot.

    2) Have some kind of pack starting order, like basketball has an order on the blocks for free throws. Some leeway is possible, but not this absolute first come first served stuff.

    • 2) Have some kind of pack starting order, like basketball has an order on the blocks for free throws. Some leeway is possible, but not this absolute first come first served stuff.

      This is absolutely mandatory for roller derby to have, in all rulesets. Without a fair and equal start, there can be no way to make jam starts fair or prevent pre-scrums from getting out of control. I explain why jam starts need to be designed this way here.

  • I think in a no-pack situation, blockers at the front could legally stop and continue to block the opposing jammer positionally, but not by initiating contact. Rules 6.9.15 and 6.9.17 apply only to contact blocking, not positional blocking. And rule 6.9.18 isn’t applicable, since they can’t legally skate counter-clockwise until the pack is reformed. Rule 6.9.14 (no penalty) says the blockers can’t continue to engage in that situation, but I don’t see a corresponding penalty to address that case. Your thoughts?

  • Personally, I balance between liking the release of the new rules, closing some of the loopholes. On the other hand sometimes loopholes are what spices up playing (and watching) a game.

    Be honest, how long has it been since you have seen another ‘Jam that wasn’t’? So was it really necessary to introduce single whistle starts? Don’t you see how the sausage strategy gradually is evolving from something utterly boring to something that is actually nice to watch happen every now and then? (especially since the pure sausage is getting less and less effective with opponents finding more ways to fight it!). Won’t you miss no pack starts if they finally learn to Play without them?

    I just love the combination of a fast sport (you’re on skates, so even standing still looks fast ;-)) and crazy strategies. Although I do think some of the strategies are overplayed, I also believe the skaters would naturally evolve out of most of them. But without rules enforcing them to, at least you would be able to see a resurgence of old style strategies from time to time just to throw of the opponent and please the crowd. Modern Roller Derby started out with one strategy so to speak, over the years, lets hope the will have hundreds to pick from during one bout. One more entertaining than the other. But how good would your ice cream taste if it is all you would ever eat?

    I would also like to comment on the belly-flopping and knee sliding to get a good position on the jammer line at the start. You find it a shame the rules have not been adapted to prevent this from happening, I pitty the fact that it might not be assessed strict enough and called upon by the referees right now. I know the rules allow for it.

    Being a good referee is hard, learning to be a good referee is even harder. I should know, I trying to do the latter. I find that even though it shouldn’t be so, as you grow as a referee you change your focus from penalty to penalty. You often get epifanies, either induced by you learning or by changes in gameplay, and from then on you will focus more (too much perhaps) on certain fouls. But then you learn and move on to the next penalty. This year I have had more than a few, two of my major ones being backblocking jammers (I think every level of referee should try to focus on at least assessing this more!) and illegal engagement. Belly-flopping and knee sliding in an intentful, negligent or reckless enough manner could warrant expulsion! Need I say more? I don’t think so, but I do need to look for it better.

    Oh, and one tip for the blog, since you’re so windy, it makes it very hard to structurally comment. There were a lot of places in the text where I thought ‘oh, how I wish I could comment on this right now, but lets keep on reading and try to remember at the end’. Maybe it would be interesting if you could somehow allow for inline comments. A button every paragraph or so … It would take away from you’re excellent long winded reviews, which I love to read. But it would help in readers interaction. Just a thought.

    See you in the Penalty Box,
    Tim ‘Dire’ Wolff

  • Oh, and I only read page two right now, strange how the comments span both pages. However, the above still stands.

    But I would love to add a few things. In the last ruleset, high blocks weren’t defacto majors either. The rules explicitely state ‘initial’ impact. This means a legal block, moving into a high block could possibly be a non-call. Depending on how much of a second engagement the high block was considered to be. So actually not much of a change, more a clarification!

    And there are two major flaws in your logic behind the no-pack situation on the top of page two. First of all, 6.10.7 tells us all skaters must show an immediate attempt to reform the pack. So if one skater keeps on blocking after the no pack has been signaled, it could be interpreted as failing to reform, with a trip to the penalty box as a result. Second, it is a high risk to be blocking during the no pack while the rest of the team reforms the pack because what might seem minor (or as of now ‘No’) impact might actually turn into major in an instant. The major is not only called for a falling opponent, it also has to do with relative position. And relative position is not only back to front, but could equally be keeping someone stationarry just long enough to bring them back in to play. As would happen to the jammer kept stationarry during a no pack, long enough for the pack to reform. And Bam, major it should be.

    But again, I love reading you (and disagreeing from time to time).

    See you in the penalty box,
    Tim ‘Dire’ Wolff

  • Free to bruise now?

    Am I reading 6.4.6 right in so far as I can elbow someone in the ribs hard enough to knock her off balance all bout long, but so long as she never loses relative position I’ll never get a penalty?

  • Regarding Jammerless Jams, I hope this wasn’t kept because member leagues felt it was too difficult for NSOs to handle. As the author of non-interlinked scoreboard and penalty timer software, I want to clearly communicate that accounting for this would be very simple. Just subtract the lowest jammer penalty time from all penalties, end the jam, and proceed to the next lineup. The scoreboard people would hear four whistles and wouldn’t even need to care what had just happened.

    Maybe leagues can have a blocker dance-off while we wait for the clock to run down. At least then the crowd would have something to do.

    In any case I hope announcers familiarize themselves with this situation, because my experiences seeing it happen have been complete confusion in the stands (even at RollerCon!)

    • Regarding Jammerless Jams, I hope this wasn’t kept because member leagues felt it was too difficult for NSOs to handle.

      This wasn’t addressed probably because enough people didn’t think it was an issue that needed to be addressed. I have to wonder if the WFTDA rules revision process, or at least how it was before it is now, is fleet-footed enough to drive toward creating a solution for little in-between problems like this. Never mind the major problems.

      Until a majority of leagues say “we need to fix this now,” it’s probably not something that’s going to be fixed. I think this is the problem with the committee of the whole democratic method of the WFTDA: There’s no one to take charge of or ownership over issues and do what needs to be done to get them resolved, or at least bring them to everyone’s attention faster. We’ll see if the new rules revision process does this any better.

      Personally, I think the way you fix penalty box issues is thusly:

      1) Do not allow incoming skaters to occupy seats by standing players ready to leave the box. Make it two blockers per team in the box maximum at all times (and therefore two blockers per team minimum on track at all times), period. This will eliminate zero pack blocker issues, with a bit of a wiggle room in case an extra blocker gets sent off inadvertently.

      2) For jammer musical chairs, have the jammer swap-out occur via jam ref communication, not jammers physically sitting down in the box. The first jammer’s jam ref will be standing in the middle of the infield waiting for their jammer to be released which is where the second jammer ref will go should they send their jammer off to the box. The second jammer ref and communicate to the first jammer ref, who would then communicate to the penalty box, that the second jammer is incoming and the first jammer should be released immediately. Effectively, this means the first jammer gets released when the second jammer is sent off the track, eliminating delays in the action as well as a possible intentional jammerless jam scenario.

      3) In the unlikely event of both jammers needing to serve penalty time concurrently, the jam should end immediately and a new jam starts with any apporpriate time served as blockers in the next jam/canceling out done as necessary.

    • no real name to speak of

      the problem I see with your solution here is the time it takes for the two jam refs and the penalty box manager to communicate. Your proposition is as if the communication will happen immediately but in all likely hood it will not. This can cause a situation in which a team may feel the communication between (j2)ref & (j1)ref and (j1)ref & penalty box manager takes too long causing them to feel cheated out of time and in some cases points.

      The current situation of j1 being released at the point of seat contact by j2 is very fair and hardly slows the pace of the game in any meaningful way. Sure j2 could take their time getting to the penalty box but that comes at a cost to their team. A longer duration in the penalty box.

      • Sure j2 could take their time getting to the penalty box but that comes at a cost to their team. A longer duration in the penalty box.

        Except at the end of a game, where the full duration of a player’s penalty is not served because time running out, in which cases penalties don’t cost a team much of anything. Hence, my explanation of the rare, but completely plausible situation of a jammer intentionally creating a jammerless jam scenario to their advantage.

        There’s no reason that the first jammer can’t be released once the second jammer gets called off to the box, particularly if that jammer penalty comes just past the penalty box point of no return. In most situations a straight jammer swap would be fine, but there’s got to be a mechanism for a jammer to be fairly released if the other jammer is trying to game the system in a time-running-out scenario like that.

  • no real name to speak of

    You are right though that there is no reason j1 can’t be released early except for what I stated above: that it creates a contentious situation of how much time expires between officials for all that communication. It also creates a judgement situation for j1 or the Penalty Box Manager as to who a penalty is called on likely leading to more procedural penalties on j1 for leaving the box too early – causing yet more confusion with which jammer is in the penalty box and which is not.

    Maybe a ref or NSO can chime in on how your solution would work (best) during game play. They, after all, are the most knowledgeable in this situation. The ones I know talk about these kinds of scenarios all the time.

    • You are right though that there is no reason j1 can’t be released early except for what I stated above: that it creates a contentious situation of how much time expires between officials for all that communication.

      I think you fail to realize how much time officials and NSOs have to communicate during the kind of scenario I’m talking about. I just happened to be recording a jam on my phone when what I’m describing happened:

      There’s no judgment call when the second jammer is flatly refusing to sit down in the penalty box. The first jammer cannot be released until the second jammer’s butt hits the seat, even if that butt is mere inches away from it (as was the case here).

      I don’t see why a jammer ref can signal to the penalty box NSO to release the first jammer in this scenario, at which point the NSO can tell the first jammer to leave like they always do. That’ll get the second jammer in the seat immediately, since it’s no longer to her benefit to not do so.

    • no name to speak of

      No. I do not fail to realize that there is enough time to do all those things you see as better, my point is that what you are suggesting as changes creates complications in which players and coaches will will argue with referees about taking an in-fair amount of time releasing their j1 when compared to the other team’s j1.

      To make a rule change that causes more problems than it corrects is not a reasonable change. Since you fail to address the concerns I have raised and continue to use a situation that is circumstantial at best (occuring maybe once a bout) to construct you argument I can conclude that you either fair to understand my points or that you are too obstinate to see beyond what you believe is truth.

      To give you the benefit of the doubt where are you having trouble understanding the issues I have raised?

      • my point is that what you are suggesting as changes creates complications in which players and coaches will will argue with referees about taking an in-fair amount of time releasing their j1 when compared to the other team’s j1.

        I can see what you’re getting at, but the time difference would be trivial, in my opinion, and would prevent something more damaging from happening. Besides, if it’s in the rules, what would there be to argue?

        To make a rule change that causes more problems than it corrects is not a reasonable change.

        Let me simplify my idea for this: If the jammer ref that sends off jammer 2 can get around to in front of the penalty box area before jammer 2 sits down in it, they can indicate to the jammer penalty timer that jammer 1 (if eligible) can be released immediately. (If jammer 2 gets there first, nothing would be different.) Same amount of time-in-seats would be served by both jammers, as always. There would be no telephoning of penalties or confusion over whether or not jammer 2 is actually supposed to be penalized, because the ref that gave her the penalty would be communicating this directly to the penalty box.

        How would this cause “more problems?” Because I’m not able to think of any off-hand at the moment.

        Since you fail to address the concerns I have raised and continue to use a situation that is circumstantial at best (occuring maybe once a bout) to construct you argument I can conclude that you either fair to understand my points or that you are too obstinate to see beyond what you believe is truth.

        If your concerns are it would take time for the communication between the ref and NSO to happen, and there could be confusion over this communication, then I can assure you it wouldn’t be one: Refs already communicate with the box when they indicate a penalty should be longer than a minute, don’t they? It’d be easy to incorporate a new hand signal of some sort to indicate to the jammer box timer that a jammer swapout should happen immediately, if there’s an unreasonable delay on the part of the second penalized jammer. If this signal needs to be communicated, whatever time it takes will be nothing compared the amount of time a jammer can waste on their way to the penalty box, should it be advantageous for her to do so.

        And remember, this is a discussion over a circumstance that I have clearly labelled as rare, though possible, and in fact is something I have seen happen more than once. Circumstantial rules issues need to be addressed just as much as gameplay issues do if the WFTDA wants to have a complete ruleset. There’s nothing wrong with discussing the little stuff if it will ultimately better the game for all parties involved.

  • no name to speak of

    Windy, my concern isn’t about how this change is going to work or even if it’s needed. That’s easy to understand and you’ve set up your proposed change well. To put it simply I understand “the why” in your proposal. My concern, however (which you have in three posts failed to address) is about the perceptual fairness in how that time expires. You have made no assurances to the support your of solution (saying it wont happen isn’t evidence) that teams will not perceive unfairness. It is very easy to see that one team may feel their jammer is not being released as quickly as the other team’s jammer. Heck, both teams might think that! It is a very plausible situation and when it does happen during the game it will only escalate after every other time it occurs.

    In the instance of the two minute penalty call, the ref has adequate time to communicate the additional penalty time to the penalty box manager. It does happen quickly with the use of hand signals but it does not have an affect immediately on game play. Though I don’t know for sure, they probably have at least a minute to make it evident to the penalty box manager (Refs may even have the additional time between jams as well to work this out). That solution (hand signal) is good for that situation (two minute penalty) but it is not going to be the same for releasing jammers from the penalty box. What if j2’s ref falls before, during or after making the penalty call? It causes delay in that hand signal and immediately impacts the release of j1. Will j1’s team be happy about that? I doubt it. Will they understand? Maybe, but I bet they argue the call before the start of the next jam. That means the game slows down, causes confusion and unrest for the fans.

    Right now, everyone knows, once a second jammer’s butt is in the seat the first jammer leaves. There’s no question about it. There’s no need for ref to ref to official communication. There’s no concern if it took longer than some other time during the bout. It’s a very simple way to solve this issue. Is it the best solution? I’d agree, based on your argument, that it should be looked at but it’s certainly not critical to the game nor is it a simple situation.

    If this situation is that important to game play then the simple solution that already exists should be replaced with an equally simple solution. Your proposal to change this situation is a worth exploration but the solution should not complicate the game more than the current solution does. This is one of the very reasons you have this blog….To make the sport more reasonable and easier for fans to grasp while improving the game play for the skaters. It’s a simple litmus test and I like it.

    Still, I’m surprised with all the people who read your blog that an official or ref or coach hasn’t chimed in on how this “simple” change would actually impact game play. I would enjoy hearing their take on it because we’re just a couple of fans. Well, you’re a Super Fan and I am just a fan.

    BTW, were you in Derby Baby?

  • Mark T

    In all nonesty yall need to let real roller derby skaters make rules with you guys. I mean simply let the skaters who helped make this sport so great be involved. banked track stars and refs and officials. I have been to many games and practices and all I see are refs calling penalty after penalty for really stupid things..skaters get knocked down and then get a penalty for falling into another skater. Duh .you get penalties for getting knocked down.come on . at 1 game the last 3 jams had 1 skater from 1 team on the floor because the penalty box was full with 4 skaters . I see people walk out at every game and rink operators who want the customers ,ask what is this game . The original derby was very simple and everyone knew after a few minits what was going on. I know skaters who do not know how to play the game and they are on teams skating?????? I would love to talk to anyone who wants my opinion and help. I skate speed and skated derby about 5 years .It gets to big then it dies if you follow history. Thanks

  • Mark t

    Too many rules . Too many penalties. Too many officials. Derby is a very simple game . I love it but the game was started very simply played . I go to many games and watch people walk out cause its not like the old game. They complain about lots of action but way too many penalties and not being able to keep up with the gamevcausecskaters are everywhere on the track . A jammer passes the lead jammer but can’t cut off the jam because they’re not the lead . That’s how it was explained to me . Too many rules. But the problem is I still want to play but some real changes from real derby skaters need to be heard .