WFTDA 2015 Rules Analysis

Compared to previous years, the updates are light—but not insignificant. Our comprehensive analysis picks the changes apart.

The 2015 updates to the WFTDA roller derby rule book have been live for some time now, and in that time teams and officials have been adjusting to the changes that brings.

In a welcome departure from previous versions, the number of alterations to the rules is relatively light this time around. Not having much new material to memorize will make skaters and officials happy, since the rule set is big enough as it is. Even so, there are significant changes, and not all of them have to do with gameplay on the track.

Depending on your view of the style of roller derby that the WFTDA promotes, that is either a good thing or a bad thing. Good, if you want more of the same that you saw at WFTDA Championships and during much of the playoffs last year. Bad, if you think the rules aren’t doing anything to completely eliminate nonsense like this. (Or this. Or this…)

Whatever your viewpoint, the WFTDA should get props for at least feeling as if it is starting to get a stranglehold on its ruleset. It appears as if it has finally reached a point where it can put away the jackhammer and switch over to a hammer and chisel to finish sculpting its own style of gameplay. That by itself will be a relief, but only if some of the proposed changes don’t turn out to be busts.

Before profiling the notable changes1, make sure you learn yourself on the 2015 WFTDA rules. You can get everything below, or get the important links in our Roller Derby Rules Center sidebar.

Official WFTDA 2015 Rules Resources

2015 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller DerbyHTML | PDF
2015 MRDA-Branded Rules of Flat Track Roller DerbyPDF
WFTDA Rules Mobile Apps (iOS/Android)
WFTDA Rules Central
WFTDA Rules Q&As
Change Summary for 2015 Rules
Line-by-Line Rule Changes Detail Document (PDF)
WFTDA Timeout – Rules Issue Submission Page

Additional WFTDA Rules Resources

Roller Derby Rule of the Day on Facebook
RDJunkies Rules/Strategy GIFs (Now WFTDA Approved!)
Roller Derby Test O’Matic (Now WFTDA Approved!)
Zebra Huddle WFTDA Rules Forum
2014 WFTDA Rules (PDF) – Outgoing rules, for reference
RDN 2014 WFTDA Rules Analysis – For reference

To start our comprehensive analysis of the new rule set, we’re going to look at something that isn’t in the rule set. (That’s comprehensive!) Not yet, anyway. This rule change is so significant, the WFTDA has given member leagues more than a year to prepare for it.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about right now.

The WFTDA Numbers Game

In the 2014 rules update, the WFTDA added language to the rules regarding skater jersey numbers in an effort to clarify exactly which characters were allowed and what combination of small letters, lower case letters, upper case letters, big letters, small numbers, and big numbers could go on the back and arms of players playing in a sanctioned game.

As The Hulk pointed out in last year’s WFTDA rules analysis, this clarification still didn’t make things clear to many. Somehow.

A few months ago, the WFTDA skater membership voted to make another change to jersey number rules for 2016. Yes, that’s next year, so this change will not apply immediately. Skaters can opt to abide by it now if they so choose, however.

By the end of next year, the [WFTDA] Rules of Flat Track Derby will no longer allow skaters’ roster and jersey numbers to include alphabetic characters. … Member leagues also voted to increase the minimum size for jersey numbers to 6 inches (15 cm) and added a requirement that all of the characters in the skater’s roster number must be printed at the same size.

Starting on January 1, 2016, all skater numbers will actually be numbers, in a range between 0 and 9999. Letters will not be allowed for roster identification, so the M80s, R2D2s, and 36DDs of the derby world are going to need to join the 340s, 50s, and 000s in being identified on the track.

This change will not affect a lot players. Only 5% of skaters at WFTDA Champs had a jersey number with a letter in it, which is a very small minority. The other change will affect the majority, however, since it applies to everyone regardless of their chosen number.

By mandating visible numbers be two inches taller, up to six inches from the current four, WFTDA players have essentially told themselves, via membership vote, to buy new jerseys for their travel teams.

Not really, but making jersey numbers blatantly obvious to someone observing from a distance is a very welcome change. Referees, officials, announcers, fans, and even other skaters should have no problem seeing who is who from behind once this gets implemented, reducing the possibility of errors and making things easier for everyone.2

This being the WFTDA, this change is not completely cut-and-dried. The current rule allowing small characters in front of or after the official jersey number ( will still be in affect, meaning today’s 36DD may just be next year’s 36DD, though listed as merely 36 on every official bit of game documentation.

I also wonder about what this change will look like on some of the more petite female skaters that use four-digit numbers. Depending on the particular design of a jersey, the usable space for a number may not elegantly accept two more inches of number-height and a slightly wider base to keep it in proportion and of a readable font ( With no mandated minimum width, some number/font combinations might be challenging to read if extra-tall and skinny. If there are a lot of small characters mixed in, maybe more so.

On the other hand, this is something teams will account for in new uniforms. By the time it goes into affect, they will have had more than 16 months to prepare. Plus, the rule will only be in force during sanctioned games. Home teams within local leagues don’t need to change numbers if they don’t want to. Still, WFTDA and MRDA charter teams that may have just invested in new uniforms last year have to be feeling a little bummed out that they’ll have to do it again so soon.

In the long-term, however, this is a change that needs to happen. There’s some resistance on the part of the WFTDA membership to switch to the absolute ease of two-digit jersey numbers like everyone else in the sports world, but using four-digit numbers seems like a good compromise. It lets skaters keep a bit of the uniqueness they want3 without over-complicating the jobs that everyone else needs to do. You can’t argue against that.

The One True Jammer

Speaking of player identification: It’s really, really important to know where the jammer is at all times.

From an officiating standpoint, that applies doubly. It’s crucial for refs to track jammers during the jam, but it’s also vital that they know which player is really the jammer between jams, too, in case they commit a penalty and have to serve 30 seconds in the jammer penalty chair.

The WFTDA made a very helpful change to the rules to clear up any confusion that might come about in case there are two jammers, no jammers, or other times when who a team’s jammer is and when they are considered as such for penalty enforcement purposes.

First, let’s take a look at the 2014 rule covering this, no longer in the 2015 rules.

Skater positions refer to the position a skater is playing, from the beginning of one jam until the beginning of the next jam (including the time in between jams). Skaters who did not participate in the prior jam are considered Blockers until the next jam starts, even if they are lining up in a different position.

The rule was meant to make sure a jammer committing a penalty after the fourth whistle (late hit, misconduct, etc.) would still be considered a jammer for penalty purposes. It seems reasonable, but in practice this caused a lot of confusion with the overlapping of players and positions during the changeover between jams.

For example, a jammer lining up for the next jam, who was clearly identifying themselves as the jammer of record, had to serve time as a blocker had they committed a pre-jam penalty. Depending on when it happened, such an infraction gave a team no time to adjust their line up before the start whistle when positions were officially locked-in for the jam. This turned what should have been a 30-second jammer penalty into a 30-second blocker penalty, a wave-off for too many blockers on the track, and a two-minute power jam for the opponents.

The new rules change the definition of when a jammer is a jammer based on helmet covers and lineup position, rather than an arbitrary definition based on time. In doing this, much of the confusion goes away.

WFTDA 2015 Rules
Section 2: Skater Positions and Identification

2.3.2 – Jammer Identification:
– A Skater who is serving a penalty from a prior jam in the position of Jammer will be identified as the Jammer for their team.
– If no such Skater exists, a Skater in possession of the Jammer helmet cover will be identified as the Jammer for their team.
– If no such Skater exists, one single Skater who is lined up in the Jammer Starting Position will be determined by the Jammer Referee to be the Jammer for their team.
– If no such Skater exists, that team is not considered to have fielded a Jammer for that jam.

A much cleaner way of laying it out, for sure. A jammer currently serving in the penalty box trumps all these scenarios, since they must be the jammer of record for the jammer penalty to finish being served. Barring that, if a player lines up behind the jammer line with or without a helmet cover, they will be considered the jammer. There’s also the scenario for which a team is determined to not have a jammer in play.

However, there’s a problem with the second check. Stating that a skater is the jammer if they have the helmet cover makes a bad assumption that there will only ever be one jammer helmet cover floating around at all times between jams, and that only one skater could possibly be identified as a jammer. With this language, that is not true.

Once a jam ends, a jammer coming off of the track and a jammer coming onto the track will simultaneously be considered the jammer for a team, if they are both holding or wearing their helmet covers, since they are both a Skater in possession of the Jammer helmet cover. There is a bit of guidance in resolving this conflict with this rule and its subsections…

Section 6: Penalty Enforcement
6.1 – Penalties When a jam is not in progress, Skaters who commit illegal actions that warrant penalties will serve in the position indicated by the helmet cover worn at the time the illegal act was committed.

…but that opens up a whole new can of worms when you realize the difference/similarities between a worn helmet cover and one that is in possession of a skater.

If a jammer loses their helmet cover or is holding it as one would during a star pass attempt, and then commits a penalty after the end of the jam that was clearly one committed in the act of jamming—a 5th-whistle back block crashing into a defensive wall, for example—the helmet cover they are (not) wearing at the time the illegal act was committed requires they go to the box as a blocker.  But wait! If she’s still holding the star in her hand, this contradicts the other rule which states a Skater in possession of the Jammer helmet cover will be identified as the Jammer for their team.

For penalty purposes, are they a blocker ( or a jammer (2.3.2)?

This situation, which is not implausible, would ultimately see the player who was clearly and obviously the jammer of record go to the penalty box as a blocker, because the penalty enforcement rule insists it. She is identified as a jammer on the track, but must serve the penalty as a blocker in the box.

This means the WFTDA hasn’t quite escaped from the corner it painted itself into. It will never be able to elegantly describe the simultaneous actions of two different skaters—the jammer in the previous jam and the jammer for the upcoming jam—if it tries to treat them a single, persistent entity.

To best tackle this in future rules updates, there should be clear separation between these distinct players, and the three distinct between-jam situations they participate in: The end of a jam, when players are winding down from live gameplay; the substitution period between jams, when multiple players, positions, and helmet covers may be on the track simultaneously; and ramp-up to the start of a jam, when live gameplay is imminent.

One way of resolving this would be to set the “official” end of a jam, for jammer penalty enforcement purposes, at the point at which a jammer referee stops tracking their jammer to turn to the scorer’s table and report points. This would make sure a post-whistle jammer penalty is served by the jammer that committed it no matter what they do to their helmet cover.

On the other side of the reset, the jammer referee returning to position at the jammer line and/or the five-second warning would be a good time to “lock-in” the next jammer as the new jammer of record, as dictated in the current 2.3.2, for penalties before the new jam.

Should any other player commit a penalty at any other point not described above, regardless of their helmet cover status, it might be worth looking at sending them to the penalty box as a blocker as described in the 2014 rules. This way, you only penalize a jammer for actions committed in the act of jamming4, not because he or she wasn’t able to remove their helmet cover quickly enough during an accidental collision mid-substitution.

Penalties should be about the actions, not the technicalities surrounding them. The good news is that there are other aspects of this year’s rules update where the WFTDA is beginning to understand this concept—albeit in a clunky fashion.

A Significant Legal Issue

Since the WFTDA eliminated the minor penalty from the game a few years ago, it has been trying to find the right way of drawing the line between No Impact/No Penalty and Yes Impact/Yes Penalty, on such fouls that were between either of those extremes.

Because so many contact fouls relied heavily on the minor penalty system, the transition away from from them led to questionable interim rules. For example, the WFTDA explicitly states in rule 4.2.4 that skaters may not initiate contact with the forearms and hands (, because they are Illegal Blocking Zones. Yet, last year…


Extended touching (lasting three seconds or more) with the forearms or hands to an opponent’s legal and/or illegal target zone.

…it was legal to make illegal contact for 2.9 seconds, but illegal to make illegal contact for 3.0 seconds. (Huh?)

Thankfully, this line has been stricken from the rule book. A new rule has been added a few lines further down. Along with similar updates in the direction of gameplay penalty section for stopped or clockwise blocking, it is probably my favorite rule update of the year.

Section 5: Penalties
5.5 – Use of Forearms and Hands

5.5.10 – Any pushing with the hands or forearms that significantly alters an opponent’s established position, trajectory, or speed.

There are plenty of other places in the rules where it applies, but this language in particular is quite clear about getting a penalty if it produces significant impact at the exact point of contact. When an opponent is actually fouled with a hand or forearm, in the manner described above, it’s a penalty.

The important part about this penalty is that it applies even when the contact does not cause an opponent to lose relative position, because the foul has occurred before that becomes a factor. Instead, the whistle is triggered at the loss of absolute position (or velocity) due to illegal contact.

On the other hand, incidental hand or forearm contact that doesn’t disrupt an opponent’s absolute position is not a penalty, since it’s not pushing, or even blocking. If it doesn’t do anything to them, it’s not a penalty.

Just one problem: This level of harmless, no-impact, no-penalty forearm contact is still illegal, per rule 4.2.4 and its subsections.

The WFTDA philosophy on defining legality and the threshold for penalties is difficult to process. An illegal action should mean you are not allowed to do it, period.  But instead, the WFTDA chooses to define “illegal” by saying if you do it, you may or may not get a penalty depending on multiple factors…so that illegal thing may actually be legal. (Huh?)

This nebulous definition, which selectively legalizes blanket illegal actions, keeps open potentially confusing situations in the rules. Here is a rather wordy example where illegally initiating forearm/hand contact is, in fact, legal:

No Impact/No Penalty
5.5.5 – Illegal forearm or hand contact to an opponent that forces the receiving opponent off balance, forward, and/or sideways but does not cause the opponent to lose relative position or the initiator or a teammate to gain relative position. For example, a slight but observable push with the hands or forearms.

Taking 5.5.5 and 5.5.10 together creates an apparent contradiction. A slight but observable push…that forces the receiving opponent…sideways, despite being illegal contact, is no penalty if relative position is not lost.5 But! Any pushing…that significantly alters an opponent’s established position is a penalty if relative position is not lost.

A slight but observable push falls within the category of any pushing, does it not?

These rules are setting up the potential for inconsistent officiating on hands or forearm penalties that fall between the extremes of “slight” and “significant.” The same level of illegal contact, leading to the same loss of absolute position, may or may not be a trip to the box depending on where individual officials draw the line what is a penalty-worthy alteration of position.

Where does an official draw the line between an “insignificant” and a “significant” push with hands or forearms, particularly when the penalty must be called with “any” push? How can the WFTDA be certain that every official enforcing its rules will call this consistently?

What the WFTDA has done here is created a subset of illegal actions that are simultaneously penalties and not penalties. (Huh?) If a ref observes a slight push with a forearm that messes up an opponent to an undefined degree of significance, the penalty may have to be called per 5.5.10, even if it explicitly says in 5.5.5 that it may not be one.

It should be said that the built-in “if you’re not sure, don’t call the penalty” mandate of officials should give bias towards calling no penalty, but the biases of individual officials might cause the line to be drawn in different places, leaving the potential inconsistency of calls unresolved.

This issue is a direct result of the WFTDA still not having figured out how to be consistent about penalties, and the illegal actions that should warrant them.

Some penalties in the WFTDA are instantaneous even if their end result creates no significant impact on gameplay or does not actually disadvantage an opponent. Take most cutting penalties, where the offending player would harmlessly surrender position and immediately recycle if given the chance to, gaining them no advantage.

Compare this to the classes of provisional penalties where actions only warrant a whistle when an opponent is disadvantaged as a result. But even then, the level at which an opponent is disrupted must be taken into account before deciding if a penalty needs to be issued, even if that disruption came as a result of an illegal action.

Moving forward, the WFTDA needs to stick with one of these concepts and apply it globally to all definitions of illegality and penalties. If it wants to define illegal blocking zones, the rules need to consistently back up those definitions so that skaters are deterred from using them under all circumstances. (If they are not deterrents, why are they illegal?) Doing so would make a lot of calls less nebulous and easier for everyone to implement consistently.

If the WFTDA applied the logic behind 5.5.10 to the hands, forearms, or other Illegal Blocking Zonesin that once an opponent is fouled by an illegal block, what happens afterward is irrelevant—you would get an impact spectrum that looks more like this:

In redefining all illegal contact as penalizable contact, things become much more clear.

This way, if a skater wants to block an opponent off their established position or alter their trajectory in any way, they can do it legally via a Legal Blocking Zone—or illegally with an Illegal Blocking Zone, warranting a penalty. This would even apply if an opponent lost (or teammate gained) relative position, making it consistent. Simple.

If the WFTDA wants to completely flush out the concept of minor penalties from its rule book, it needs to stop letting defined illegal actions go unpenalized. Make things legal and not penalizable; or illegal and penalizable, with no gray zones. Do that, and penalty enforcement becomes significantly easier for all.

Good Call, NSO

On-skates officials have enough to deal with as it is. Everyone in stripes has a role to play, players to track, duties to perform. They should be expected keep their eyes on the track at all times.

But what about for things that happen off the track?

Section 8 – Officials
8.3 – Officiating Discretion

8.3.2 – If an Official is in doubt on a call (e.g., they see the effects of a hit but do not see the action), a penalty must not be called.

Penalties can happen away from the view of the seven referees, particularly those in and around the penalty box. Sure, a jammer referee will always be looking at their jammer, even if she is taking a seat. But for the other eight players on the track, and the several more sitting on the bench, they aren’t in direct view of an official that can call a penalty.

Which is odd, because a lot of players have been sent to the box, or kept there for more than 30 seconds, by officials who did not see the action to warrant a penalty. Did a disgruntled blocker say something naughty to the penalty box timer as she stood up? If one of the refs didn’t see it, what gave them the authority to call an tack on penalty time?

This year, the WFTDA has taken action to close this loophole. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.

8.3.7 – The Head Referee may designate NSOs to signal and enforce penalties in situations in which said NSOs are able to observe the penalty. This includes, but is not limited to, obscene, profane, or abusive language directed at said NSOs or another Official; removal of safety equipment while in the Penalty Box: Penalty Box violations; and Delay of Game penalties.

This new rule and its subsections will give the full officiating crew more coverage to witness and (justifiably) call penalties on penalizable actions—but only if the head referee of a game allows it, and only to the NSOs he or she selects to do it.

Empowering NSOs to phone in penalties, as directed by both the rules and the game HR, is starting off as an optional rule due to the newness of non-referees issuing penalties to the WFTDA.6 As refs and NSOs work to determine what’s the best way of signalling, communicating, and enforcing these penalties, and updates to the certification process make more NSOs ready to be referees-on-demand, it is inevitable that this change will become permanent sometime down the line.

Until that happens, however, there will be some ambiguity in regards to how NSO-observed penalties can be enforced when said NSOs are not empowered to enforce them, a situation in which this rule seems to make even more ambiguous.

Even if every NSO sees a clear and blatant violation of the rules (that falls under their jurisdiction, per, if the head ref didn’t deputize them and no referee saw the action, you can make the case that a penalty should not and cannot be called, even if the NSO informs the referee immediately or sometime after the fact. The NSO can’t enforce the penalty directly, and if the refs didn’t see it directly, they can’t take a non-authorized NSO at their word. They would have authorized them if that was the case!

That’s a minor nitpick, however. The odds are that when it comes to the games that matter—the divisional playoffs and championships—head referees will be selecting NSO crews that will be ready to make the right calls off the track, leaving the refs on it with one less thing to worry about. That’s good.

My Team’s Biggest Fan

For 2015, the WFTDA made a very interesting change to the procedure for fouled-out skaters.

6.4 – Expulsion and Fouling Out – When a Skater fouls out of a game, that Skater must immediately leave the track and may not remain on the team’s bench. The fouled-out Skater may join the audience for the game, but is not allowed to participate beyond the manner in which an audience member would be expected. … If a Skater who has fouled out interferes with game play, their team will be penalized according to Section 5.13.23. …

Up through last year, skaters that got their seventh penalty were required to hit the showers, forbidden from further participation “in any way.” This still applies to expulsions, 6.4.4, but no longer to simple foul-outs.

This is an interesting change because of the specific language the WFTDA is using. That’s a lot of words to say that a skater out of penalties effectively becomes a paying customer that has to sit with everyone else in the stands and next to the track. The fans behave a certain way, and so too must that one fan which was recently playing in the roller derby game she is now watching.

However, unlike all the fans who came off the street, this extra-special fan that fouled out moments ago knows all the strategies, the verbal calls, the situations and tendencies of her teammates and opponents. Should this “fan” position themselves at the outside of turn 2, with other fans, and start shouting things at her favorite team—as an audience member would be expected to do—that team may be at an advantage, effectively gaining an extra set of eyes and a teammate with a familiar voice in their blind spots.

Ah! But maybe the WFTDA thought of that, putting in the provision that a penalty will be issued to a team if a fouled-out audience member/skater interferes with game play. Someone outside of the track directly and unfairly influencing the action on it via verbal or visual communication would constitute interference, no?

No. – A Referee must call off a jam for any of the following reasons: – Physical interference (including audience members on the track) that interferes with continued play.

Audience members coming onto the track is definitely not how an audience member would be expected to act. If a common fan enters a restricted area, like the track surface, ref lanes, or the team benches, that’s clear interference that would require referee intervention.

But if a regular fan is shouting game-critical information at skaters? A ref can’t do anything about that, nor should he, since the fan is where he or she is supposed to be. As expected. And per the rule, there’s nothing they should or can do about a fouled-out skater doing the exact same thing, even if that skater happens to be indirectly bench-coaching her team.

Granted, a team losing a skater to a foul-out is a big disadvantage. Then again, most skaters only see action every two or three or four jams. A fouled-out superfan can help their team a little bit on every jam.7 And if the WFTDA has intended for track-side verbal communication to constitute “interference,” what referee is going to keep an eye on the fans and the fouled-out skater among them to directly observe such an offense? They can’t call it if they don’t see it.

I don’t understand why WFTDA membership felt this was the best possible solution for this situation. Sending a fouled-out player to the locker room was too severe, sure. But if skaters still want to watch the rest of the game, they have to do it in such a way that won’t give their team an advantage, however slight, that the other team doesn’t have.

Makes you wonder why a fouled-out skater can’t just be quarantined to the team bench area, like in basketball. That lets excluded skaters watch the game, but in a way where they can’t influence the game any differently than any other bench player or coach. Seems like that would be less of a hassle, especially if you have penalty-empowered NSOs to keep an eye on them.

Math Problem: Official Reviews – Officials – Reviews = ???

After the WFTDA playoffs last year, we ran an analysis investigating the use and success rate of official reviews. The findings confirmed the suspicions of many: The vast majority of them were unsuccessful, and they wasted so much time that two days’ worth of 2014 playoff games might as well have been nothing but zebra huddles.

The downright frivolous deployment of official reviews, and the convenient clock stoppages they came with, was something that definitely had to be addressed in the 2015 rules update. The WFTDA did just that, changing how the process of a review goes down.

Unlike many of the other rule changes in the rule book, however, which are at least attempting to move things along in a somewhat positive direction, this one is just flat-out bad. That underlined bit is the stupidest rule change to come out of the WFTDA in a very long time, for reasons to be explained shortly.

Section 1 – Game Parameters

1.11 – Official Reviews – During the Official Review, the Captain and/or Designated Alternate requesting the review may request to have an Official’s decision reviewed. – Decisions outside the purview of The Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby may not be reviewed. – If the Captain or Designated Alternate does not request that a decision be reviewed, they may use this 60-second period as they please.

The one sorta-positive update from this section is, regarding the content of a review request. Outside of WFTDA tournament play, teams would sometime request reviews ranging from challenging the color of the sky to wanting to check if the tights they were wearing made them look fat.8 In jest, obviously, but with the goal of stopping the clock with an official timeout instead of a team timeout they may or may not have had.

These wink-wink requests will no longer be accepted as valid, since they have nothing to do with the game being played. While that’s nice, this rule is made mostly irrelevant by the other new change.

In effect, it makes the “review” part of an official review completely optional. By granting themselves the ability to request and use an official timeout as they please, WFTDA skaters have affirmed that unused official reviews are actually team timeouts—effectively giving a team up to five per game.

Heavens, where to start. There are so many things wrong with this. My heart wants to believe there were good intentions behind the rule change, but my gut is telling me otherwise.

It seems like skaters felt the need to legitimize the practice of gaining an advantage off of an OTO, particularly in the first period, in that they would be able to save their team timeouts for later in the game. Doing this would make it more likely they will be able to stop the clock and retreat to their bench when faced with adversity in critical game situations later in the game, rather than having to strategically budget their team timeouts and deal with issues on the track during gameplay.

Honestly, I can’t think of any other reason for them wanting to do things this way. As discovered in our analysis a few months ago, we confirmed that the official review success rate is twice as worse during close games, and four times as worse toward the end of a period9, than it is overall. Statistically, the need to use the OR as an actual review drops significantly in either of these situations.

This means that once the period clock reaches a certain point, a team’s official review essentially becomes a “use it or lose it” timeout. This is a clock stoppage that teams have clearly been taking advantage of, to break up an opponent’s momentum, regroup going into the closing stages of a period, or try to squeeze an extra jam in before time expires. This practice is only set to continue now that it is officially a part of the rules.

This is bad. Derbyfolk like to point out how stop-starty other sports are, with their long breaks between action (football) and endless stoppages near the end of games (basketball), and that derby is not like they are. Well, WFTDA derby is now taking a step towards that. Skaters are effectively telling fans that these potential extra delays, and the resulting break-ups of game flow, is an acceptable trade-off for the security blanket of extra time-outs that non-review official reviews have now become.

Looking at this from a practical standpoint, OTOs are for the officials to take the time necessary to ensure the game is running smoothly, and ORs to review officiating calls on the track. With this new system, there will be times where official time outs will not be needed by the officials, and official reviews will not contain a review.

So what the hell is the point of even calling them those things in the first place?

These changes will have a marginal effect in any one game, but over the course of several games, particularly during tournaments, this will continue to be very noticeable. And not in a good way. Your opinion on the manner of gameplay the WFTDA promotes may or may not be positive, but everyone can agree that given the option, we’d all rather see derby being played than not being played.

If WFTDA skaters really and genuinely would like to use clock stoppages as they please, they should call a team timeout. That is what they are for. That is their purpose.

But if they want to give themselves the privilege of asking officials to do it for them—up to four times a game, or more—and waste their fans’ time with another unsuccessful review or an unnecessary 60 second rest break, I have a suggestion for you:

Don’t. Just, don’t.

Suck it up and skate. Everyone likes it better when you do. It’s more fun that way.

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It’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. How is the WFTDA getting on with developing its rules?

This marks the ninth year since the WFTDA published its very first standardized rulebook, way back in January 2006. To say a lot has changed since then would be a gross understatement. Off the track, you have had explosive growth and a ridiculous spike in the level competition, which required more legalese to try and normalize gameplay and standardize officiating on the track.

The clear disaster that was the 2010 rulebook, and the toxic gameplay it eventually spawned, was going to take a few significant updates to recover from. The 2013 update was massive, and the 2014 update was also pretty major. Taking the 2015 update at face value, which is refreshingly pedestrian in comparison, might signal that the WFTDA has finally turned a corner in getting a handle on things.

Well, yes and no. Releasing the rules on-time for a change is a good sign, but it didn’t come without an asterisk this year. Even with the lighter revisions, and having an army of members to check and double-check them, the WFTDA still had to issue an update to correct errors just two weeks after their release.

Alright, that happens. So the errors are fixed and the rulebook is officially done for the 2015—oh…what’s that? You need to issue another error-fixing update two months later? Huh.10

But that’s not all. In that same update, the WFTDA issued new Q&As on certain rules. One of them was regarding cutting opponents that did not initiate first contact. Like any WFTDQ&A, it tried to clarify an extremely wordy part of the rules by using even more words to do so.

Except this time, when people read Example #5, some realized that they could further “trick” opponents into a cutting penalty via a semi-loophole in the rules, one that was only discovered after the WFTDA attempted to clarify the exact rule in question.11

So, yeah.

It still feels like the WFTDA is updating its rules in a piecemeal fashion, making small, isolated changes where they are deemed necessary; rather than taking a look at the whole document and applying universal ideas and concepts across the whole thing at once. The evidence supporting this is pretty convincing, given how many half-fixes and partial conflicts are strewn about the rulebook, even in 2015.

But maybe that’s to be expected when rules are created by the committee of the whole that doesn’t yet have a concrete vision for the long-term future of WFTDA roller derby, as it happens on a flat roller derby track.12

One of these years, the WFTDA should think about issuing a major rules update with the overarching goal of consolidation, simplification, and eliminating redundancies, achieving desired gameplay effects through natural player actions that don’t need Q&A sessions to make obvious.

The existing rules template is working, but it is saddled with quite a lot of weight. A bullet list of nit-picky penalties, illegal actions that may or may not be illegal, artificial restrictions on skaters, and all the loophole-causing, clarification-issuing gray areas they create may be getting in the way of faster progress. Someday in the future, maybe it would be worth exploring a full tear-down and rebuild.

Then again, if skaters want to add rules to the rule book that let them initiate and use an official timeout as they please—not how the officials need to use it—they can keep dealing with the consequences of a rulebook that may someday be crushed by its own weight. Particularly, if other gameplay options start to become available internationally.

Yet the WFTDA is in a good position to keep spreading the game. Despite the struggles it is still going through with getting a handle on its rules, and elsewhere, it isn’t slowing down in terms of the level of enthusiasm among its member population, or the actual level of its population, which is now over 300 full member leagues strong.

As flawed as the WFTDA can be, or as its rules often are, for now it is the best option for skaters to play roller derby competitively. In the next few years, however, it needs to decide if it wants to be merely the best by default, or actually and truly the best.

If the WFTDA wants to be the very best, it must convey that sentiment from the very first thing new roller derby players will see bearing the WFTDA name: The WFTDA rule book.