The Pack Solution

There’s been a problem brewing in modern roller derby. If the last few months are any indication, it’s a problem that’s been getting worse and worse.

I’m talking about jams during flat track games that take a while to get started…if they get started at all. Slow-pack starts, pack no-starts, non-jams. Whatever you call them, a lot of people are starting to not like them. Unless something is done about them, there’s no indication of them going away. In fact, the trends are pointing to the problem getting worse before it gets better.

At first, jams were going several seconds before teams crossed the pivot line to start the jam. But then, teams realized they could kill penalties during the time they slowly moved forward, eventually leading to slow jam starts of 30 seconds or more while a team stood around to burn off penalty time. As teams countered this by skating forward to start a split-pack start, good teams realized that they could take advantage of this and hold the rear of the pack, which was proving to be more and more advantageous. As jam delays were starting to hit the 45~60 second range, teams realized that once a jam was started, the only way to not give the team in the back an easy advantage was to never move forward themselves, ultimately leading to at least two instances of entire two-minute jams expiring without the jammers being released.

Although these extreme slow starts are somewhat rare in the grand scheme of derby (so far), the fact that they can happen at all, and have been starting to happen more frequently as of late in high profile games, should be a sign that there’s some changing and tweaking needing to be done with the rules to make sure that they can’t happen to begin with. Any good rulebook should be written to account for the ordinary and the extreme, and the ever-evolving WFTDA roller derby rules aren’t quite there yet on the extreme side of things.

Even so, there are those some out there that think that little oddities like the occasional dose of inaction isn’t too big of a deal. I suppose that’s true, in a way. After all, there are things that some people may like and other people may not like. You can’t please all the people all the time.

However, a group of people you absolutely must please are the spectators who come to watch and support roller derby leagues. If their booing is any indication, they don’t like it when nothing is happening on the track. If anything, making sure the paying patron is pleased at what they see (without compromising the legitimacy of the sport, of course) should be of the utmost importance.

So whether or not you think this is a small problem or a big problem, it’s still a problem that bears further investigation. But before we can do that, we first need to identify the real problem. As I’ll demonstrate, trying to fix the “problem” that a team or teams are not moving off the start line may lead to more problems down the road. This isn’t because the solutions will or will not work. It’s because the solutions being thought up for it are being applied to the wrong problem.

In this white paper for consideration of the derby community, I’ll break down what’s really causing these slow-starts and non-jams to occur, explain what’s happening with other loophole-inducing derby tactics, and offer my own custom solution for the derbyverse to take into consideration to eliminate all of these issues in one fell swoop.

Casual readers of this blog may want to turn away now, because this isn’t your run-of-the-mill blog post: This is a serious and detailed investigation of WFTDA rules and the tactics of the players who play the game within them. If you want to bail now and click somewhere else, I won’t blame you for doing so. But if you’re serious about improving roller derby on the whole, and are in a position to do something about it, please consider this article a contribution to the cause and your efforts.

As always, I thank you.

~Windy

The Pack Solution – Table of Contents

  1. Solutions to the Wrong Problem
  2. The Pack Problem, the Short-Short Version
  3. A Modest Proposal: The Pack Solution
  4. The Pack Solution: Practical Examples
  5. The Problems with the Solution… Maybe (or Maybe Not)
  6. Conclusion
Legend for Figure Diagrams

This blog uses a common system for diagrams of roller derby action, with important markings and designations shown here. Specifically for this article, the track color indicates what set of rules a particular diagram is referencing, which will be important to follow as you read through everything. Also note that unless otherwise specified, all the scenarios depicted here assume all players and both teams are of equal skills and abilities, and only touch on extreme situations for the purpose of exaggerating advantages and disadvantages.

Chapter 1

Solutions to the Wrong Problem

It seems like anytime a the topic of roller derby rules comes up, the derby community is never short of opinions. Comment threads on Derby News Network always seem to blow up the moment someone (like me, heh) starts questioning the rules, or points out a possible loophole in the rules. The derbyverse voices their opinions on whether or not they like or hate certain aspects of the game, and eventually people start suggesting ideas on how to fix what’s apparently broken with roller derby.

One of the things that everyone seems to agree on: Very long slow starts are starting to get out of hand. That players are even going so far as to stand around for two minutes and literally do nothing while the jammers stay locked down behind the jammer line is definitely something that needs to be eliminated from roller derby as soon as possible.

Like many other things about the WFTDA, rules and rule changes are suggested and voted on by its players. There’s no shortage of ideas from the derby community on how to get rid of extreme slow starts, and here are three of them that I’ll analyze to see how effective they might be in solving the problem.

This is assuming, of course, that we’ve identified the correct problem in the first place…

1. Required forward motion

What it is: A rule that would require all in-play skaters to skate in a forwards (counter-clockwise) direction at all times. Deliberately stopping or skating backwards (clockwise) while in play would result in a penalty under all circumstances.

Pros: This would have the immediate effect of ensuring that skaters are compelled to move forward at the start of jam, since standing still would be penalized. Skaters who move forward must keep moving forward while they are in play, which would make the pack crossing the pivot line a foregone conclusion. This should prevent the pack from delaying the jammer whistle for extended periods of time during a jam start.

Making skating backwards illegal would also prevent a blocker from skating backwards to force a jammer to retreat all the way back to re-enter behind the blocker, something that goes against the original spirit of roller derby rules. It would also eliminate the possibility of a dangerous collision between a jammer coming in full speed and a blocker skating backwards to pin the other jammer out of bounds.

Cons: Requiring forward motion will not automatically speed up slow starts. Even creeping up an inch a second is still “forward motion,” and it could take two minutes to go 10 feet at that speed; I wouldn’t put it past WFTDA teams to figure out how to waste a minute or more at the start of a jam by taking advantage of that technicality.

This isn’t just speculation, either: WORD banked track rules already have a rule that requires forward skating motion at all times, but you’ll still see teams tippy-toe forward whenever they need to slow the pack to an effective halt. (San Diego, I’m looking at you.) Basically, if a team has a reason to want to bring the pack to a standstill, they’ll find a way to do it even if the rules technically say that they can’t. Observe:

Verdict: This may prevent some slow-starts from happening, but teams that want to stall at the start will still find a way to do so, as seen by good teams on the banked track. Required forward motion alone cannot be the ultimate solution to the problem of skaters not wanting to move forward.

2. The jam start “shot clock”

What it is: After the pivot whistle sounds, the jammer whistle will sound after a guaranteed amount of time has elapsed, whether the pack has crossed the pivot line or not. Any blockers within the pack who have not yet crossed the pivot line could optionally be issued a “delay of game” penalty for failure to start the jam normally. If the pack crosses the pivot line normally before the “shot clock” expires, then the jammer whistle sounds as normal.

Pros: This would absolutely guarantee that the jammers get released after a set amount of time. It would also punish players/teams with trips to the penalty box if they try to get too cute with delaying jam starts. A slow pack start or a non-jam scenario would be impossible due to the inevitability of the second whistle after a set amount of time.

Cons: Everyone who came up with this idea can’t seem to agree on how long the “shot clock” should be. Ten seconds? Thirty seconds? Five seconds? There are also a lot of what-if scenarios, too: What if a blocker comes out of the penalty box just as the shot clock expires, but hasn’t crossed the pivot line yet? Do they get penalized again?

Here’s another one: What if a team starts the jam on a knee? Well, the jam would start immediately, completely bypassing the reason for having a “shot clock” whistle in the first place. Plus, if this rule is meant to make sure the pack crosses the pivot line (which the knee-start would circumvent anyway) there’s nothing stopping one or both teams immediately backtracking once they do to lock-down the rear of the pack, part of the reason why some teams don’t want to move forward in the first place.

Again, WORD banked track rules are ahead of the game on this. After the multiple slow-starts occurred during the 2010 L.A. Derby Dolls championship game (the source of the video seen above), they implemented a simple three-second hand count. The jammer whistle comes three seconds after the pivot whistle or after the pack has crossed the pivot line, whichever comes first. They don’t issue penalties for failing to cross the pivot line, though. Still, it hasn’t completely eliminated slow starts; even if the jammers are released, they are often met with a very slow pack, tippy-toeing forward.

Verdict: If the problem is that blockers don’t want to move forward, this won’t completely solve it. Though the jammers would always be released, this would only shift the problem of slow pack starts from behind the pivot line without jammers, to in front of the pivot line with the jammers. Though I think this suggestion is the best of the three as a temporary fix to jam starts, if a true solution is to be found, this isn’t it.

3. The one-whistle jam start

What it is: All players (blockers and jammers) would be released from their start lines with a single whistle. The dual-start procedure would be eliminated entirely.

Pros: Pretty obvious benefit here: It would be impossible for a jam start to be delayed, because there is nothing for the jammers to wait for. They get released at the same time the pack does. Additionally, because the jam would be active from the get-go, the practice of a team starting on a knee would be made obsolete. Another nice side effect is that this would make every second of every penalty meaningful, as it would be impossible for a team to stand around and burn off penalty time.

Cons: Alas, with big benefits come big loopholes. If there’s a single-whistle start, the most advantageous place for a blocker to be would be directly in front of the jammer line, right in front of the other team’s jammer. If the blockers and the jammers start on the same whistle, that means the blockers can block the jammers right off the bat, potentially creating a giant mass of bodies plugging up the start of every single jam of every single game. If this becomes an inevitability, there’s no point in having two separate start lines on the track.

The Philly/Gotham game at ECDX 2011 was effectively a test game for the one-whistle start. Including the non-jam, almost every jam start in the first half looked like this. But hey, at least the jammers are being released!

On top of that, teams on the power jam can exploit this fact by positioning themselves in a way that would create an instant no-pack scenario (such as taking knee) or creating a wedge of blockers (like a football blocking play) to allow their jammer to get through at the start scott-free, with nothing the other team can realistically do about it.

Verdict: Good idea in theory, but under current WFTDA rules it’s something that’s just waiting to be abused by teams who know what they’re doing.

Any one of these suggestions by themselves won’t definitely solve the apparent problem, that of a team or teams within the pack not wanting to move forward at the start of a jam. Even if you add a rule that always makes sure the jammers get released each time up, good teams will find ways to stay back and slow down the starting action anyway.

Not that there’s anything wrong with slow action, mind you. I’ve always believed that if a team can fight for and earn a favorable position within the pack, and/or the other team messes up and puts themselves into a disadvantageous position through every fault of their own, the team gaining control should be able to make the pack go as fast or as slow as they want for as long as they have that control.

My problem with generally slow play is that once a team controlling the pack slows it to a crawl and they want to keep it at a crawl, like during a power jam, there is absolutely nothing that the other team can do on their own to speed it back up again.

The team that wants to slow-play the pack just needs to continue going slow, knowing that the other team can never speed things up for fear of splitting and destroying the pack should they try to skate too far forward, or getting back-blocking penalties should they try to shove forward the slow team.

As is becoming increasingly more apparent, the best position to be in to keep the pack slow is to wall up all blockers at the rear of the pack. From there, a team doesn’t need to block the team up front to keep them going slow. Plus, knowing the team up front can’t go more than 10 feet ahead (for fear of penalties), the team in the rear is in a great place to push blockers forward to help punch their jammer through. Here’s a perfect example of this (no audio on this video):

All other things being equal, why would you want to give a free advantage to the other team by pushing forward to force a split-pack jam start? Wouldn’t it be smarter to wait for the other team to go forward instead so you can get claim the rear of the pack and get these free advantages? And why else would a team need to take a knee at the start of a jam, if to avoid being forced to decide between splitting the pack and being put at a positional disadvantage, or have no other option but to stand around until the end of the jam instead?

It is this prevalent general derby strategy that leads to the core of the problem with blockers wanting to stall at the line start line.

The two (known) non-jams prove all aspects of this point.

In the Gotham/Philly non-jam at ECDX, you can see how aggressively Gotham wanted to defend their claim to the rear of the pack, even going as far as skating backwards a few feet to make damn sure the jam didn’t start with them anywhere else but on the rear lines:

Philly started every jam after this on a knee to make sure they didn’t have to decide between splitting the pack or throwing the jam away. They wouldn’t have had to do this if they had the option to speed the pack forward on their own.

In the Grand Raggidy/Arch Rival non-jam a few weeks later, you can see how teams are willing to wait for the other team to do something, leading to a “you go first, no you go first, no you go first” comedy of errors. Where the skaters are looking says it all:

Neither Arch or Raggidy would have had to rely on a strategy of waiting for the other team to move forward first, if it was possible for one (or both) of these teams to take the initiative and move forward on their own without fear of being put at a disadvantage for it.

When both teams in a game do one or both of these things (stay back and/or wait for the other team to go forward first) during a jam start, you get a very delayed jam start. Or as was the case in these two incidents, no jam at all.

Even though a lot of jam starts go off without a hitch, there are still a lot of teams who still try to take advantage of this by keeping as many players back as possible. If not during the start, then during general play when they have a jammer out front or are on the power jam.

This is why I believe that just forcing the jammers to be released artificially will not completely solve all that ails roller derby. The mentality of blockers in the pack wanting to stay back is not only prevalent during jam starts, but during general play, too. If you force teams to (reluctantly) move forward at the start, the motivation to stay back will still be there, just after the jammers are released.

The derby community has been centering the debate of getting rid of slow jam starts around prompts such as “how can we stop teams from stalling at the line during jam starts,” or, “how can we make sure the jammers are always released?”

I feel these questions are identifying the wrong problem.

The problem we’ve identified, let’s not forget, is mind-numbingly basic: The pack doesn’t always want to move forward at the start of the jam.

If we want to reverse this problem, we need to reverse the question: How can we make it so the pack always wants to move forward at the start of a jam?

To put this problem and this question into perspective, think of your typical football game. Before the snap, both teams are itching to go forward. There doesn’t need to be a football rule stating “players must move forward after the ball is snapped.” Having one would be redundant and silly. Giving a penalty to players who don’t move forward after the snap would be even more unnecessary and ridiculous, because players will do it on their own without needing to be told to do or not do it.

Why, though? It’s in the best interest of the offense to want to move down the field, a job made easier if they can get by the other team. It’s in the best interest of the defense to slow the offense from going forward, a job made easier if they can stay in front of the other team. You don’t need to make a rule for that, because if a team doesn’t do it, they’ll get destroyed, making it harder for their team to do well on the play or win the game.

This is a critical element missing from modern roller derby. To put the practice of slow jam starts into a different view, imagine what it would be like if the football was snapped and both teams just stood around for 30 or 40 seconds. Or imagine if they stood around for two minutes, with no one moving or no one throwing a single block. That’s pretty much what’s been happening in roller derby lately.

The pack moving forward should be an automatic part of roller derby, just like moving forward is an automatic part of playing football, or any other team sport worth the time of day. Historically, roller derby has always had its players skating forward. But nowadays there are too many instances of one or both teams in the pack not wanting to do that during jam starts or power jams, or any other time they feel it’s in their best interest.

What we need to do is give a reason for blockers in the pack to want to move forward and be at the front at the start of a jam—or any other time, for that matter. Much like football players always want to move forward once the ball is snapped, derby players should be itching to launch forward off the pivot line when the jam starts, not finding reasons and loopholes for wanting to stay back.

This can be done without getting rid of the separate starts (which I happen to like), or adding a shot clock, or penalizing players who dilly-dally and delay during jam starts. It can also be done without mandating required forward motion; there’s no need to make it a part of the rules if you make it in the skaters’ best interest to do so instead.

I think I’ve got a pretty good idea on how we can accomplish this. This idea would not only have the potential to make slow starts and non-jams a thing of the past, it could also make the game faster and more exciting, but in a way that would not take away some of the good “slow derby” tactics that differentiate WFTDA roller derby from other forms of the sport.

So what is it? It’s simple:

Change the pack definition rules.

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Chapter 2

The Pack Problem, the Short-Short Version

Whether you realize it or not, the root cause of roller derby’s problem of ridiculous slow jam starts lies here:

4.1 – Pack Definition
4.1.1 – The pack is defined by the largest group of in bounds Blockers, skating in proximity, containing members from both teams.

Yup, it’s our old friend, WFTDA rule 4.1.1. If you’ve been following my blog, it should be mostly clear by now why I think this is a big problem for roller derby.

But to visually demonstrate why, let’s see what happens when the defense fails to do their job in some other team sports:

Figure 1 – Defensive Failures in Sports

In all sports, if one team allows the other team to completely get around them, blockers and ball-carrier included, bad, bad things will happen. (A) In football, the blue team is on their way to an easy score since red team didn't stop any of them from getting by. (B) In hockey, the red team would be making their goaltender go up against 5 blue players unopposed, surely resulting in a blue goal due to their defensive failure. In both instances, the blue team would be sprinting forward as fast as possible, to give them the most possible time to act unopposed.

In these situations, if the red team fails to stop the blue team from getting through them or getting by them, then the team that failed to do their job (the red team) will be giving up a huge advantage to their opponents (the blue team). Once that happens, the blue team will want to stay as far away from the red team as possible to have the longest advantage possible, where the red team will want to try to catch up to the blue team as quickly as they can to try to get control of the situation again.

Such are the universal, general truths in sports:

  • If a team wants to slow down the other team, they must block or defend them.
  • If they want to keep them slowed down, they must continue blocking/defending them.
  • If a team wants to get by the other team, they must evade blocks and defenses.
  • If  they want to stay ahead of them, they must stay in front of blocks/defenses.

But in roller derby, under current WFTDA rules, if the blockers for one team fail to do their job and can’t stop or slow down the blockers on other team, this is what happens:

Figure 2 – The Imaginary Blockers

WFTDA Rules: (A) The blue jammer has just cleared the pack and is chasing down the red jammer, who is the lead jammer. (B) The red blockers begin to block the blue blockers in an attempt to slow them down and make it easier for their jammer to catch up to score. However, they completely fail in this attempt, allowing the blue half of the pack to get by them. (C) The blue blockers, wanting to get as far away from the red jammer as they can, are not allowed to skate more than 10 feet ahead of the red blockers. The red pack is skating at a very slow speed and the blue blockers are forced to match that slow speed, or else they will destroy the pack and be subject to penalties. (D) The red blockers still accomplish their goal of slowing the blue blockers, even though they failed to do it by blocking. Instead, the blue team is being slowed by an imaginary 10-foot line.

Even if the red team has the worst blockers in the world, can’t block consistently or effectively, and allows the entire blue team (jammer and blockers) by them, because rule 4.1.1 requires that the pack must have blockers from both teams within it, the red team can effectively control the speed of the blue blockers without needing to initiate contact to physically slow them down.

Which leads to the equivalent truths in roller derby, when applied to the pack:

  • If a team wants to slow down the other team, they must block or defend them.
  • If they want to keep them slowed down, they could keep blocking them, but even if they get by they won’t be able to go more than 10 feet ahead and can’t speed things up by themselves anyway.
  • If a team wants to get by the other team, they must evade blocks or defenses.
  • If  they want to stay ahead of them, they can’t go forward too fast or too far ahead, or else they’ll get penalized.

To me, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Common sense would dictate that if you want to slow someone down and prevent them from going forward, you need to be in front of them to physically impede their progress. Yet in roller derby, you can keep an entire team slow by loitering 10 feet behind and not throwing a single block.

If the red team wants to keep the pack slow to make it easier for their jammer to come around and score, they can simply crawl around at the rear of the pack. There is nothing the blue team—who completely outmaneuvered the red blockers due to their bad blocking, remember—can do to speed up the pack unless the red blockers come with them, something the red team would have no reason to do until their jammer is right on the blue blockers’ butts.

This gives the red team the reward of controlling the speed of general play. All they had to do to get it was be terrible at blocking the other team.

Figure 3 – The Imaginary Defense

If we apply roller derby rules to other sports, things start making less sense. (A) If the blue team completely gets around the red team, why should any of them be required to stay within 10 feet of the other team? (B) Ditto for hockey. Even if the puck handler can keep on going past 10 feet (like a jammer in derby), his teammates should also be able to follow in order to provide support. However, derby logic states that they'll get penalized if they do. Huh?

All other things being equal, the blue team is screwed in this scenario. Even if they can get by the red blockers in an attempt to speed up the pack, they can’t get by the 10-foot pack proximity rule. Since the blue team doesn’t have the option to speed up the pack by themselves in the same way the red team can keep the pack slowed down by themselves, they have no other option but to let the red jammer come in at full speed and try to block her, which usually results in an inevitable grand slam or two. Or three. Or four or five.

If only the blue team could somehow earn a way to control the speed of the pack without needing to drag the other team along with them!

Because teams at the front of the pack can’t speed up the pack on their own initiative, it leads to teams preferring to keep station at the rear of the pack…which leads to teams reluctant to cross the pivot line, which leads to extended jam starts, which leads to teams taking a knee to circumvent those extended starts before the occur, which is beginning to lead to teams crawling around on all fours pre-jam in an attempt to get re-positioned themselves around standing blockers before the jam begins.

(That’s right. I’ve seen plenty of instances of players scooting around on a knee, pirouetting around to the rear of the pack, and even using quadrupedal movement to re-position themselves while still staying on a knee to force a knee-down jam start. Do players realize how silly that makes the game of roller derby look to an outsider? That players are resorting to crawling on the ground like a baby to try to get an advantage at the start of a jam? C’mon, people. Slow starts are bad, but if players have to look like idiots to prevent them from happening, there’s no hope for the future of roller derby.)

The first domino to fall in the sequence is that team can’t speed up the pack whenever they want. The reason for that is because of the rules that issue penalties to teams that deliberately destroy the pack, and the fact that a team that wants the pack to stay slow can keep it slow even if they aren’t actively blocking the other team.

The resultant ripple effects of slow start “strategy,” knee-starts, inflated power jam scoring, and boo-inducing slow derby in general can all be traced to the same root cause: Rule 4.1.1.

Therefore, the only way we can truly fix the problem of slow jam starts—and my opinion, lots of other things about roller derby—is to change the pack definition rules so this domino effect is stopped before it starts. If you fix the root cause, you’ll solve all the problems, issues, and loopholes that branch from it.

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Chapter 3

A Modest Proposal: The Pack Solution

With that, here’s my idea on how to solve the root of roller derby’s problems. Not only will idea this all but guarantee the pack will move forward and start jams normally, it could also potentially make the game more tactical and exciting than ever during all phases of general play in a way that is fair for both teams at all times.

~ Disclaimer ~

I’m not going to advertise this suggestion as the perfect one, nor am I saying there will not be any unintended consequences as a result of its implementation. We can't know how it would work in the real world until it's actually done in the real world—and that's true whether you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with this idea. (There are at least three iffy things that need to be worked out, which I’ll touch on at the end.) Ultimately, it’s just a different way to look at tackling the root of the problem, and maybe improve the game as a whole along with it. All I ask is that you try to keep an open mind should you touch on something you happen to disagree with—and be prepared to tell me why you do in detail.

My idea involves redefining the pack definition rules under three key situations:

  • Under normal circumstances, the pack is defined as the largest group of blockers, skating in proximity. In normal game situations, this is pretty much like it has always been. However, there would be two key exceptions:
  • When two or more groups of blockers equal in number are on the track, are more than 10 feet from one another, and no single group meets the pack definition, the pack shall be defined as the largest group of blockers most forward on the track. In other words, an evenly split pack will put only the group of blockers at the rear in danger of being out of play at 20 feet behind, compelling them to move forward if they still want to be able to legally block.
  • When two groups of blockers are more than 10 feet from one another, and each of these groups only consist members from one team, the pack shall be defined as the group of team blockers most forward on the track, irrespective of the number of blockers in the group. In other words, if an entire team can get to the front of the pack, they become the pack even if they are the minority of blockers on the track. Should skaters on the other team fall 20 feet behind, they risk falling out of play and may be subject to any appropriate penalties.
Figure 4 – New Pack Definition Suggestion

Under current WFTDA rules, a pack split between (A) an equal number of players or (B) between teams immediately results in a no-pack situation once the split hits 10 feet, putting all players immediately out of play. Under my suggested changes, the pack would be always be defined in these scenarios, either as (C) the forward group of mixed blockers or the (D) whole team most forward on the track, even if that team isn't at full strength. (Blockers are still in play as long as they are within 20 feet of the defined pack.)

To put it simply, I am suggesting the elimination of the no-pack scenario–and by extension, a hell of a lot of rules, penalties, loopholes, strategies, and curiosities that are associated with it. This ensures that there will always be a pack somewhere on the track, and the jammers will always have to go through it one way or another to gain lead jammer or to score.

The second exception, though, is what I believe is the true key to addressing the issue of slow pack starts. Should a team of blockers completely the front of the pack, they would earn the privilege of total pack speed control: If they wanted to speed up the pack, they could all sprint forward. If they wanted to slow down the pack, they could all slow down and wall off the other team. Because a split pack would re-define the pack at the front, a whole team getting to the front would always be the pack until the other team does something about it…or prevents the situation from happening in the first place.

If a team wants to speed the pack up, that’s probably because the opposing team has lead jammer and is trying to lap the pack to score. Should the team with lead jammer allow their opponents to get out in front of them and speed the pack along, that would be a very bad thing. Therefore, if the team looking to get into scoring position wants to take the reins of destiny and do something about it, they’ll stay in front of, and block and impede the blockers on the other team in a bid to slow them down, keep them slow, and help their jammer through the pack to score.

The team who doesn’t have lead jammer, knowing there’s a chance they can thwart the other team’s jammer by making it harder for her to catch up, can try to take the reins of destiny back from their opponents, evade and elude their blocking efforts completely, and gain full control of the pack front to earn the right to make it go as fast as they want. This also gives them the option of walling off the other team and their jammer completely, in a bid to slow them down enough for their jammer to come around in an attempt to try and steal some points.

In theory, this should lead to both teams vying to gain the front of the pack in at least some capacity, because being at the front of the pack would put a team at a large advantage in terms of exercising control over pack speed. That in turn would lead the blockers in the pack to cycle to the front naturally–because if they choose not to, they wouldn’t be able to do much of anything to help their jammer catch up to the pack or get through it.

However, a team still may want to keep blockers toward the rear of the pack to assist their jammer through for their initial or scoring pass. They can’t just sprint the pack forward indefinitely; they still need to keep the pack speed reasonable for their jammer to catch up. But a team can’t send all of their blockers to the back of the pack, either: Should that happen, the other team can take over control of the front of the pack and speed it up as a counter-measure.

This is what my idea is all about: Make control of the pack a balancing act between offense and defense. If a team wants to keep the pack slow, they can wall up at the front to block the other team’s blockers, at the risk of leaving their jammer to fend for herself. If a team wants to give full assistance to their jammer, they can drop back behind the other team at the risk of them taking the front and speeding the pack up.

And if a team wants to keep the pack slow AND give full assistance to their jammer, they need to be able to find a way to do both at once by having superior positioning within the pack AND superior blocking skills to slow down the pack–not just stand around at the back and do nothing and wait for their jammer to catch up, as is the common practice under current WFTDA rules. This would force teams to find the perfect mix of a front wall to slow up the pack well enough to allow for a few rear blockers to clear the way for their jammer without letting the other team get away from them.

To put it another way? They’d have to use team strategy AND their athleticism to score points and play defense any way they can, all at the same time.

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Chapter 4

The Pack Solution: Practical Examples

To help make this idea easier to understand and visualize, I’ve prepared some examples and diagrams to show what would be different under my suggested pack definition rule (the green track) versus the current WFTDA pack definition rule (the grey track) in common game situations and scenarios.

I’ll start with the one that everyone agrees is something that needs to be dealt with, sooner rather than later…

Slow Pack Starts and Potential Non-Jams

Common flat-track derby strategy dictates that the best way to counter a team from stalling at the pivot line is to take a knee before the start of a jam. This creates an instant no-pack scenario, forcing the jam to start immediately.

The problem with knowing when the best time to use the knee-start strategy is that there’s no way of knowing that the other team will want to stall on the line until after the pivot whistle has already sounded. A team taking a knee after that point would be penalized for intentionally destroying the pack (as the pack has been defined already), so by then it would already be too late to do something about it.

Once the pivot whistle sounds, if one team wants to stall, the other team has to choose between being put into a positional disadvantage or, in the case of the Philly/Gotham non-jam, not move forward and waste upwards of a whole two-minute jam. Either way, the team that wanted to play the jam fairly is stuck behind the 8-ball. But what else can they do at that point?

That’s why the second exception for my new pack definition rule is ideal for stopping this slow-start/non-jam nonsense.

Consider what can happen if a team decided to stall at the line and ignore the other team’s blockers, who would then move forward to cause a split-pack start under current rules:

Figure 5 – The Reward for Failing to Block

WFTDA Rules: (A) After the pivot whistle sounds, the blue team stalls at the line. The red team elects to push its blockers forward to cause a split pack and begin the jam. (B) This causes both jammers to find themselves in a four-on-one situation, but... (C) If the blue jammer can speed up the red blockers and cause them to drift forward, the pack will split and create a no pack scenario. No blocker may legally engage and the jammers may skate forward untouched. (D) When the blue jammer skates forward, she becomes lead jammer. When the red jammer skates forward, the blue blockers skate forward with her to reform the pack, letting them re-engage the red jammer. (Note: I have personally seen this happen with enough regularity to back up the accuracy of this diagram.) Had the red blockers been able to see into the future and known to take a knee before the jam had started, they wouldn't have put themselves into this bad situation.

I’ve harped on this many times, and I’m going to repeat it over and over again until people realize how backwards this is: It is completely possible for a jammer to get through the pack and for a team to keep the pack at a very slow speed, without that team’s blockers needing to lay a single block on the opposing team’s blockers.

Isn’t that what blockers are supposed to do? Block the other team’s blockers? That’s why they’re called blockers, right?

And people say that roller derby is a contact sport.

Let’s change this situation up a bit. Think of what would happen if the pack was defined as the team most forward on the track under this same situation, per my suggestion:

Figure 6 – The Punishment for Failing to Block

My suggestion: (A) This time, when the pack split hits 10 feet, the pack gets redefined to the team furthest forward. This puts the pack ahead of the pivot line, starting the jam. (B) If the blue team still wants to stand around and do nothing, they will eventually fall 20 feet behind the pack and be declared out of play. In this state, they may not legally engage the incoming jammers, allowing the red jammer to pass through untouched. (C) The blue jammer follows, but hits a wall of red blockers with no blue blocking help. The red jammer skates by her teammates—the pack—and picks up lead jammer. (D) The red team slows the pack to a crawl by forming a wall up front, making it easier for their jammer to catch back up and harder for the blue team to speed up the pack. Had the blue blockers moved forward off the line or blocked the red blockers from the start, they wouldn't have put themselves into this bad situation.

Because the blue team elected to stall at the pivot line–or to be more accurate in this context, because the blue blockers failed to skate forward or block a single red blocker–they are put into an extremely disadvantageous position. From the rear position, the blue team wouldn’t be able to slow down or speed up the pack, they won’t be able to help their jammer get through the red blockers until they catch back up, and if the red blockers get too far ahead, any blue blockers 20 feet behind the defined pack (the entirety of the red team) would be declared out of play and won’t be able to stop the red jammer getting through without fear of getting penalized, until they skate forward to re-enter the engagement zone.

In short, the blue team is immediately put into a very, very bad situation…and it’s their own damn fault for failing to skate forward or engage the red team at the start of the jam.

To me, this makes a hell of a lot more sports sense. I don’t care if you think roller derby is “different” and some things in other sports don’t apply to derby. There’s one thing that’s universal in athletic competitions of all kinds and I’ll hear no arguments about it: If you stand around and do nothing during a game, you get beat on the play. Period. It’s the reason for the existence of the phrase, “he blew by him like he was standing still.”

And you never want to be the one who was standing still.

I feel this scenario would naturally lead blockers in the pack wanting to move forward at the start of a jam. If they don’t move forward, they run the risk of the other team taking the initiative and going forward instead, which would put the team staying back at a big-time disadvantage as imagined above. The only way to prevent that from happening would be to go forward with the other team’s blockers–or through them, if necessary.

As far as jam starts go, that’s all there is to it. If you want to stop skaters from stalling at the line or washing out entire jams, allow the other team to do something about by pushing forward and gaining an advantage from it. You don’t need to add a shot clock, another line on the track, or more penalties in order do it. All you need to do is give blockers a damn good reason to not want to be left behind at the start line. It’s that simple.

Blocker Penalties and Uneven Packs

This is all well and good when the teams are at full strength at the beginning of jams. How would my idea apply to uneven packs due to blocker penalties during the course of normal play?

Again, the second exception to my tweaked pack definition rule suggestion is the key. It allows for the possibility of a minority of skaters to be defined as the pack if that minority group exclusively consists of all members from one team and that same team is the most forward group of blockers on the track.

If it seems backwards that the minority of in-play blockers could be declared the pack, consider that this is already technically happening under current WFTDA rules. Should they have a reason to, the minority can gain full control of the speed of pack without needing to do much else but stay back and do nothing.

Figure 7 – The Controlling Minority

WFTDA Rules: In this situation, the heavily-penalized team gets to dictate the speed of the pack. The blue blockers can't speed up until the red blockers speed up first (if they do at all) letting the red team easily get their jammer into scoring position despite not laying a single block on the blue blockers AND being outnumbered in the pack 2-to-1.

In this example, the red team can keep the pack slow by continuing to skate slow. They control when they want the pack to speed up, because if the blue blockers are at the 10-foot split pack fringe and try to skate forward first (without the red blockers following suit) they will cross the 10-foot barrier, destroy the pack, and be penalized for initiating pack destruction. The blue blockers won’t want to slow down or drop back, as that would just make it easier for the red blockers to help clear the way for their jammer. Worst case scenario for the blue team, should the red jammer get through and push the blue blockers 10 feet ahead of the red blockers—who can continue to stay back and do nothing—it would create a no-pack scenario and legally disallow the four-member strong blue team from touching the red jammer, allowing her to score a lot of points without really having to make an effort to get around the blue blockers.

The red team can potentially enjoy all of those advantages in the pack, which are all very useful to have during the initial pass or a scoring pass. (They could only get into this position during the initial pass if both red blockers elected to stall at the line and not move forward, let’s keep in mind.) All the red team had to do to get into the catbird seat was to completely ignore the blue blockers, back away 10 feet to let the blue team take “control” of the front of the pack, AND commit a few blocker penalties to make themselves the minority group of in play.

Yeah, that’s a bunch of bullshit.

Other sports handle similar situations with a little more common sense. Field sports and their derivatives allow for a team to play with fewer players on the other team as a result of penalties. I’m talking about soccer (red cards), rugby (yellow/red cards), lacrosse (man-up situations), hockey (power plays) and yes, even basketball (foul-outs with no subs).

In all of these instances, the team down a man (or more) still has every opportunity to score or prevent the other team from scoring, but with less manpower it’s all of a sudden a hell of a lot harder to do it. As it should be, because the shorthanded team committed a penalty; it’s their own fault they put themselves into that situation.

Hockey is the best example of this. Like in roller derby, it’s possible to have a situation where (up to) two players for one team are in the penalty box, leaving one team playing with fewer players than the other team. While killing off this penalty, the shorthanded team will suddenly find themselves in a desperate situation, needing to put almost all of their energy in holding back the other team from taking advantage of the situation.

In this next video, look how easy it is for the full-strength team to gain scoring chances, and how much effort the penalized team puts into trying to deny those chances. The first two minutes of this clip shows a lengthy 5-on-3 power play, something that’s extremely rare in hockey:

Although it was all-hands on deck offensive opportunity for the full-strength team, their advantage was not an absolute one. Even with all their players on the ice, should they do something to blow that opportunity—like allow the other team to get control of the pack puck or let them get around their defense—the shorthanded team can still make an opportunity of their own, such as playing keep-away with the pack puck. And if the full-strength team royally screws up, the shorthanded team may even score on the play, against all odds.

This is another one of those truths in sports. Even if one team is put at a big advantage through penalties issued to the other team, the offensive opportunity they gain from them doesn’t mean that they can completely abandon their defensive responsibilities and stop covering their opposition. Doing so would be folly, as it would allow the other team to take the initiative and do something with it. Should the short-handed team overcome the odds, they might even be able to score despite being so penalized.

It should be the same way in roller derby.

Figure 8 – Defensive Responsibilities

My suggestion: (A) With two red blockers in the penalty box, a full-strength blue team can easily slow down the red jammer, seal off the remaining red blockers, and pick up lead jammer. (B) With the blue jammer clear, a blue blocker ignores the red blockers near the front of the pack to help stifle the other team's jammer at the rear to help prevent a breakout. (C) This leaves the red blockers with a 2-on-1 situation at the front of the pack, an advantage they seize to easily pass by the blue pivot. Once there is more than 10 feet of separation between the two red blockers and the blue pivot, the red blockers become redefined as the pack. (D) As a result of the blue team's defensive breakdown, the red team is able to race the pack, thwarting blue's chances at an easy scoring play, causing some blue blockers to fall out of play in the process. (E) To avoid this situation, the blue team needs to keep the red team covered at the front of the pack, letting the blue team keep the speed of play under their control. Blue's big pack advantage still lets them help their jammer and hinder the red jammer quite easily, but that doesn't mean they can ignore the red blockers entirely.

With four blue blockers against two red blockers, the blue team should have no problem covering the red blockers in the pack AND hindering the red jammer AND assisting their jammer through the pack. It would take a failure of monumental proportions for the blue team to lose the advantage gained from penalties to the other team.

Should that monumental failure happen, however, and the two red blockers get around the four blue blockers, under my suggested pack definitions rules the two red blockers will be defined as the pack should they overcome a 2-on-4 pack disadvantage and get more than 10 feet ahead of the blue blockers. This would afford them the ability to speed the pack forward as fast as they want. Basically, should the blue team allow this to happen, they done fucked up big time.

After they screw up, it would become much harder for the blue blockers to slow down the pack and help their jammer catch back up and score…and the blue blockers have no one to blame for this loss of containment but themselves. However, all hope is not lost for team blue. The blue blockers can get containment back by getting in front of one or both of the red blockers to slow them down and redefine the pack in their favor.

Or more preferably, they can avoid this situation from happening in the first place by keeping blocking help at the head of the pack at all times, always in front of the red team. That way, should the red blockers be on the verge of breaking out entirely, the blue team would have a last line of defense to try and slow them up enough for the rest of the blue team to catch back up and regain control of the situation before it gets out of hand.

But should the red blockers beat the last line of defense anyway and sprint the pack forward, it would make it difficult for them to help their jammer for her initial pass, let alone keep the pack slow enough to help her come around quickly and score; never mind the fact that they would still need to prevent the blue jammer from getting through to score for the blue team. That is, the two red blockers would need to be able to hold back four blue blockers and the blue jammer for an extended period of time while their own jammer is circulating.

Would it be possible for the red team to score in this situation? Yes. But is it probable? Hell, no. But making scoring an afterthought—even with your jammer on the track—is the situation you put yourself in when you commit a lot of penalties and are forced to kill off two of them at the same time.

In this scenario, the red team would have to all but abandon thinking offensively and switch to desperation defense mode, much like the hockey team that finds themselves killing off two penalties simultaneously. However, should the blue team really mess up and all the red blockers to evade their blocks, the red team can still capitalize on that mistake and move to the front of the pack, speeding things along and making it harder for the blue team to take advantage of their situation. This failure on the blue team’s part would both make it much harder for them to score (unless they do something about it) and give the red team a shadow of a chance to give their jammer an opportunity to score (should the blue team mess up big-time).

But in the end, if the red team didn’t want to be put in this all-but-hopeless situation for a period of time, their blockers should have stayed out of the penalty box in the first place. Having fewer blockers on the track should give a team fewer options to combat the other team from slowing down or speeding up the pack, not to mention making it easier for the other team’s jammer to evade the thinner opposing pack members.

Power Jams and Jammer Penalties

Roller derby is a unique sport in that it requires its players to be on offense and defense at the same time. However, this notion of simultaneously playing offense and defense is broken during a power jam, when only one team’s jammer is out on the track.

Classic roller derby rules required that a team fielded a jammer (and pivot and at least one blocker) on the track at any given time. Back then, if jammer committed a penalty, the player would go to the box (during the next jam), but the jammer position would still take the track for the next jam. The team would therefore skate the next jam one blocker down, effectively turning a jammer penalty during one jam, into a blocker penalty for the next jam.

This is much like how penalties work in hockey. Should a hockey goaltender commit a penalty, the goalie isn’t sent to the box for two minutes; that would be ridiculously unfair for team to have to defend an empty net for that long. That would lead to an easy goal for the other team, even if that team had more players in the penalty box. For that reason, the offending goaltender (the player actually committing the penalty) gets to stay on the ice as a regular player sits in the sin bin to serve the penalty for him.

Believe it or not, these two exact same situations occur in WFTDA rules…only in reverse.

In WFTDA play, a jammer can be penalized, sit in the penalty box while she watches her team score a lot of points, come up to the line with the star on the next jam, and then score a lot more points herself. If this sounds impossible (a jammer sitting in the penalty box can’t score points) you’d be right if roller derby made sense. But because it doesn’t always, you have the practice known as poodling.

If a player who normally plays jammer takes an intentional fourth minor penalty while lining up as blocker before a jam, she can turn that blocker penalty into one less (potential) jammer penalty in the next jam. This makes sure she starts the subsequent jam with as clean as a penalty slate as possible. Basically, the jammer committing the penalty gets to sit in the penalty box in the jam before she was likely to be boxed for accumulating minor penalties. It’s just that this “jammer” was really a blocker at the time she retrospectively swept her minor penalties under the rug.

The practice of wanting to intentionally penalize yourself is a bit suspect. Why would you ever want to willingly want to put your team at a disadvantage? There are certain times and situations for intentional penalties, yes. But not multiple times during a game.

Teams that trade a blocker penalty for assurance that their jammer stays on the track during the next jam can only mean that they feel one blocker penalty is inconsequential to the effect a jammer penalty would have on their team. That is, even though one blocker penalty or one jammer penalty is still just one penalty, 10 out of 10 poodling teams will tell you that they’d gladly trade a “meaningless” blocker penalty for a “really-bad-for-our-team” jammer penalty.

Question is, why isn’t that blocker penalty as equally consequential as the jammer penalty? Shouldn’t all penalties carry equal consequences to the teams that commit them?

Figure 9A – Unbalanced Penalties

Here we have a hockey game where both teams have one player each in the penalty box. But the penalized blue player is their goaltender. Though the number of penalized players is the same on both teams, their effect on the game is not, unfairly penalizing the blue team even though the red team committed the exact same penalty. Would you rather be the red team or the blue team in this situation?

In hockey, goaltender penalties are served by players other than the goaltender. If a penalized goalie was required to leave the ice without being replaced, as in the example above, even if a regular player on the red team committed the exact same penalty as the blue goalie, the advantage the red team gets and the disadvantage the blue team has to deal with is disproportionally unfair to the blue team, despite the level of offenses being equal.

That makes you wonder: Would this situation be more “fair” for the blue team if the red team had two players in the penalty box instead? Three players? Is it fair that the red team committed two times or three times the number of offenses as the blue team, but is on equal terms as far as equalizing advantages and disadvantages? It shouldn’t be.

But it is in roller derby, which is why you have players breaking the rules on purpose for “strategical” reasons.

It’s plausible that a roller derby team that has two players in the penalty box can enjoy an immense advantage over a team that has just one player in the penalty box at the same time. Last time I checked how math works, a team with four players on the track should have an easier time of things than a team with only three.

Problem is, if the team of three still has their jammer, and the team with four doesn’t, you get a situation where 3 is greater than 4. Or in the case of the Iron Maiven Incident, a situation where a team with two players can easily score 15 points against a team of four players…making 2 much, much greater than 4:

In that situation, would you want to be the clean-skating team that only had one player penalized, or would you want to be the dirtier team who had three players penalized? Maybe you can see why the current rules of roller derby aren’t the best when it comes to situations like this.

While this incident occurred during a banked track game, the current pack definition rules are the same for both banked and flat track derby: The pack must have members of both teams in it. However, as previously mentioned , the minority of blockers on the track can exercise a disproportional amount of control on the pack from the rear without needing to block anyone. In this extreme-extreme scenario, the minority can even go as far as making the pack cease to exist entirely, allowing their jammer to go through untouched with not a single thing the full-strength team can do about it…besides committing a penalty themselves.

This leads me to conclude that the team that had only committed one penalty (during the previous jam) has been screwed and scored upon big-time by the team that committed seven penalties (three before the jam, four during the jam). Therefore, derby logic dictates that it’s completely possible for a team that committing seven times the amount of penalties as the other team can benefit from it by scoring lots of uncontested points…as long as as that team has a jammer, and the other team doesn’t.

How the HELL does that make sense?!?

(Before you ask, this can also happen in flat track rules.)

Making it so teams always start a jam with a jammer a la classic roller derby could solve this part of the problem without much fuss, much like a hockey game always must have both goalies on the ice. However, I happen to like that it’s possible for there to be only one jammer on the track at a given time, including at jam starts.

But if power jams are going to remain a part of WFTDA roller derby, they need to be structured in such a way that a team with two penalized players should be at a larger disadvantage than a team with just one penalized player under all circumstances, independent of the positions that they happened to be playing at the time the penalties were committed. Basically, one blocker penalty and one jammer penalty should carry equal weight, because one should always equal one.

It just so happens my suggestion for new pack definition rules solve that problem, too.

Figure 9B – Equalizing Blocker/Jammer Penalties

The blue jammer penalty means the red team can score during the power jam, and the blue team cannot. The red blocker penalty means the blue team has fewer blockers to get around should they want to get control of the front of the pack and speed it up. The red team will have fewer bodies to prevent this from happening, making it harder to help their jammer get through the blue team. This gives each team an equally potent advantage and disadvantage, effectively equalizing the effect of the penalties.

The red team, being on the power jam, have the only opportunity to score points during the penalty. However, just like it’s no guarantee that they will score during a regular jam, and just like it’s no guarantee a hockey team will score on the power play, having a power jam should not be a guarantee to score. The other team has a say in the matter, after all.

However, the red team is also down a blocker. This would complicate their offensive efforts to score on the power jam, since they would fewer bodies to help defend against the blue team taking total control of the front of the pack. It follows that having more power in the pack gives the blue team more options: They can attempt to evade the depleted red blockers in an offensive attack to gain pack speed control and race the pack away from the red jammer, or use their strength in numbers to defend and more easily hassle the red jammer from advancing.

Hey, you’re supposed to play offense and defense in derby simultaneously, right?

This means the one blocker penalty and the one jammer penalty balance out: The team with the jammer is the only one that has an opportunity to score during the play (but no guarantee), and the team with the full pack will have an easier time (but no guarantee) of controlling the speed of the pack or blocking the jammer unopposed. Both teams are put at an equal advantage and disadvantage in this case, as it should be with both teams only having one player each in the penalty box.

It would follow, therefore, that a team on a power jam but at a 2-on-4 pack disadvantage would have a very, very difficult time in holding back enough blockers to keep the speed of the pack under control, AND assist their jammer through a 4-wall. The team that had not committed any blocker penalties would only need to evade two blockers to speed up the pack. They would also have plenty of blocking help to double-team the jammer to slow her down. But it should be that way, since a team that had committed two penalties needs to be at a greater disadvantage than a team that only has committed one penalty, jammer penalty or not.

After all, penalties should penalize a team that commits them in any and all circumstances. That’s why they’re called penalties, right?

Blocker Goating and Grand Slams

A common strategy seen during a power jam is that of the popular points-scoring tactic known as goating.

If a team on the power jam (or on a regular jam, if they can lock down the opposing jammer) desires to bring the pack to an effective halt on the track, they can all gang up on a single blocker on the other team, trapping them behind a wall and bringing the pack to a dead stop. (Because this group is the largest group of blockers consisting of both teams, in WFTDA rules it is defined as the pack.) With the pack slowed to a crawl, a competent jammer should have no trouble getting multiple scoring passes for as long as the pack stays slowed to a crawl.

There’s a problem with this under current WFTDA rules. It isn’t that the pack can be slowed to a crawl—again, I have no beef with this part of the process. It’s that once it’s slowed to a crawl, there is absolutely nothing the other team can do on their own to speed it up again. Even if the goated blocker can thwart the wall and break free, all the team that set the wall needs to do is stay slow and at a crawl behind the other team, and…well, you should have the idea by now.

This is one of the bigger things that makes me weep for the state of roller derby. Everyone thinks it’s impressive that teams can score 10, 15, 20 points or more during a single power jam, as if something truly “grand” has happened. Grand slams in derby, particularly those that happen during power jams, are mostly just exhibitions in jammer speed and crowd control, effectively turning a 5v4 game situation into a contest to see how many times a jammer can get around a clutch of blockers surrounding just one opponent…a 4-on-1 situation.

Sure, the other team has three other blockers on the track, and they still have every chance to block the jammer as she comes around to score. But do they really? Even if the goat was to escape, the jammer is going to be coming in at full speed, and the 10 feet in front of the goat pen is not enough space for those four blockers to skate forward, match the speed of the incoming jammer, react to her direction change, slow her down, and stop her. It never happens while the pack is at a standstill, because at 11 feet, an entire team of blockers attempting that defense is declared out of play, and—how grand!—it’s another five point pass…and then another. Oh look, it’s another grand slam! How grand! And so on for three or four or more scoring passes within a single jam.

(I’m nitpicking here, but see where I’m coming from on this: During the 2010 Major League Baseball season, there was a league-wide total 126 grand slam home runs hit, accounting for 504 runs scored. There were 4,613 total runs scored by home runs by all teams in all games, which means that around 10% of home-run runs were scored via the grand slam. To make a comparison between quantitative and qualitative figures, if we take this 10%-of-something rarity threshold of defining what’s “grand,” the roller derby grand slam would only happen four times a game if it was equally as “grand” as the baseball equivalent, figuring your average bout sees 200 total points. When you can get four grand slams in one jam, that sort of takes the meaning out of the term, doesn’t it?)

A team that can get their goat on during the power jam is all but guaranteed a lot of points, even if the goat escapes. The pack will stay slow ahead of the goat wall, making it a trivial matter to catch up to the other team and re-goat a blocker, keeping the pack still slow. And people wonder why power jam scoring can get so out of hand.

Figure 10 – Power Jam Goating: Risk vs. Reward

(A) On the power jam, the red team manages to goat (trap) a blue blocker behind a wall, allowing them to slow the pack to a crawl. (B) As a reward for executing this strategy, the red jammer can easily make multiple scoring passes. (C) In my suggested pack definition rules, this tactic and the resulting reward does not change. However... (D) In WFTDA rules, should the goated blue blocker slip away, the pack will remain slow due to the blue blockers being unable to speed up the pack on their own. As a result, the red jammer will still get multiple passes quite easily. (E) But in my suggested rules, if the goated blue blocker evades the red blockers, the red team's failure to contain any blue blockers means the blue pack will be able to pull away from the red team, making it all but impossible for the red team to score. This makes the practice of goating a much riskier proposition... (F) ...unless the red team puts at least one blocker in front of the blue blockers at the front of the pack to defend against a possible pullaway before it has the chance to start.

While a team that can bring the pack to a halt deserves the many points that could result from it, choosing to do it by ganging up on one opposing blocker should be a very risky strategy. It’s not in WFTDA play, due to the overpowering advantage a team on the power jam (unfairly) enjoys. However, anything that has a potential high rate of return should have an equally high amount of risk of loss associated with it. Because if putting all your chips (blockers) on one number (opposing blocker) always resulted in a big payout (a lot of points) on the roulette wheel (roller derby track), you’d do it all the time, wouldn’t you? (The house (roller derby) would lose out in the long run should that happen, by the way.)

My pack redefintion suggestion would introduce a risk to counterbalance the potential reward of power jam goating. In this situation, if those three free blue blockers stay in front of the red blockers (that is to say, the red blockers ignore the other blue blockers ahead of them) it puts the blue team on the verge of taking total control of the front of the pack, and therefore the speed of the pack.

While the red team would seem to have the upper-hand by going 4-on-1 against the goated blocker, should the red wall fail to keep the blue goat behind them and let her escape without red defenders covering the front of the pack, you get…

A pullaway.

In the first part of this classic derby clip, you can see what happens when the yellow team (the Chiefs) gets entirely in front of the orange team (the Bay Bombers). They don’t wait for the orange jammer to catch up to them. They’re not bound by rules that require the pack have both teams in it. They take advantage of the situation gifted to them by the failures of the orange team, and just go.

The pullaway was a common defensive tactic in those days. If you’ve got no one out on the play to score, there’s no better way to make it difficult for the other team to score on you, but get as far away from the other team as possible. As long as it’s done in a way that’s wholly preventable by the team getting ran away from, it’s a fair strategy. It has been a part of classic roller derby rules for years and years. Why not make it part of modern rules, too?

Remember, even if a pullaway were to occur, the chasing team is not helpless. Under my pack rule suggestion, the chasing team would only need to sever off one of the blockers ahead of them, effectively re-goating the blocker and allowing them to redefine the pack there. This is no different than what happens during a goating session under current WFTDA rules. The big difference is that while it’s impossible for one team to counter slowness with fastness in the current rules, my idea would give the goated team a fair opportunity to speed up the pack from the front, just like the goating team has a fair chance to slow it from the rear…at their own risk.

(If the situation is hopeless for the chasing team, they can just use their lead jammer status to call off the jam, preserve time on the power jam, and make another go at it in a new jam. So it’s not as if this would continue in perpetuity.)

If the goating team wants to goat an opposing blocker and keep all their blockers at the rear of the pack, go for it! Let them at it! The strategy wouldn’t change a bit. However, if they want to abandon their defensive responsibilities and let the other team be one blocker away from taking full control of the pack, that’s the risk they take for a potential points bonanza. Should that blue goat get out of its pen, there’s a good chance that no points at all would be scored during the power jam. If that’s a risk the red team doesn’t want to take, they should keep a blocker forward to cover the other blue blockers at the head of the pack.

…but that would make the group at the front (three blue plus one covering red) the pack, per my first pack definition exception. Should the pack get 20 feet in front of the group at the rear (three red and one goated blue), all four rear blockers would be out of play, giving a chance for the blue goat to escape. If the red team wants to prevent that from happening, the red wall at the back can’t stay stopped on the track forever; they’d need to eventually move forward to stay in play. But since the blue team is 3 on 1 against the red blocker covering them at the front, unless the red player is a HELL of a blocker there’s not much she can do to slow down all of them. If the lone red blocker tried to stay with the blue blockers up front, that could speed up the pack, requiring the rear group of blockers to also speed up, which could make the goating strategy less effective. The red blocker up front could also change strategy and return to the rear group, redefining the pack at the back and letting the red team go as slow as they want.

…but that would return the element of risk should the blue goat get away. If the red blockers wanted to have an easier time keeping the pack and goat pen slowed down, they could try sending two blockers to the front and ahead of the the blue 3-wall at the front of the pack. However, that would leave the “goated” blue blocker at the back with only two red blockers to get by, something that’s much easier to do now that the five blockers (three blue and two red) at the front are trying to cycle forward and get a front position to slow or speed the pack to their liking. The red team—whose jammer is still trying to catch up to the moving pack, due to its relative speed, still needs to slow down the pack to help their jammer catch up, but didn’t want to risk an all-out rear wall to goat one blue blocker. To all-but eliminate the chance of the pack speeding up, the red team switches strategies on the fly and tries to go to the front of the pack, ahead of all four blue blockers.

…but should the red team succeed in completely walling off and slowing the blue blockers at the front of the pack to slow it down, they now have the opposite problem: Who is going to help their jammer get through the 4-wall of blue blockers behind them? The blue blockers could pull a goat wall of their own by trapping the red jammer behind them 4-on-1. But then again…if the blue blockers slow down to stop their jammer goat, then suddenly they run the risk of the red team (now the defined pack) sprinting forward, putting them out of play at 20 feet behind and allowing their jammer to go through untouched for points. If that’s a risk the blue team doesn’t want to take, they should keep a blocker forward to cover the other red blockers…

Gee whiz, it seems like both teams need to figure the best strategy to balance staying forward and staying back within the pack to account for what the other team may do in response. It’s almost like they need to play offense and defense at the same time, at all times!

That sounds a lot like roller derby, doesn’t it?

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Chapter 5

The Problems with the Solution… Maybe (or Maybe Not)

Ultimately, my suggestion for new pack definition rules is all about putting power back into the pack. It would give pack blockers a fair and equal opportunity to make a difference over their team’s success for all two minutes of a jam by forcing teams to block and engage most (if not all) blockers in the pack at all times, whether or not a jammer or jammers are in the pack, out of the pack, or in the penalty box.

This is not to say it’s necessary for a pack to need to be moving as fast as a jammer does at all times. But it should still be possible for one team to have the opportunity to make that happen should the other team let them—and the simple threat of the other team getting away altogether should be enough to prevent slow starts, non-jams, multi-grand slam power jams and unbalanced penalties from ruining the flow and fairness of the game.

But like I said a while ago, this pack solution may not be the most ideal one. As far as I can work out, there are at least three things of issue with this idea—and only one of them has to do with the rules.

1. The Pullaway that keeps on pulling away

Let’s say a team of blockers can manage to completely outmaneuver the other team’s blockers and get to the front of the pack. Should they execute a pullaway and literally pull away from the chasing team, there’s an outside chance that they could lap them completely.

Figure 11 – The Pullaway That Keeps on Pulling Away

If the pack is defined as the group of team skaters most forward, a team of blockers could theoretically and legally lap the other team's blockers and jammer under my suggested pack definition rules. But how often would this realistically happen?

I don’t have a contingency plan in place for my idea should this transpire, but I doubt it ever will realistically happen during actual play. Three reasons why:

  1. Knowing that the possibility of a pullaway could happen in the first place, teams (especially when on the power jam) would be much more likely to keep at least one blocker at the front of the pack, ahead of all opposing blockers. Since this person would effectively be a team’s last line of defense against a breakaway, it may be a good idea to put a team’s best blocker in this position. From this front position, they’d effectively be the leader of the pack, and pivot point around who has the most control over how fast or slow the pack can go. (If only we could designate this special and important blocker in some way…)
  2. A team is only going to want to try to lap the pack if their jammer is in the penalty box, since they would have no reason to keep the pack slow. Once the jammer penalty is over, there’s no reason for the blue team to keep things fast, as that would make it impossible for their jammer to start scoring once she comes back on the track. As long as the red team is trying to make an effort to slow down at least one blue blocker, there’s just not going to be enough time for a full overtake to happen.
  3. If the red team stays with the blue team, eventually someone is going to get tired, or get their skates crossed up, or make a mistake. Remember, all would take for the pullaway to fail is for the chasing (red) team to peel off and re-goat a single blue blocker. They don’t need to recapture them all to stop the pullaway, although it may be a good idea to do that eventually to lessen the possibility of a re-pullaway.

But still, if it’s technically possible to happen, there should be a rule covering it. I just don’t have one at this point. (Do you?)

2. Flat track vs. Banked track

I’m not sure if this rule suggestion would completely work on the flat track. Since my idea would put a lot more focus on players wanting to cycle forward and be at the front of the pack, naturally leading to packs that would move along a bit faster on the average than what we’re currently used to seeing, a team that holds the inside line of the track would be incredibly difficult to get around the outside while at speed. Unless a team is really good at using whips or taking bold cuts into inside lines, you may have a situation where a team that gets up front may never give up the front.

On the other hand, these rule suggestions would be great for banked track derby. The banked skating surface makes it much easier to get around the outside of someone and also for someone to hold A LOT of speed through the turns, instead of needing to scrub it off on the flat track’s turns. (If someone in L.A. doesn’t consider this idea for WORD rules, I may have to bust someone’s arm off.)

I think the flat trackers should give this idea a shot, though. If the rare speed-skating processional jam is going to replace the rare jam where no one moves on the track for two minutes, derby will still be better off for it.

3. The “runaway pussy” argument

More than anything else, this is the one point that makes me wonder if my idea will ever see the light of day out on the track.

Back in the early days of the WFTDA, Version 1.0 of the rules (PDF) had a half-realized version of the pack definition rules: The pack is defined as the largest group of blockers. That was it. However, making it so the pack was a simple majority of players on the track created a (so-called)  “loophole” in the rules that teams exploited rather handily.

A team killing a power jam, but with a 4-on-3 pack advantage, could speed the pack for as long as they wanted since they would be the majority of skaters at all times, always being able to define the pack should they all stay together. That means they could all stop on the track and always be the pack, or they could all sprint away and always be the pack.

When the majority sprinted away, they were effectively executing a defensive pullaway, making it very difficult if not impossible for the shorthanded team to score during the power jam (the only time a team would want to run the pullaway strategy).

Back in the olden days of derby, this would have been regarded as a fine defensive play. However, the blockers using this maneuver in the early days of modern play were labelled as cowards who couldn’t stay in the pack and block like they were supposed to.

Hence the existence of the derby phrase, “runaway pussy.”

People didn’t like how players could escape their responsibility to block the other players on the track, or completely ignore the blockers that they left behind during the runaway pussy strategy. Since a lot of the inexperienced players of that era (2006 is an era?) couldn’t do much to catch up, this led to jams that would just be a speedskating race to see who could stay in front of who the longest.

As a result, the players voted to change the pack definition rules so the pack was required to have both teams in it at all times. That way, should a team try to do the runaway pussy strategy again, they wouldn’t be able to skate away more than 10 feet without being penalized for it. After all, it’s only fair that the pack skaters trying to get away stay near the other team, so they can block them like they are supposed to.

However, if you think about the phrase, “runaway pussy,” you come to realize that there’s only a certain group of people who use such an insulting term: The team that was ran away from. The team doing the running away wouldn’t call themselves that; they’re just trying to do what it takes to help themselves to win the game.

To find it necessary to use such a nasty term to describe the runaways, you’d think that the team that was sprinting the pack did something to upset the team that got left behind, as if it was an unsporting or unfair play. But besides that, I find it curious that people would cry foul toward a team doesn’t want to stay behind and “block like they’re supposed to,” when the very team that was left behind wasn’t practicing what they were preaching.

Figure 12A – Runaway Pussies, or Blocking Failures?

In WFTDA 1.0 rules, the supposed runaway pussy "loophole" sometimes allowed for the same pullaway strategy that I am proposing be a constant threat in my suggested pack definition changes. So what's the difference between the "loophole" then and my suggested "strategy" now? (A) The blue blockers seem to be upset that the red team is speeding away from them, with nothing that they can do about it. So of course they'd be angry... (B) ...but instead of being upset at the red team, they should be upset with themselves. It was completely within the blue team's power to slow down and stop the red team from getting in front of them. But because they weren't that good at blocking (like they're supposed to be doing) or at staying out of the penalty box, the red team was able to get in front of and away from them. So who's really at fault here?

What people failed to realize back then—or maybe they did realize it, but they didn’t want to admit it—was that before a team of “pussies” could run away with the pack, they had to get around all of the blockers on the other team. That is to say, the team being ran away from (the blue team, above) from had to completely fuck up and allow every single one of the opposition blockers (the red team) to get by them. This wouldn’t have happened if the blue team had held back even one of the red blockers, but apparently they couldn’t even manage that…maybe if they didn’t commit that blocker penalty earlier, they’d have the blocking help necessary to make that happen.

Instead of taking responsibility for their inactions and failures, they just blamed the team that beat them on the play. Instead of looking to resolve the true cause of the problem, that of individual players not being able to block the other team’s blockers; the WFTDA and its players decided to just address the resulting effect, that of the other team “unfairly” pulling away. Instead of fixing the cause by having skaters get better at blocking or devising better strategies to cover the front of the pack, they just changed the rules so the teams that were not as good at doing those things would never be left behind again.

But as time has demonstrated, this was only a temporary fix, or a half-fix that only stopped the effect of the problem. The root cause of the problem remained unidentified and unfixed. Eventually that root grew into something else, a branch relative of “runaway pussies” on the Roller Derby Problem family tree:

Back-away pussies.

Figure 12B – Back-away Pussies

(A) Instead of accusing the red team of being a "runaway pussy" for sprinting the pack forward, the blue team should have been outed for what they really were: A bunch of "back-away pussies" for giving up on blocking the advances of the red team. (B) This exact same problem occurs in current WFTDA rules. However, now the leading team only has a 10-foot window of opportunity to stop the blue jammer from getting through, giving an unfair advantage to the blue team and their blockers, who choose to back away from the red blockers and let the rules do their "blocking" for them.

This is the thing that gets me the most about the phrase. If people were quick to say that the “runaway pussy” tactic was such a bad thing for roller derby, why aren’t they just as quick to direct similar vitriol to teams and players who stall at the line during jam starts, or fall behind in the pack during general play, effectively backing away from the team ahead of them?

If a team stalls at the start of the jam, and the other team skates forward to cause a split-pack start, why is the stalling team being such pussies for not wanting to engage the other team like they are supposed to? Why do teams coast around at the rear of the pack while waiting for their jammer to circulate around the track? They’re a bunch of pussies for not blocking the other team during all that time, like they are supposed to. And is it really fair that a goat wall puts one blocker against four blockers? That wall of blockers are pussies for ganging up on one blocker like that. Why can’t all of them block all of the other blockers, like they are supposed to?

These “back-away pussies” prefer to control of the rear of the pack so that they can make the pack go as slow as possible by blocking the bare minimum number of opponents that is needed for their jammer to get through and score. Thanks to this strategy, we now have a growing problem of extended jam starts, knee starts, non-jams, booing crowds, frustrated skaters, split packs, easy out of play points, over-powered power jams, inflated power jam scoring, huge blowouts, intentional penalties, loophole exploitation left and right…

You get the idea.

Until the WFTDA recognizes and respects why teams and skaters are really doing what they’re doing, any rules clarification or rule change they issue is like taking a shot in the dark. You may appear to fix something as a rule change initially takes effect, but only through actual game situations and teams’ competitive desire to do whatever it takes to win, will the true nature of those changes take shape. It’s for this reason I’m only cautiously optimistic about the possibility of no-minors roller derby next year—it doesn’t directly address the actual problem of team blockers not always wanting to engage the other team’s blockers, so there’s no knowing if it will make things better, or worse, or create an entirely different problem altogether.

Besides, a no-minor ruleset would not completely eliminate the possibility of a non-jam: No penalties were issued in the Grand Raggidy/Arch Rival non-jam, because neither team did anything against the rules. That’s because the rules make it completely possible—not to mention, advantageous—for roller derby to not be happening.

Wouldn’t football fans make a big stink about it if football rules contained loopholes that made it possible for nothing to happen for two minutes after the ball is snapped at the start of a play? So why aren’t roller derby fans and players making as big of a stink about slow derby as I am? (Okay, maybe not a 17,000 word stink, but still…)

So if this pack problem is to truly be solved, once and for all, we need understand what the common problem is between the “runaway pussies” of 2006, and the “back-away pussies” of 2011. Even though the rules had been changed quite a bit since then, the two “loophole” eras of modern roller derby share one thing in common, the true One Problem that has been ailing the game since day one:

Players on a team don’t always want to keep blocking the blockers on the other team.

Had a team of blockers tried to block the “runaway pussies” before they ran away (instead of over-focusing on the back of the pack to stop the jammer), they’d have no reason to complain about being left behind. If it were in the best interests of the “back-away pussies” to block the other teams’ blockers constantly (instead of focusing on loopholes to make getting their jammer through as easy as possible), the other team would have a fair chance to move the pack forward. In either scenario, the issue isn’t that the rules are bad and need fixing: It’s that the players just don’t want to block all the time.

So just like our original problem, that of slow pack starts and potential non-jams, the only way to reverse the problem, is to reverse the question:

How can we make it so players on a team always want to keep blocking the blockers on the other team?

That’s easy: Use a little bit of common sports sense.

  • If a derby team wants to slow down the other team, they must block them from the front.
  • If they want to keep them slowed down, they must continue blocking from the front.
  • If a derby team wants to get by the other team, they must evade blocks and defenses.
  • If  they want to stay ahead of them, they must stay in front of blocks/defenses.

And if a team wants to be able to do all of those four things at the same time, there’s only one place to be: The front of the pack, where there’s no place for the likes of back-away pussies like we’re seeing in the modern game.

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Chapter 6

Conclusion

This is why I feel my rule suggestion would work to make the game fair for everyone. A team can take control of the pack at any time if they can all get to the front, requiring the other team to block them should they want to have keep that privilege for themselves. It would still be possible take full pack control even if a team has been penalized blockers; but that would make it a lot easier for the other team to gain pack control (but no guarantee) and a lot harder for the shorthanded team to do the same (but not impossible). And regardless of which team gets to the front, it’s completely in the other team’s power to stop it from happening by doing a better job blocking the other blockers within the pack, and staying out of the penalty box to make that task easier.

I believe that my idea will force teams to block and engage players on the other team at all times through the course of natural gameplay. If they don’t, the other team would always have the option to capitalize and slow down/speed up the pack accordingly. This way, there’s no chance that a team can exploit a rules loophole, because there probably won’t be enough time to do so due to the constant threat of the other team pushing forward, leaving behind the team that tried to loophole themselves into a better position instead of fighting tooth and nail for the best positioning in the pack. This would naturally lead to packs cycling and moving forward, only to slow down should a team completely lock-down the front of the pack and physically slow down the other team from there.

But words and diagrams—even a lot of words and diagrams—can only explain so much about my idea. If you had read all of this (thanks, by the way) and are in agreement with me, or think I’m totally bonkers and you disagree with every word I’ve said, (or you’ve just skipped to the bottom) let me make one final pitch to cement your approval or sway your disapproval in the form of a classic roller derby clip, one that is my all-time favorite derby video:

Of all the derby videos on YouTube, this one is completely absent any hair-pulling or fisticuffs. It’s just six minutes of pure roller derby, played as close to legitimate as you could get during that era (or at least it appears that way) in front of one of the largest crowds in the history of the sport. To me, this feels and looks like what roller derby “should” be like, and I truly believe that my idea for new pack definition rules will bring WFTDA derby—or any other form of roller derby, for that matter—closer to this, but in a way that won’t take away from the uniqueness or legitimacy of the modern game.

Just watch it. You’ll notice that when a team gets the lead on the jam, their blockers don’t start drifting to the rear of the pack and form a wall behind the other team: They immediately drive to the front and create a wall in front of the other team to slow them down. The other team tries to counter this by pushing forward in an attempt to find a hole and break out their jammer, or in the case of the last jam, break everyone out to execute a pullaway that gets the crowd going like nothing you have ever seen or heard in roller derby before.

Every time I watch this video, I wish a million times that roller derby was this way right now, in every aspect—except for the fighting, the hair-pulling, the scripted plays,and  pre-determined outcomes. We can do without those just fine.

But all of those other elements—packs fighting for control of the front of the pack, pack front walls slowing down entire teams, faster play, the possibility for slow play, the risk of slow play strategy failing and turning into a pullaway, the tug-of-war of pack control even when the jammers are jamming…these are things that should be a natural part of roller derby, because to me, they feel more in line with what real sports ought to be like.

If you believe that roller derby is a real sport, shouldn’t you feel the same way?

75 responses to this post.

  1. Note to commenters: If you’re going to just reply with a simple “good idea!” or “bad idea, this is dumb” comment, please don’t bother. If you like this suggestion, please be specific as to why. If you think it’s dumb, please provide specific counter-arguments.

    Also, should anyone not be completely clear on how my rule suggestion would apply to a game situation not covered here, please describe the details and I can whip up a custom diagram and explanation to help you out.

    Thanks for reading this article!

    Reply

  2. Windy: The main problem I see is that WFTDA skaters are a bunch of women. They will complain that their entire strategy is splitting the pack to get their jammer through. Most of them aren’t athletes, omitting the top 10 teams. This might not be a popular opinion, but it’s the honest truth.

    Reply

    • Amanda: You’re right, but in the wrong way. Some derby girls playing the modern game aren’t really athletes. And they don’t complain about the strategy, they use the word “strategy” to mask the fact that they aren’t really doing anything athletic to help their team score points.

      I suspect this subset is the same group the coined the phrase “runaway pussy.”

      Reply

  3. Posted by Kandi Carbine on 15 September 2011 at 11:10 am

    I would disagree against that last comment, the fact that you maybe have a bad taste in your mouth from a couple of teams is obviously affecting you decision. Or maybe you are just ignorant to what roller derby is. At this point in time I think there is a huge loop hole that allows “slow derby” to happen, and honestly while reading through the article, which is ever well supported btw, I agree whole heatedly with the timed jammer whistle, also I believe that maybe it could be possible to adjust the definition of destroying the pack penalties to included stand still derby, thus removing the Pivot of the offending team from the track.

    Yes? No?

    Reply

    • Kandi: No.

      I would disagree against that last comment, the fact that you maybe have a bad taste in your mouth from a couple of teams is obviously affecting you decision.

      And the hundreds and hundreds of spectators who boo roller derby during certain jams don’t have bad tastes in their mouths? Why else would they have booed?

      Or maybe you are just ignorant to what roller derby is.

      You question whether or not I’m ignorant, and then you make a statement like this?…

      I believe that maybe it could be possible to adjust the definition of destroying the pack penalties to included stand still derby, thus removing the Pivot of the offending team from the track.

      If one team slows the pack to a halt (such as when they goat a blocker behind the rest of the other team), that establishes the speed of the pack: Not moving. Should that goated blocker escape, the goat wall can simply not move forward, which will continue to establish the speed of the pack: Not moving. This is because the pack is required to have both teams in it.

      So when the other team tries to skate forward a bit to speed up the pack, once their blockers hit 10 feet, they have attempted to change the speed of the pack, thereby being responsible for destroying the pack, and therefore subject to penalties. The appropriate rule here is 6.10.2.1:

      6.10.2.1 – Examples of illegally destroying the pack, or creating a “no pack” situation, may include but are not limited to: a skater, skaters or team running away, braking or coasting to drop back more than ten (10) feet behind the opposing team, taking a knee, intentionally falling, or intentionally skating out of bounds in such a manner that the legally defined pack is destroyed.

      So there is a provision that says the team going from a stop to a “sprint” is not allowed to do that, so the offending player or their pivot gets penalized; but there is no such provision that says a team that is stopped and stays stopped will get penalized, because they didn’t do anything to suddenly change the established speed of the pack: Not moving.

      So that means both teams can fairly slow the pack down, but only one team can legally speed it back up again: The team staying slow or stopped on the track, at the rear of the pack. Because a team back there has lead jammer or is on the power jam, they will never have a reason to speed up the pack.

      That has nothing to do with slow jam starts.

      honestly while reading through the article, which is ever well supported btw

      Thank you. But if you’re going to accuse someone of “maybe being ignorant,” perhaps it would be wise to support your views with supportive claims instead of a baseless insult that attempts to discredit me.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Jerry Seltzer on 15 September 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Many things old should be new again……How about getting the pack in motion, the jammers are at the rear behind the blockers and pivots, when the referee sees they are all in position, he/she/ blows whistle and jam starts…..And if the pack is not in constant motion after the jam starts, the referee signals a penalty (source: Roller Derby 1937-1973. Rollerjam in 2000 put in the jammers starting from a stop…terrible ides….Roller Derby is a game of motion.

    Reply

    • Jerry, a lot of things about old-school derby should be in today’s game. But not everything. At least, not yet.

      I like rolling pack starts, because they made sense. I like it how only blockers served penalties, because that made sense. But I also like standing jam starts and power jams and penalties that are served as they happen, because they also make sense. Or at least they would, if the same basic goal of the game was the same it is now as it was back then.

      But because the current rules are so broken (as I hope I’ve demonstrated), all the things that differentiate the modern game from the classic game are broken, because the modern game deviates too much from “the game” itself. Blockers want to slow down and drop back instead of speed forward and attack the front. Skaters want to commit intentional penalties. Entire jams can go off with no action whatsoever. Those are things that have never been a part of roller derby…which makes me sometimes question whether or not what I’m watching is “really” roller derby.

      When the (legitimate) professional game is finally realized, then we’ll have our rolling pack starts and our scoring pivots and our dueling jammers back. But we can also have our standing starts and our defensive pivots and our solo jammers in WFTDA too. Either way, it’ll still be roller derby.

      All the modern game needs is a nudge in the right direction. I know you’ve been trying to give it to them, Jerry. I’m trying to do it too.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Brad Example on 15 September 2011 at 3:31 pm

    WindyMan, while I’ve never been as, shall we say, invested in the issue of the slow pack start as you have, I am intrigued by your suggestion and would like to see it explored, not least because it would make the pack concept a lot easier to explain and understand.

    Reply

    • Brad, this is exactly why I wrote this article:

      invested in the issue of the slow pack start

      The issue isn’t the slow pack start. The issue is the reason for the slow pack start. If you prevent slow pack starts with a rule change but don’t change the reason why skaters do it and the motivation behind it, you’re just going to have to fix a different problem down the line. What we’re starting to see now is the end result of the WFTDA and their skaters not recognizing (or not admitting) the real problem with the “runaway pussy” deal and fixing the wrong issue.

      Just remember that as you watch Gotham unveil a whole suite of new jam start and power jam strategies this weekend, and try to think of whether or not a “fast” pack start of releasing the jammers more immediately will really change anything.

      Reply

  6. Posted by GingerMortis on 15 September 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Love love love your idea of changing the pack definition. This would put way more action abck in derby!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Warren the Frog on 16 September 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I think this is absolutely brilliant, but can’t go into practice until the issue of a pack lapping the rest of the blockers is addressed. If the pack laps the rest of the blockers, would those blockers be penalized for staying out of play? Or maybe recreate the pack with all the blockers if that occurs? The latter might make a mess of scoring by making counting passes confusing, though, right?

    Reply

    • I’ve been getting feedback from a few different places on this one. This is what I’ve come up with thus far:

      • Jam automatically ends should the other team catch up to 10 feet behind rearmost blocker on other team or at ref discretion
      • Reduce jam time to 90 seconds, or
      • Start a 60 second jam clock after a jammer breaks from the pack*

      The first one is probably the best one, and the last two are just to allow for less time for a pullaround to happen. Two minutes is probably starting to get too long for a full jam, anyway.
      *Would only work in banked track since adding a floating start whistle for flat track may confuse someone who didn’t earn lead jammer as first one out.

      But, practically:

      • The only time a team would want to realistically pull away from the pack is when their jammer is in the penalty box. It wouldn’t make any sense for them to lap the pack in that time, since if we just had it so the jam ended, their jammer would still be in the penalty box.
      • Why exert all of that energy to try to catch up to the rear of the pack? The goal of a pullaway would be to make it harder/impossible for the opposing jammer to catch up to them and score. The pullaway group would just need to go as fast as the jammer at the fastest, and at the same speed as the other team’s blockers at the slowest. If you catch up to the pack, but tire yourself out in the process and hurt your team for the next jam or two, what’s the point?
      • If the solo jammer is out of the pack with lead jammer, if she notices her teammates in the pack lost containment and there’s no way they’ll catch back up to the pullaway, she can just call off the jam immediately to save time on the power jam and try to make a better go at it in a new jam. So knowing that, the pulling away team may not want to go for the full-blown pullaway since they’d just have to start the next jam in the same situation.

      Practically, this situation takes care of itself because everything makes sense.

      Reply

    • Posted by Pat on 21 March 2012 at 6:46 pm

      I advocate the first option, but for a slightly different reason. I would want it at a strategy to force and end to the jam and prevent an all jam situation where there is practically no possibility of scoring and the skaters just skate around for 2 minutes. If in a power jam where the jammer could not get through the pack before the other team breaks free, or in a time killing procedure where one team is ahead and just wants to protect a lead. The back skaters could fall back get lapped and force an end to the jam. The breakaways would get an advantage for breaking away but not be able to just skate around and kill the clock on the jam.

      This would prevent the no jam and the all jam situations. I would expect this to happen on a regular basis at the end of a jam if one team is trying to protect a lead and does not need to score more points to win.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Ada on 16 September 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Pack definition is such a central part of the game that changing it is going to have some dramatic effects, and any definition is going to have tradeoffs, but this is an interesting proposal with some great analysis.

    I like the idea of redefining the pack to be the majority of blockers of any color, and I agree with the first clarification that puts an evenly split pack in front. Redefining it makes it so blocker penalties are serious trouble, and putting the pack in front by default speeds the game along. I’m less a fan of the second exception. If a team has the advantage from penalties, they should get to control the pack, even if that does mean slow derby.

    And if I’m understanding it correctly, there’s an exploit. Suppose blue jammer is in the box, and both teams have all their blockers. Blue tries to speed the pack. Red legally slows the pack by goating a blue player, as the rest of the blue team skates ahead. Suppose the goated blue player gets a major penalty (oopsie) and goes to the box. Now, under your definition, the pack is the 3 blue players in front instead of the 4 red players in back. By getting a penalty, the blue team has regained control of the pack. And, since red was doing their job blocking and slowing, they now have to work even harder to catch up to the rest of the blue players. You have a pullaway without the goat doing any work.

    Furthermore, even under-powered, blue doesn’t have much of a disadvantage if they want to keep speeding the pack. They probably just lost their slowest player, and require less communication. They have less opportunity for a misstep, while red has less opportunity to peel off one.

    Allowing a team with a pack advantage to slow the pack does leave the opportunity for devastating power jams, but only when there are blockers in the box, too. I’m more comfortable with that than with creating more voluntary penalties.

    Reply

    • Ada, very excellent points, all.

      Pack definition is such a central part of the game that changing it is going to have some dramatic effects, and any definition is going to have tradeoffs, but this is an interesting proposal with some great analysis.

      No kidding. I respect the immense change this would have in roller derby. Which is why, like any rule change, it needs to be picked apart, analyzed, tested, scrutinized, ripped to shreds and then put back together again to see if it would still work.

      Hence the other half of the reason why Version 1.0 of the pack definition rules didn’t:

      I’m less a fan of the second exception. If a team has the advantage from penalties, they should get to control the pack, even if that does mean slow derby.

      It wouldn’t be slow derby. It would be no derby. In the WFTDA 1.0 rules, and without my second exception, it would be possible (and inevitable) for a team with a majority on the track and on a power jam to come a dead stop on the track and stay stopped, with nothing the other team can do to speed it up again, part of the problem I’m describing with the current rules.

      This was the opposite problem of the runaway/pullaway strategy. Thing is, you never heard anyone complain that packs were too slow back then, only too fast. Everyone can mill around or side-step at a standstill while attempting to block, so no one complained about that. But not everyone can skate well or catch up at speed…and there’s the “runaway pussy” deal again.

      There’s a difference fair control and unfair control. “Fair” control means it’s possible for either team to take control at any time. The one who gets control is the one that earned by doing better than the other team, to take control away from them. Penalties would just make that job easier or harder to do depending on who has more blockers in the pack.

      To go back to my hockey examples, consider this 5-on-3 power play, where not only was the shorthanded team (the Sharks) grossly out numbered, two of their players’ sticks had broken. So it was really more of a 5-on-1¾ power play:

      Obviously, the offense here was in full control of the situation. But in the end they failed to score due to the heroics of the defense. Even without sticks, they are able to use their hands to pass (in the defensive zone only) or clear the puck, because it’s only fair the shorthanded team have the ability to get the puck out of there and at least regain a brief respite of control from the other team. And like I said in the article, the shorthanded team can even score if the full team loses control of the situation (the puck, in this case) and allows someone to get behind them.

      On the other hand, “unfair” control means that a team can do anything they want—including screw up—and never lose control. Penalties would only make the unfair control even more unfair. That’s part of the reason why slow derby exists. Did your cowboys screw up and let that goat get out of its pen? That’s alright, the goat’s got an electric collar on that will stop it at 10 feet away from its pen. It’ll be easy to catch up to him and keep him under control then.

      In hockey, a similarly unfair situation would be a shorthanded team not being allowed to clear the puck out of their zone for the duration of the penalty, making it easy for the other team to re-collect the puck and continuing to fire away at the net.

      Think of it like the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. In a democracy, the minority voice still has a fair shake in the process; should the majority party screw up and not do what the people want them to do, the minority party can take control in the next election cycle. Dictators do what they want because they can and they know there would be no consequence. Nothing short of a revolution would ever change that.

      So you say you want a roller derby revolution? Down with slow and opressively unfair pack tactics!

      Exploit: Suppose the goated blue player gets a major penalty (oopsie) and goes to the box. Now, under your definition, the pack is the 3 blue players in front instead of the 4 red players in back. By getting a penalty, the blue team has regained control of the pack. And, since red was doing their job blocking and slowing, they now have to work even harder to catch up to the rest of the blue players. You have a pullaway without the goat doing any work.

      Yes, but you’re forgetting about one thing:

      The red jammer.*

      Comments Figure 13: (A) The situation, as you described it. (B) When the blue goat gets a penalty, the red jammer, having lead jammer status, can call off the jam immediately to take advantage of the situation. (C) Although this burned off some blue jammer penalty time, now the red team has an even bigger advantage and will probably score more than they may have on the last play. (D) When the penalties expire, the jammer and eventually blocker comes back onto the track behind the red wall again, effectively putting the penalized blocker back where they started with no gain, and probably worse off than they were before depending on what the red team did with a two-player advantage for that long.

      Furthermore, even under-powered, blue doesn’t have much of a disadvantage if they want to keep speeding the pack. They probably just lost their slowest player, and require less communication. They have less opportunity for a misstep, while red has less opportunity to peel off one.

      And here’s the beauty of my suggestion: It is completely in the power of the red team to do something about it at any time. They can prevent it by keeping their pivot forward. If it happens, red can snatch and seal off a blue blocker ahead before they can react to the pack definition change and speed off. After blue speeds off, the red jammer can call off the jam and take advantage of the new opportunity the blue team gave them.

      And here’s what the blue team gained: They may have prevented an easy 1-4 points, but now they’re in a position to give the red team another easy(er) scoring opportunity. Plus, should the blue team try to race the pack (now harder since they have less pack power), when the blocker penalty expires…oopsie! The pack’s behind them now.** So what good did that intentional penalty*** do to the blue team, besides putting that blue blocker one penalty closer to a penalty ejection?****

      Allowing a team with a pack advantage to slow the pack does leave the opportunity for devastating power jams, but only when there are blockers in the box, too. I’m more comfortable with that than with creating more voluntary penalties.

      Remember: The only reason why power jams are so devastating in the current WFTDA rules is because one team can unfairly control the pack while they’re happening, making it impossible for the other team to do anything about it. But even if the other team tries to “cheat” in my idea, they’re probably not going to benefit much from it when everything recycles.

      But with derby the way that it is now, a team that “cheats” can benefit from it, without anything the other team can do about it.***** And that’s totally unfair.

      Footnotes:

      *And that this is not a possible scenario in banked track rules, since penalties are served during the jam after the offense was committed; no one is removed from the track in this case. But if they want to commit that penalty anyway, go for it!

      **A small change in language would be required here: Players re-entering play from the penalty box should do so behind the rearmost in-play blockers; if they were able to re-enter behind “the pack,” a blocker could re-enter behind her teammates (the pack) and in front of the other team if they were split. So let’s close off that loophole before it pops up.

      ***See The Pack Problem, Chapter 2.

      ****Give players another reason to not want to commit penalties by eventually making penalty ejection 5 or 6 penalties, instead of 7 like it is now (or 5+5 like it used to be).

      *****See The Pack Problem, Chapter 5 (and Chapters 6 and 7, while you’re at it).

      Reply

  9. Posted by Mr Is on 18 September 2011 at 11:20 pm

    I need to go back and reread this about 1000x, but I wanted to mention that the MADE ruleset enacts suggestion #3, the one whistle jam start. Their version of the rules (check ‘em out at http://www.skatemade.org/#!rules) also includes a critical difference from WFTDA, in that the pivot can become the jammer without passing the star, which affects gameplay in all sorts of other ways — but I’m not super experienced with MADE teams/gameplay, so I couldn’t tell you what the longform strategy differences are because of (or in spite of) this version of things.

    Reply

    • Yes, I know of MADE rules. Some time down the road I’m going to have a special feature on some variant versions of derby and their rules to help everyone realize that there was and is different styles of derby out there. But briefly, the reason why classic derby/MADE/ODSA rules work is because there is always a guarantee that both teams will have a jammer out on the play, circulating during the lap, and in position to score, which is important to regulate the speed of the pack.

      In WFTDA, once a team gets lead jammer you’re going to see the pack split, almost always with the team with their jammer out front (or on the power jam) drift towards the back or slow the pack down so the other team can’t do much but hope to get into the jammer’s way. You can’t pull that kind of play in old-school style rules, since both jammers or a jammer and pivot are circulating (and that lead jammer can switch at any time) since slowing down just makes it easier for the other team’s jammer to get into position as well. So there’s really no reason to slow down. So you don’t get as many speed fluctuations in the pack for that reason, other than to possibly speed it up as a defensive measure.

      The classic pivot was always that threat at the front of the pack that could break away to counter inevitable change in pack speed that would occur if there was only one team’s jammer out to score. The pivot was at the front of the pack (by rule) to all but guarantee they got out on every jam, if both jammers didn’t immediately do so. However, as I mentioned I really like the fact that there can only be one jammer on the track at a time in WFTDA rules, so in a way, my pack solution restores the function and threat of the scoring pivot, but only if the other team can completely gain the front of the pack. In this way, you still keep the “slow derby” tactics that a lot of people like, but you do it in a way that makes it completely fair for the other team to counter the threat of an ultimate slow pack with an ultimate fast pack.

      Reply

  10. [...] Flyin Phil (in the comments) and Ithaca’s SufferJets (via Twitter) noted that WindyMan has an outstanding, detailed blog entry on this that includes a potential solution. Well worth reading! LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "0"); [...]

    Reply

  11. Posted by nitetalker on 19 September 2011 at 11:07 am

    Great writing! I admire the thought you’ve given these issues and hope the derby powers that be give serious consideration to your proposals.

    One nit-pick: Double-check the 2010 MLB regular season stats and you’ll see that 4,613 is not the total number of runs by all teams but the total number of home runs by all teams. There were, as you said, 126 grand slams, plus 2,648 solo homers, 1,332 two-run homers, and 507 three-run homers. (Total runs by all teams was 21,308.) So the threshold of defining what’s “grand” would actually be much lower than 10%, thereby amplifying your point.

    Reply

  12. i LOVE this, the “no pack” rule has always fustrated me, the fact it is more benifical to not engage the other team just avoid them = win annoys me!

    my suggestion, on chapter 5, have a simple if the pack (that has performed a pull away) manages to lap a blocker from the other team (who are now out of play) the jam ends.

    it would eliminate issues of ..how many times have they lapped them now? and issues of no pack and crowd seeing everyone stood together

    so if red has a jammer in the bin, and blue is a power jam, blue looses control and red burns around the track so blue cannot score…

    however red cant catch them, so stop. and the jam is over

    and they all line up again for the next jam…

    however red dont want to end it right away as they will start in a power jam AGAIN

    so they can get away and just not lap the blue team, OFC the blue team then HAVE to try and catch the red team if not they are not trying to join the pack as per wftda rules now so it becomes a cat and mouse game again… BUT with a jammer

    at least a suggesntion anyway

    Marty McDie (manchester roller derby UK)

    Reply

  13. I’ll be coming back to reply to this in a more intricate manner later on, I hope, but in the meantime one slightly nit-picky correction to make:

    “The jammer is going to be coming in at full speed, and the 10 feet in front of the goat pen is not enough space for those free blockers to skate forward, match the speed of the incoming jammer, react to her direction change, slow her down, and stop her. It never happens while the pack is at a standstill, because at 11 feet, team of blockers attempting that defense is declared out of play, and—how grand!—it’s another five point pass…and then another.”

    (From “Blocker Goating and Grand Slams”)

    I’d just like to point out that there’s actually 20 feet in front of the goat pen for those free blockers to skate forward etc etc – the out of play rules come into effect at 21 feet, not 11 feet as referenced.

    Also, use of bridging can extend this distance as far as thirty feet, assuming four blockers on the track, one goated, and the other three bridged 10, 20 and 30 feet in front of the pack.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jen on 25 September 2011 at 2:18 am

      Ah, and to edit again – bridging can extend this to forty feet, with blockers at 10, 20 and 40 feet from the goat pen – the first two are both part of the ‘pack’ and the last is on the edge of the engagement zone.

      Reply

    • I’d just like to point out that there’s actually 20 feet in front of the goat pen for those free blockers to skate forward etc etc – the out of play rules come into effect at 21 feet, not 11 feet as referenced.

      Also, use of bridging can extend this distance as far as thirty feet, assuming four blockers on the track, one goated, and the other three bridged 10, 20 and 30 feet in front of the pack.

      I’m aware of the differences between the 10 feet for the pack split and the extra 20 feet for the engagement zones ahead and in front of the pack. (20 feet, 21 feet, same difference in my context. But you know that.) Remember though, I mentioned in my disclaimer that I was only going to touch on extreme scenarios, which is why there weren’t any references to the 20 foot out of play rules. But since you brought it up, allow me to demonstrate why the 20 foot rule is disadvantage to team holding the front, and a big weapon to the team holding the rear.

      Comments Figure 14:
      (14.A) Your typical goating situation, either at even strength or (more realistically) while the red team is on the power jam. The rear and forward boundaries of the engagement zone (20ft forward and back of the defined pack) are as marked.

      (14.B) The goated blue blocker, not likely to go forward through the red 4-wall, can try to take advantage of the available EZ space behind her by backing up a few feet. This would allow her to get some open space to help match speed and block the incoming red jammer, which is probably the only thing she can do to be effective in this situation.

      (14.C) However, once the blue blocker starts dropping back/skating backwards, the red blockers goating her can also skate backwards because this group will always be the pack, as it must contain members from the red team—in this case, all of them. This technically (and legally!) establishes the speed of the pack: Backwards. Now the goated blue blocker is not only in no better shape to slow down the red jammer, she moved the goat pen (and point contained therein) closer to the red jammer. The three blue blockers ahead are also now closer to the front of the engagement zone, giving them less real estate to slow the red jammer before they’re put out of play.

      This is why you never, ever see a blocker or anyone on either team use the rear edge engagement zone, only the front edge of it. Because one team can simply backpedal on the track to cover any attempts to use the rear engagement zone, any blocker on the other team going back there is only making themselves an easier score for four blockers to overwhelm. And once the jammer gets by the goatpen, her getting by three scattered and stationary blockers within 20 feet is relatively easy.

      That’s how a rear wall can turn 40 or 50 feet of legal engagement zone into just the 20 feet in front. And here’s how the rear wall can turn 20 feet into just 10 “fair” feet:

      Comments Figure 15:
      (15.A) A typical dual-wall scenario, often times seen during jam starts. You always get this in a full pack split start, but this also occurs during knee-starts…just without the gap between the teams.

      (15.B) Although it’s a 1-on-4 situation for both jammers, the jammer up front (the red jammer) only really needs to get around one of the blue blockers to make her life easier. Once one of the blue blockers is beat, should the red jammer continue to skate forward, that passed blocker cannot skate any further than 10 feet (see The Imaginary Blockers, Figure 2 in the article) if her teammates continue forward into the forward engagement zone to keep up with the jammer. If that blocker—the blue team’s sole contribution to the pack—also tries to skate forward to help block, she will destroy the pack, get a penalty, cause a no-pack situation, allow the red jammer to go through untouched for lead jammer (or points)…and not help the blue jammer, who will stay behind the red wall despite the no pack situation. (see The Reward for Failing to Block, Figure 5) The red blockers are under no such peril, since they can skate forward as much as they need to, to keep the blue jammer behind all four of them.

      (15.C) So this means the blue team only really gets 10 feet of blocking space to put up the same 4-wall on the red jammer that the red wall gets to put on the blue jammer. Past that, the blue team only gets a 3-wall, something that’s much easier for the red jammer to get around and push forward…and then the remaining blue blockers eventually hit 20 feet to give the red jammer a free pass. This is a very effective way for the red team to thin out the blue pack. All they had to do was ignore the blue blockers! If this was a fair situation, the blue team would be able to keep up the same 4-wall, for just as long as the red team could. But once it hits 10 feet, the red jammer gets to deal with one less blue blocker without the red blockers contacting them (or none of them at all, if all the blue blockers go past 10 feet).

      (15.D) In my pack definition suggestion, if the red team wants to get these same advantages, they can no longer ignore all of the blue blockers. In order to define the pack (and therefore also define the head of the engagement zone) they will need to trap at least one blue blocker behind them. This gives the blue team the same 20 feet that they had before, but it’s more fair since the red team took a blocker away from the blue wall through force and effort. The blue team can recify this situation by getting that splintered blue blocker back to the front. (Note that if the red team does this, this will give the blue jammer a bit of blocking help to try to punch through the wall. So it’s not an absolute advantage to the red team; no situation should be.)

      Reply

  14. Posted by Doc on 25 September 2011 at 2:28 am

    What better time to read and comment on your rules proposition then day 2 of Western Regionals??

    While I think what you suggest has merit, my impression is that it is much too drastic a change in the overall game to have any chance of being adopted by WFTDA. I do, however, have some alternative suggestions that are relatively simple and not change the gameplay and strategy much at all, except to significantly reduce slow packs, slow/stopped starts and, just as important, frequent blow-outs.

    1) The first idea addresses slow packs and blow-outs. I can’t take credit for it. A derby-involved, hockey-fan friend mentioned it off the top of his head:

    -> When one jammer is sent to the box, she is released after serving her penalty time, as per current WFTDA rules -OR- when the opposing jammer scores a ghost point on her, whichever comes first.

    Think about it. When does nearly all of the slow/stopped pack play take place? During power jams. What makes it easy for sudden large point swings? Full length power jams and stopped packs.

    Here’s the real problem with power jams: They’re not a direct reflection of the skill level of the opposing teams. They have more to do with random, unlucky timing of penalties. One blocker gets a 4th minor, another slips and trips someone, the jammer misses a juke and suddenly you have a 2 on 5 power jam and a 15-30 point swing.

    Points should always be a direct reflection (as much as possible) of the skill, heart and effort of the teams competing with each other.

    This rule would be extremely simple to implement and would have little to no impact on any other part of the current ruleset.

    2) The second idea is one that I constructed after watching derby today. This is to address the somewhat trickier problem of the fight for the back wall and the ensuing slow and non jammer starts. As you said, penalizing an action is not likely to be effective. Making another action strategically more appealing is how you change a sport and allow it be even more dynamic and competitive.

    The larger issue here is that there is no provision in WFTDA derby that establishes a neutral advantage start to each game period (jam). This probably has a lot to do with there being no ball or puck. Having such a provision is, I think, absolutely necessary for derby to ever hope to achieve recognition as a “real” sport.

    Can you imagine an Olympic sport where the teams crawl around on the floor and around each other’s ankles in a free-for-all before every play period starts?

    I see this solution in 3 parts:

    I) One whistle to start all skaters.
    II) A 10-foot buffer zone in front of the jammer line that blockers are not allowed to line up in.
    III) At the start of every jam, each teams’ Pivot MUST be touching the pivot line.

    While not making it impossible to fight for the back wall, now 20 feet behind the pivot line, having no more than 3 blockers who can do so drastically reduces the advantage gained. A track-wide 3 wall is much easier to break through than a 4 wall.

    The only additional rule change this would require is that there is a Pivot on the track at the start of every jam. This would require a rule that a Pivot in the penalty box at the end of a jam becomes a blocker and the team fields a new Pivot to start the next jam. I don’t see this as being likely to make a noticeable difference anywhere else in the game.

    3) Another, just slightly more complicated approach for jam starts, would be to truly equalize the starting positions of the pack:

    I) One whistle to start all skaters.
    II) A 10-foot buffer zone in front of the jammer line that blockers are not allowed to line up in
    III) The 20 foot pack starting zone behind the Pivot line would be divided lengthwise down the middle by a line.
    IIII) Each team would alternate each jam lining up their blockers in the inside or outside rectangle of this area.

    Voila! No pre-jam fighting for back walls at all! To take control of the track they would have to move!

    Finally, if we take a page from the no minors beta rules (or end up adopting them) every stopped or CW block is a major penalty. Remember all the dozens of times this weekend in EACH GAME we saw the refs signalling a direction of gameplay penalty? You can bet that if every one of those meant someone was going to the box, the pack minimum speed would increase dramatically and stay that way. CW skating would also be much more risky, and therefore much less advantageous. If the skaters WANT to be skating forward because it gives them a better chance of winning, they will. It really is that simple in the end.

    Doc

    Reply

    • What better time to read and comment on your rules proposition then day 2 of Western Regionals??

      The timing of this article (September 13) is no accident. I knew that some crazy shit was going to go down during the playoffs. Teams that want to win will do whatever it takes; what Rat City did against Rocky Mountain is all the evidence you need of that. I expected the weirdness it in the East more than the West, but there you go all the same.

      1) When one jammer is sent to the box, she is released after serving her penalty time, as per current WFTDA rules -OR- when the opposing jammer scores a ghost point on her, whichever comes first.

      This is not a bad idea at all. I can’t think of any game-breaking fault that would come of it.

      However, if I’m going to be honest, I don’t like it. It would make jammer penalties worth 1 point at their maximum, and blocker penalties 1, 2, 3, or more points while their minute is being served. That would make jammer penalties (potentially) less severe than a blocker penalties, and that goes against my one=one theory on penalties.

      That’s not to say it wouldn’t solve the problem of over-powered power jams, but a penalty should be the same no matter what. That’s how I feel, anyway.

      By the way, for what it’s worth, the NHL is consider making players serve the full 2:00 of a minor penalty, even if a goal (or goals) is scored during it. Maybe hockey wants to see all penalties equalized, regardless if goals are scored or not?

      Here’s the real problem with power jams: They’re not a direct reflection of the skill level of the opposing teams. They have more to do with random, unlucky timing of penalties. One blocker gets a 4th minor, another slips and trips someone, the jammer misses a juke and suddenly you have a 2 on 5 power jam and a 15-30 point swing.

      The current way power jams go, yes, I completely agree. A bad break or two and a few minors adding up can lead to a game-changing sequence. However, there are two things to consider in this regard:

      1) Skaters commit too many penalties in general. A vast majority of WFTDA players cannot skate all that well. (Even if they think they can skate well, they can’t skate well.) (That includes me.) To be more direct, skaters just can’t stop. There are way, way, WAAAAAY too many back-blocking majors, and cutting penalties due to kamikaze dives down the inside. Neither would happen with as much frequency if players could stop on a dime or change directions quickly. So yeah, penalties can add up, but many of them are unavoidable on account of current players just not being able to keep their own two feet, let alone play the game.

      2) Many times, skaters defending against a power jam know that there’s no point in fighting forward through the other team, since they can’t get past 10 feet ahead of them anyway. So they just stand there and wait to be scored upon. If a team was able to move the pack forward, power jam scoring would immediately be curbed for the simple fact that it would take a few extra laps for the jammer to lap back around. A few less laps is a few less grand slams, so there’s 10-15 points gone right there.

      In either event, the team on the short end of the stick can avoid the situation by getting better at skating (so they commit fewer penalties), or deal with the situation by moving the pack forward. A team down two blockers and their jammer should be scored on for a lot of points; how many or how few should be a direct result of their blocking and evading skills. (Guess what my suggestion does!)

      I) One whistle to start all skaters. II) A 10-foot buffer zone in front of the jammer line that blockers are not allowed to line up in. III) At the start of every jam, each teams’ Pivot MUST be touching the pivot line.

      One problem with that: As long as backwards skating is allow, teams will still creep backwards to engage the jammers. And as we’ve been seeing with the “mosh pit” or “rugby derby” starts, which jammer gets through is pretty much a crapshoot, which would unfairly neutralize any advantage a more athletic team would otherwise have.

      I mean, you saw how Rat City almost beat Rocky. Had Rat played Rocky’s game, Rat would have lost badly. But because Rat forced Rocky to play Rat’s game, with nothing Rocky could do about it (other than stand around for five jams), the game was made artifically close. And stupid as hell.

      3) IIII) Each team would alternate each jam lining up their blockers in the inside or outside rectangle of this area.

      This is an idea that I’ve been kicking around as something that will be necessary, though. Classic derby required by rule a pre-set pack formation of alternating blockers/jammers from front to back. Modern derby should eventually adopt the same thing. Pivots on the pivot line, alternating blockers in a fair way behind them, such as lining up 2-4-2. This way, the jam start nonsense stops immediately, the teams are fairly distributed in the pack to start, and the only way one team can get an advantage is to act in a way that’s superior to their opponents.

      And on your last point, I don’t know why the refs of today’s game aren’t calling all the stop-blocks and forearms that are being used in those “rugby derby” packs. People say that if someone is “moving their feet” they’re moving forward, and therefore those kinds of stop-blocks are legal. But that’s all kind of bullshit, since motion should be measured at the hips. If the hips (and therefore, the body above them) haven’t moved forward enough to be noticed, then they aren’t moving, and they should be penalized accordingly.

      Reply

  15. Posted by Misfit on 25 September 2011 at 11:03 pm

    If the minority pack was about to get lapped–couldn’t they then use that to their advantage, since they would then be the most forward pack? In fact, they could skate at a slow speed (without appearing to be intentionally slowing/splitting the pack), waiting until the opposing pack and jammer are behind them, and then pull away (having just taken a leisurely lap or two).

    Reply

    • Doesn’t work like that. A skater or skaters that come up to the rear of other skaters are a full lap ahead of them, not a few feet behind them (in this context). Just because they’re physically ahead of the pulling away team, they are legally 100 feet behind, out of play, and really bad at roller derby for not being able to hold back the other team or skate fast enough to match their speed.

      Reply

  16. WindyMan, I love this analysis because it addresses the fundamental problem of the player incentives being completely screwed up. I agree that it’s much better to create a natural incentive for a desired behavior (such as forward movement) than to try to force that behavior, especially if there are already incentives for behaving exactly opposite to the desired behavior. I need to think some more about your proposed solution and look for unintended consequences, but it’s a really great start.

    I’m confused though about why you think it’s a problem if one team completely laps the other team. In your example, the red team getting lapped would still be out of play, so none of their blockers could engage the blue team. Once the blue team lapped them, the red blockers would still have to make up that entire lap to be back in play, and the red jammer would have to make up the entire lap to score any points. Why is this a difficult situation to address?

    Reply

    • There are two reasons why I think a pullaway-around has some sketchy implications:

      1) Say a pack of four blue blockers pulls away from a group of three red blockers. The fourth red blocker is serving a penalty. If the blue blockers were to catch up to the back of the red blockers, the three red blockers on the track would be out of play (100 feet behind the blue blockers, technically). However, if the fourth red blocker re-enters the track, she’ll be on the same lap as the blue blockers, and one lap ahead of her teammates. Having the potential for different members of the same team to be on different laps could potentially cause scoring confusion or weirdness with out of play penalties. Maybe it’s better to prevent that from happening in the first place.

      2) As I’ve previously commented, the only time a team would realistically want to run the pullaway is if their jammer is in the penalty box, or in some cases if they have no hope of scoring on the current play. If a jam were to go for the full two minutes, there is the potential for the exact opposite of the non-jam: The “all-jam,” where all skaters (jammers and blockers) are literally busting-ass around the track at full speed in order to pullaway/catch up/prevent from being lapped.

      This would be more entertaining than a non-jam, obviously, but it’s a situation that can be avoided. If a pulling-away team knew that the jam would end after catching up to the back of the opposing blockers, for instance, they would have no reason to do it if their jammer was still in the penalty box. That would just end the jam early and keep their jammer in the box. And again, the jammer on the track could just call it off immediately anyway to save penalty time, unless her teammates can goat a blocker off from the back of the pulling-away pack to redefine it to their advantage.

      Really, though, the reason why I don’t like the fact that blockers could potentially lap other blockers is because it *doesn’t* make sense, or at least to me. It’s the jammer’s job to do that. Even if you could make it so it’s technically possible to do so, it may complicate the rulebook more than necessary. Maybe it’s just best to avoid the situation altogether, at least for now.

      Reply

  17. Though I wouldn’t mind playing by the rules you’ve set out, I really don’t mind playing by current WFTDA rules. Even though a team can just skate slowly behind, the challenge of blocking a jammer 10 ft in front or bridging out is a good one that requires athletic ability. And the team that lags behind isn’t necessarily getting rewarded for their laziness, because it’s definitely possible to stop a full speed jammer with a 4 wall from a stop. If the team in the rear is going to be lazy and not play any offense, they’re at a disadvantage, in my opinion.

    Roller derby is a game of managing space just as much as it is a game of speed. If we changed the rules to what was set above the fastest skaters would probably be most successful (because it’s easier to get a goat free and skate fast than for blockers to hold a goat with 4 opposing players challenging them), which would be fine at a “world cup” level but not at the level most WFTDA teams are at today. Save the speed skaters for jamming, I say.

    Reply

    • Posted by Sirius Hertz on 29 September 2011 at 2:01 pm

      I don’t think the problem is one of what it’s like to play the game – it’s about what it’s like to watch the game. Roller Derby, like all sports, makes its money by being entertaining – and the current trend towards slow derby and the corresponding decline in ticket sales and revenue indicate that the fans don’t find stop-derby all the much fun to watch.

      Reply

    • Even though a team can just skate slowly behind, the challenge of blocking a jammer 10 ft in front or bridging out is a good one that requires athletic ability.

      I agree, it is a challenge that requires athletic ability. However, the team holding the rear wall isn’t limited to 10 feet of blocking space. They can move forward as much as they want to keep the jammer behind them. That makes it easier to block a jammer at the rear wall, and harder to block a jammer at the front wall.

      That’s not equally fair, in my opinion, because the team at the rear effectively ignored four blockers to gain this advantage. I believe if a team wants to gain any kind of advantage, they need to earn it by going through the other team. So if a group of blockers wants some sort of advantage in the pack, they should need to have to go through/around the other team’s blockers to get to the front of the pack, which would be a very advantageous place to be per my pack redefinition suggestion.

      While that’s my opinion on the matter, that’s also how things work in all other competitive and legitimate sports. Just sayin’.

      If we changed the rules to what was set above the fastest skaters would probably be most successful (because it’s easier to get a goat free and skate fast than for blockers to hold a goat with 4 opposing players challenging them), which would be fine at a “world cup” level but not at the level most WFTDA teams are at today. Save the speed skaters for jamming, I say.

      The “speedskater” argument isn’t much of one, in my opinion. Remember, for a team of four speedskaters to actually speed-skate, they need to get around all four opposing blockers. Are those blockers just going to step aside for the speedskaters? I think not.

      Plus, how good at blocking are these speedskaters, anyway? If they can skate really fast, but can’t block worth a shit, they’re never going to get their jammer through four opposing blockers to score.

      If you load a team up with speedskaters, they can be thwarted by a team of excellent blockers…and vice versa. Remember, both teams need to play offense and defense at the same time in roller derby, so while a “speedskating” team may be good on offense, they’d be bad on defense…a good blocking team may be great on defense, but weak on offense. Whichever team can play to their strengths and overcome their weaknesses the most, will win.

      This is one of the beautiful things about roller derby. Everyone can have an important role in the game. Are quick on your skates? You’re a jammer. Are you not so fast, but great at keeping people behind you? You’re a blocker. Are you quick on your skates and really good at keeping people behind you? You’re a pivot and the last line of defense.

      So really, it’s best to have a balanced team out there. If you’re an old fart like me and had an NES in the 80s, you may remember a game called Ice Hockey. In this game, you could customize your team with any combination of “weak fast guy,” “slow strong guy,” or “average guy.” No permutation of players gave a team an outright advantage, because of the differing attributes of the players and their strengths/weaknesses.

      Of course, if you had a team of derby skaters who were both really good at blocking, really nimble on their feet, and really fast, then you’d have a superior team in every aspect. Teams like these (Oly, Rocky, Gotham) would beat any team under any rules, so nothing would really change there.

      The difference is that in current WFTDA rules the underdog playing against one of these juggernauts can only have a chance of winning should they do as little as possible via the use extreme slow strategies (see: Rat City vs. Rocky Mountain); in my tweaked rules, the underdog can have a chance of winning by doing everything possible to put up an extreme defense of a front 4-wall to slow down the game and give their jammer a better chance to score; see this comment for a practical example of that.

      So no matter what, a team would have to compete with action, not inaction. And if the WFTDA says their skaters are “Real, Strong, Athletic, Revolutionary,” then it’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is and prove it by showing their skaters are strong and athletic, not weak and apathetic.

      Reply

  18. I’ve used your blog post here as a starting point for a discussion in a Facebook Note and a set of polls, here http://www.facebook.com/notes/michaeljohn-swassing/improving-on-no-start-jams-in-roller-derby/10150396967151214

    Anyone following this issue should feel free to click a friend request over to me. I’m friendly.

    - Swass

    Reply

  19. Posted by Jodee Benavides on 29 September 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Greetings,

    I coach the Brewcity Battlestars (Their “B” level travel team. I am a huge advocate of treating this like a physical sport.

    Even with the modern rules of split-pack and no-pack strategies I feel there is way for teams to overcome this (though I do like your ideas very much, especially the single whistle, you could could make sure all blockers must line up within ten feet of the pivot line giving a 20 foot cushion).

    Basically derby is a game of push and pull, players must learn to apply pressure from all angles and learn how to cope.

    I coach the concept of what I call “pressure back” basically cutting off lanes of forward progress.

    This is most important under the current rule set that allows teams with a power jam advantage to to be back away pussies or implement the trapped goat strategy. Basically I teach them to not run away like break-away pussies and stand their ground. The team with the power jam like you mention are basically NOT blocking their jammer through so the team at a disadvantage is free to wall up where they wish.

    Line up behind the goat and make your stand. Make the jammer go through a meatgrinder to get her points. Most jammers are not used to true physical abuse. I have had some success conditioning skaters to stop a full speed jammer on the dime by building a phalanx.

    Eventually coaches should be able to teach their teams to establish frontal pack dominance and stay within play of the rear wall and play good defense. That is what I am working towards.

    This is where strong, physical blockers will dominate over the uber-athletic.

    Jodee

    Reply

  20. Posted by thebigchuckbowski on 29 September 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Both teams would NEED to control the front of the pack.

    If a team is in the back and they get lead jammer, the other team can just run out the clock by staying in front of the blockers that have lead jammer moving at a high speed.

    If a team is in the back and they don’t get lead jammer, they’re in a position that allows all of their blockers to be potentially goated. Their only means for speeding the pack up is to get every single one of their blockers past every single one of the other blockers while at the same time trying to stop the other team’s jammer. That would pretty much be impossible so they would just have to sit in the back and try to wall up and block with the pack at a standstill (not really solving what you want to solve).

    So, both teams, in EVERY jam, would be gunning for the front of the pack between jams. As in, sprinting onto the track as soon as the previous jam is over and jostling for position even though they shouldn’t actually be blocking because play isn’t in session (this is stupid and also gives the team whose bench is closest to the pivot line a big advantage). Once the jam is started, both teams would try to gain control of the front by continuously speeding up. This gives the jammers almost no chance of even completing their first pass, let alone actually scoring.

    I’m really not getting why this is a good solution?

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, that sets up this ridiculous situation: Team A has a jammer and 4 blockers. Team B has a pivot and blocker, rest are in the penalty box.

    Team B’s skaters get out front and skate away with nothing that Team A can do to stop them.

    So, basically, Team A has a power jam and a 4-2 pack advantage and can’t do anything to score.

    Reply

    • You’re still completely missing the point. Let me clarify a few things that you seem to have confused:

      Both teams would NEED to control the front of the pack.

      Yes. This situation would be the opposite of the current situation, where both teams WANT to control the back of the pack. This is why ridiculously long delayed jam starts and non-jams exist. I mentioned this in the DNN comments, but just making it so the pack is forced to cross the pivot line by way of a (second) “shot clock” will not change the fundemental reason why teams don’t want to move forward.

      All I want to see is a simple rule change that will make wanting to skate forward to be in the best interest of both teams, at all times. Why do you have a problem with that?

      If a team is in the back and they get lead jammer, the other team can just run out the clock by staying in front of the blockers that have lead jammer moving at a high speed.

      Correct. So if the team in the back does not want to be put into this disadvantageous position, they would want to position at least some of their blockers (probably two or three) at the front of the pack, so they can block and slow down the blockers on other team to prevent this from happening. (I believe I diagrammed this in the article; see Figure 8 – Defensive Responsibilites.)

      Blockers are supposed to block other blockers, right? That’s how you slow down a team, is to block their blockers, is it not?

      Again I ask, why do you have a problem with that?

      If a team is in the back and they don’t get lead jammer, they’re in a position that allows all of their blockers to be potentially goated. Their only means for speeding the pack up is to get every single one of their blockers past every single one of the other blockers while at the same time trying to stop the other team’s jammer. That would pretty much be impossible so they would just have to sit in the back and try to wall up and block with the pack at a standstill

      Let’s say for the sake of argument, what you’re saying is a problem. (Did you even read my article?) Here’s the situation you’re describing:

      Hmmm, it seems that the red 4-wall at the front is slowing the pack to a crawl. But wait a second…now it’s a 5-on-4 situation within the pack for the blue team. If red only has four bodies to hold back five blue players, one of them is probably going to get through pretty easily…

      With the full assistance of the blue blockers, the blue jammer has a pretty good shot of getting out of the pack before the red jammer can make her first scoring pass. When the red jammer does get back around to the rear of the pack…

      Without any red blocking help, the red jammer is probably not going to get any points (or maybe one or two) going up against four blue blockers by herself, before the blue jammer catches up to get into scoring position. So maybe the red team should bring some blockers back behind the blue team to help get their jammer through…

      Now maybe the red team has a better chance to score some good points. But now all of a sudden the red team only has two blockers up front to cover four blue blockers from pushing the pack forward…

      Suddenly the blue team has a better chance of getting around the red 2-wall at the front, should they choose to do so. From this position, the blue team has two options: They can try to slow down the entire red team via blocking to try and have their jammer steal a few points (or force the red jammer to cut the jam off early), or sprint the pack forward to burn time off the clock, even if that may make it more difficult for their own jammer to score.

      By gaining the front of the pack, the blue team has the advantage of having those options. If the red team wanted to score in this situation, they should have done a better job blocking or used a better pack distribution strategy to outfox the blue blockers and hinder the blue jammer long enough for the red jammer to have enough time to score unopposed.

      (not really solving what you want to solve)

      I’m going to say this one last time, since you have a hearing and/or reading problem: I do not have a problem with slow packs. I have a problem with slow packs that cannot be fairly sped up again.

      As such, this is exactly the problem I want to solve. The problem, as you seem to have an inability to recognize, is that a team has no way to speed the pack up on their own in under current WFTDA rules. This is unfair. So to make it fair, a team controlling the front can do just that under my suggested pack redefinition.

      For the third time, I ask: Why do you have a problem with this?

      So, both teams, in EVERY jam, would be gunning for the front of the pack between jams. As in, sprinting onto the track as soon as the previous jam is over and jostling for position even though they shouldn’t actually be blocking because play isn’t in session (this is stupid and also gives the team whose bench is closest to the pivot line a big advantage). Once the jam is started, both teams would try to gain control of the front by continuously speeding up. This gives the jammers almost no chance of even completing their first pass, let alone actually scoring.

      And this is any better? …

      ECDX: Gotham Trounces Philly, 267-34 – Derby News Network (link)

      Gotham’s focus on owning the back of the pack from the beginning created an interesting dynamic at the end of jams, as both rushed from their benches to the jammer line to take the closer position.

      If you’re saying rushing to the pivot line and “continuously” speeding up is bad, I can counter that by saying that rusing to the jammer line and “continuously” slowing down (also known as not moving) is equally as bad.

      However, the difference with my suggestion is both teams have a fair and equal chance to gain the front of the pack, especially because both teams have a blocker at the front at the start of each jam: The pivot, who by rule is the only blocker who may line up on the pivot line. Everyone else must line up behind the two pivots. (Seems you forgot about that.)

      Plus, just assuming that both teams will “continously” speed up is ridiculous. Once some blockers get to the front, they’re not going to speed up forever. They still need to help their jammer through. To do that, they will block and slow down the opposing players behind them. While engaging in these blocks, a jammer can weave their way through the pack. The team that does a better job of managaing pack speed and executing positional blocks effectively will help their jammer through the fastest and pick up lead jammer.

      Fourth time, same question: Why do you have a problem with this?

      Also, if I’m not mistaken, that sets up this ridiculous situation: Team A has a jammer and 4 blockers. Team B has a pivot and blocker, rest are in the penalty box.

      Team B’s skaters get out front and skate away with nothing that Team A can do to stop them.

      If the four A-blockers can’t hold back and slow down two B-blockers, why the hell does the A team deserve to score any points? They fucked up by not being able to block the other team, despite having a 200% manpower advantage in the pack.

      So you are completely wrong: Team A can do everything to stop Team B—by blocking them before they get the chance to go to the front in the first place.

      So, basically, Team A has a power jam and a 4-2 pack advantage and can’t do anything to score.

      In your scenario, yes. But who’s fault would it be?

      I’m really not getting why this is a good solution?

      Because you have no clue what you’re talking about, maybe?

      Reply

    • Posted by thebigchuckbowski on 30 September 2011 at 5:25 am

      I will openly admit that I only skimmed your post (I didn’t have a spare 4 hours to burn) so I maybe should have put a giant question mark at the end of my comment (since I wasn’t 100% sure everything I was posting was right but knew you would correct anything that was wrong) but since you didn’t clarify any of my points, I guess I didn’t really need to read the article because all of my points were correct.

      “All I want to see is a simple rule change that will make wanting to skate forward to be in the best interest of both teams, at all times. Why do you have a problem with that?”

      I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem with the way you propose doing it.

      In response to this discussion:

      The red team would probably use two blockers to double team the jammer and two blockers to double team a single blocker. The remaining blue blockers could skate 10 feet forward but would have no means to legally speed up the pack. The blue blockers could hold back and try to open up a hole for their jammer or goat. Or, the blue blockers could all drop back and wall up in the back to prevent the red jammer getting through but not helping their jammer in any way. The situation as you diagrammed wouldn’t happen. Why would red only go man on man on the blockers and release the blue jammer? What a dumb strategy. The point I was making is that if the entire blue team is behind the red team, then every one of their blockers is a potential goat (red only needs one, not four). If blue only had one blocker behind red (and it was their quickest and toughest blocker) they might have a hard time keeping a goat. However, if red can choose from all four, they’ll choose the slowest dumbest one. Have you ever seen a pack of lions take down a zebra? Same idea. They choose the one that can’t keep up (not the one leading the stampede).

      So, again, the only way that blue can possibly speed up the pack is by getting every single blocker through, which if that’s not possible, is no different than how the game is currently played.

      “The problem, as you seem to have an inability to recognize, is that a team has no way to speed the pack up on their own in under current WFTDA rules. This is unfair.”

      Here’s what I don’t get, though. Your change in the rules makes it so that a team has no way to slow down another team once they’re behind. You can say, oh, well they should’ve blocked, it’s their fault. Bull. What if the other team seals off the front of the pack at a different point in the jam? What if your pivot is in the box and their blockers beat you to the pivot line because their bench is closer? What if you just can’t hold a team back for a full 2 minutes (because you really can’t)? You can keep saying it’s a team’s fault for letting a team get out front, but honestly, I don’t really care. Because, even if that’s true, you’re creating the most boring game imaginable once a team does gain control of the front. Plus, it’s not even true. Players go to the box. Jammers get blocked. There are many reasons why a team could give up the front of the pack before lead jammer is even determined that doesn’t make that team bad.

      The other thing is, some teams actually are really bad. What would a game between a great team and a bad team look like? Admittedly, it doesn’t look very good right now but what about under your rules? Good team constantly gets lead jammer (as it is now) so they get goats and score a bunch of points (as it is now). When bad team does occasionally pick up lead jammer (their only chance of scoring), they can depend on pack splits or goats or just a normal pack to at least pick up some points, but under your scenario, they wouldn’t be able to hold back the good team from skating forward, so that means that we could start seeing shutouts. And, we could actually see them fairly often, actually. Anytime a good team doesn’t gets lead, they just sprint out the rest of the jam with nothing the bad team can do to slow them down.

      “And this is any better? …”

      No, that’s not better. But, with a delay clock, that doesn’t happen. You’d have 5-10 seconds to sort it out once the jam starts and there are advantages to both the front AND the back. Pack placement pre-jam becomes much less crucial than it is now (back 2 inches in front of jammers) or under your rules (front 2 inches behind pivot line) which means no racing to the track between jams.

      “However, the difference with my suggestion is both teams have a fair and equal chance to gain the front of the pack, especially because both teams have a blocker at the front at the start of each jam: The pivot, who by rule is the only blocker who may line up on the jammer line. Everyone else must line up behind the two pivots. (Seems you forgot about that.)”

      And, if the pivot’s in the box a team just gives up their right to the front of the pack for an entire jam?

      Or, since a pivot can really only hold back one blocker at a time, if they miss at the beginning of the jam, their screwed for the entire rest of the jam?

      You really want pack control to completely come down to whether a pivot’s in the box or if a pivot can make ONE block at the very beginning of the jam?

      “Plus, just assuming that both teams will “continously” speed up is ridiculous. Once some blockers get to the front, they’re not going to speed up forever. ”

      I’ll give you that. Once a team has control of the front, they won’t speed away (unless of course they don’t have lead jammer). But, what happens if neither team can gain control of the front of the pack because of good blocking by both teams? Neither team can slow it down on their own and they’d be screwed if they’d try to (sound familiar?). They could get a goat for the initial pass but does that really get them anything? They would have less blockers for the jammer which means they would probably be giving up lead. Nope, not gonna work. So, both teams would be indefinitely fighting for the front which means a pack that will continue to speed up.

      “If the four A-blockers can’t hold back and slow down two B-blockers, why the hell does the A team deserve to score any points? They fucked up by not being able to block the other team, despite having a 200% manpower advantage in the pack.”

      No, they didn’t screw up by not blocking. Team A screwed up by not getting their pivot in front of the B team’s blocker between jams. If Team B’s blocker lines up 2 inches behind the pivot line on the inside line and Team B’s pivot lines up immediately next to her outside on the pivot line. What can Team A do to get in front of them? Pass them on the outside once the jam starts? Good luck with that. So, basically, that jam would come down to whose bench is closer to the pivot line.

      “Because you have no clue what you’re talking about, maybe?”

      Dude, your issue in all of this is that you’re not looking at each team’s ACTUAL motivation and what that would cause. You come up with one scenario (which happily supports your argument) and then ignore everything else including what the teams would ACTUALLY do. Once you start looking at it with that mindset, you’ll realize that your “solution” would never work. It creates the unfair advantage in the front that you hate about the back and creates the most boring sport that anyone could ever possibly come up with. I’d rather watch dudes throw a basketball around for two hours.

      So, again, with a delay rule, you create a pack speed. Yes, the front of the pack can only speed up the pack as much as the back of the pack lets them. However, since the pack has to have some speed to start the jam (in order to cross the pivot line), that means destruction of pack majors will be enforced and, more importantly, pack splits will happen less often because the back of the pack is moving. So, if this rule drops those pack splits by just 10% and increases destruction of the pack majors by 10%, the back of the pack becomes much less advantageous. Another thing that makes it less advantageous? They can’t line up directly in front of the jammers so jammers will hit the pack at speed which means they can’t wall up in front of a non-moving jammer.

      If the back doesn’t have a strong advantage then why would teams continue to line up in the back? The reason they do it now is because of the strong advantages over the other team it creates, without those strong advantages, why would they continue to do it?

      Reply

      • I will openly admit that I only skimmed your post (I didn’t have a spare 4 hours to burn) so I maybe should have put a giant question mark at the end of my comment (since I wasn’t 100% sure everything I was posting was right but knew you would correct anything that was wrong) but since you didn’t clarify any of my points, I guess I didn’t really need to read the article because all of my points were correct.

        So let me get this straight.

        You’re arguing against an article that you have not read.

        You don’t have “four hours to burn” reading an article about the rules, but you do have a few hours to burn writing lengthy responses to an article you have not read.

        You were not 100% sure in your responses, yet your comments attempt to rebuke my idea (which you have not read), which I have supported by many facts, diagrams, and common sense principals.

        And judging by your comment that “I did not clarify your points,” and therefore, “all your points were correct,” you’re falling into the same kind of “derby logic” that makes people like you oblivious to the fact that there are things fundementally wrong with the current game, as if plugging your ears and going ~la la la~ will really solve anything.

        In the 2½ weeks since I’ve published this article, over 5,000 people have read it. (But not you, apparently.) You’re the first one I’ve seen be 100% negative. That makes you the minority opinion, 0.02% against. Everyone else may or may not like it, but sees merit in it at the very minimum. Most people think this is brilliant idea (their words, not mine). So why are you “right” when 4,999 people (so far) agree with this enough to share it with their Facebook friends, post it to their derby league forums, and have WFTDA give serious consideration to it? (I’m saying this because I know where clicks to this post are coming from, and you’d be surprised who’s coming to look—and how often.)

        Your opinion is so uneducated and biased, I’m not even going to bother replying to the rest of it. The readers will determine which ideas are good or bad, which comments are insightful or dreadful. If you insist on going on about this, read my article. Then read it again, since apparently you have a hard time comprehending common sense. If you still have a problem with it, email me and give me reasons why (not “because I said so”) my idea is not good, not reasons why your idea is “better” even after I explained why it’s not the best solution in the first chapter of this article.

    • Posted by thebigchuckbowski on 30 September 2011 at 8:22 am

      So, instead of responding to my very legitimate arguments, you instead take one thing I said and completely blow it out of proportion and lob personal insults at me while narcissisticly telling me how many people read and love your ramblings. Well done. I skimmed your post, I didn’t get bogged down in every little detail fully knowing if you had already rebuked one of my points, you would point me to that section (which you didn’t do so my skimming of your post really seems to carry no weight). I skimmed it to get the understanding of what you were saying. It’s just too long and my responses take me 10 minutes, not however long your article will take to read.

      Look, if you think I’m wrong, more power to you. However, I’m not wrong and just because it was posted on a WFTDA forum and they came to read it doesn’t mean they agree with you or are thinking of adopting this into the rules. And, if they are, that would be a huge mistake for reasons I mentioned in my comment that you avoided responding to.

      There is no argument that your rules give an unfair advantage to the front of the pack.

      There is no argument that your rules give an unfair advantage to the team whose bench is closest to the pivot line.

      There is no argument that your rules give an unfair disadvantage to a team whose pivot is in the box.

      There is no argument that your rules would make for an incredibly boring sport to watch whenever a team gains control of the front.

      If you can’t argue those points then your “solution” presents far more problems than it solves.

      I have already agreed that there is a problem. I just believe the problem is smaller than you believe it is. We can agree to disagree on that point but to say my opinion is “undeducated” and “biased” is completely insane. You have no idea what my eduction is in derby and considering my favorite doesn’t employ the back of the pack strategy at jam starts very often, I’m not really sure how I’m biased either. I also never wrote “because I said so” so not sure why that’s mentioned and definitely not sure why it’s in quotes. I was fully expecting you to respond to all of my points and I’m frankly disappointed that you didn’t. I love healthy debate but this has turned into shit throwing and when that happens, the one throwing the shit is usually on the losing side.

      I will respond to the “first chapter of your article” which I DID read every word of and disagreed.

      “Cons: Everyone who came up with this idea can’t seem to agree on how long the “shot clock” should be. Ten seconds? Thirty seconds? Five seconds? There are also a lot of what-if scenarios, too: What if a blocker comes out of the penalty box just as the shot clock expires, but hasn’t crossed the pivot line yet? Do they get penalized again?”

      Minor penalty at 5 seconds, Major at 10. Problem solved.

      Blockers do not get penalized after getting released from the box unless they do not immediately join the pack whether they’ve crossed the line or not. Problem solved.

      “Here’s another one: What if a team starts the jam on a knee? Well, the jam would start immediately, completely circumventing the reason for having a “shot clock” whistle in the first place. Plus, if this rule is meant to make sure the pack crosses the pivot line (which the knee-start would circumvent anyway) there’s nothing stopping a team immediately backtracking once they do to lock-down the rear of the pack, which is part of the reason why some teams don’t want to move forward in the first place.”

      Take away the one knee start. It’s no longer needed and was a weird ass rule to begin with. Problem solved.

      “Again, WORD banked track rules are ahead of the game on this. After the multiple slow-starts occurred during the 2010 L.A. Derby Dolls championship game (the source of the video seen above), they implemented a simple three-second hand count. The jammer whistle comes three seconds after the pivot whistle or after the pack has crossed the pivot line, whichever comes first. They don’t issue penalties for failing to cross the pivot line, though. Still, it hasn’t completely eliminated slow starts; even if the jammers are released, they are often met with a very slow pack, tippy-toeing forward.”

      You point to the exact reason to give penalties for not crossing the pivot line. So, that’s a problem with WORD rules and not this solution.

      “Verdict: If the problem is that blockers don’t want to move forward, this won’t completely solve it.”

      Blockers would have to move forward because they’d have to cross the pivot line.

      “Though the jammers would always be released, this would only shift the problem of slow pack starts from behind the pivot line without jammers, to in front of the pivot line with the jammers.”

      False. By creating a pack speed, teams can no longer just stand there as they will pick up destruction of pack majors. By having a pack speed, pack splits happen less often. So, the advantage in the back of the pack is greatly reduced. Without that advantage, teams would not employ this strategy.

      Reply

    • Posted by thebigchuckbowski on 30 September 2011 at 10:04 am

      I do think it is worth mentioning (against my better judgement) that I have read your previous (shorter) articles on this topic so I already had a background in the topic. That’s why I felt it unnecessary to read word-for-word the entire thing. Unless you dramatically changed something from previous posts, which I don’t believe happened, there was no reason for me to reread the same points you’ve made in the past when I could just skim over it.

      So, unless you respond to my legitimate arguments that pretty much prove your “solution” would not work, this will be my last response.

      Reply

  21. [...] Front of the Pack is Always the Pack Solution. This doesn’t guarantee the jammer whistle will be blown in two minutes but it [...]

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  22. This was quite the long read and I put the time into reading it because I care about the way roller derby has been going as of late. I would really like to see your suggestion put into play as it makes more sense to me than the other strategies for “slow pack starts”. I didn’t even think of it as a larger problem causing the slow starts but after reading this I whole-heartedly agree. This is well written and well thought out and I commend you for it.

    Reply

  23. [...] to the no-pack situation that would have been an inevitability. (As explained and diagrammed here.) If London had lined up on the pivot line instead, Philly could have just stayed 9.9ft behind them [...]

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  24. Big Chuckbowski,

    What makes an incredibly boring sport are the teams that do not skate. I would much rather see skaters speeding up rather than spending two minutes standing on the track. Sport is supposed to reward ability and athleticism, not laziness disguised as “strategy”. If a team is physically prepared to withstand 60 minutes of sprinting, I would be impressed, much more impressed that seeing out-of-shape skaters who choose stalling over sweating. But that is unrealistic, what will ACTUALLY happen is that teams will have to manage their energy levels, sprint up some times and spend most of their time actually playing roller derby.

    The advantage of being close to the pivot line can be solved by switching benches at half time.

    The advantage of the pivot on the box actually brings a higher purpose to the pivot position, and it is also fair, after all the box is supposed to give you an advantage, right?

    Your delay idea is simply patching the current problem, it does not solve the problem with slow derby, like what Windy Man calls the “Invisible Blockers”.

    Reply

    • Posted by thebigchuckbowski on 19 October 2011 at 5:48 am

      I would agree that standing around for two minutes is boring, that’s why I think a delay whistle is necessary. However, arguing against slow derby is like arguing against a slow methodical offense in any sport. Is running up the middle in football boring? Ban it. Is passing the puck towards one’s own goal in hockey boring? Ban it.

      I think the slow game is actually VERY exciting. The best games in derby occur when there are huge changes in pack speed. Without slow derby, there would be no big changes in pack speed. It would be a fast pack and then a slightly faster pack and then a not as fast pack. That is boring.

      What’s more boring? The offensive team making it *difficult* for the defensive team to stop their jammer? Or, the defensive team making it *impossible* for the offensive team to score?

      Pivot line: There is not the same number of jams each half. Therefore, one team will have an advantage even with the benches switching. And, do you really want constant jockeying for position and racing to the line between EVERY jam? It’s stupid now and it will be incredibly stupid when it happens in every jam of every game.

      The delay is not a patch to the current problem, it solves the problem. The problem is stalling at the beginning of jams, not slow derby. By the way, WindyMan’s method that you love so much would still allow plenty of slow derby when teams get a goat (just like now). The delay whistle, however, does help to solve the “unfairness” of the current system by forcing forward movement and setting a pack speed. This reduces the back of the pack advantage by creating less split packs and more destruction of the pack majors. Teams would be required to get a goat in order to slow or stop the pack. My way solves that. WindyMan’s way doesn’t actually solve that (a team can still stand around for 2 minutes with no jammers if they have a goat), plus it makes it impossible for offenses to score once the defense has control of the front.

      Reply

  25. So i admit I didn’t read the whole article (i have homework to do, shoot me) But I don’t like the first option requiring forward movement at all times, that would mean to get behind someone you have to slow and let them pass you, could result in a very slow lame game lol I will read more when i can, promise!

    Reply

  26. [...] I’m excited about it. I know for a fact that my suggestion for new pack definition rules is being considered by the skaters for the 2012 rules. Surely, there are many other ideas on how to [...]

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  27. It seems that pre-jam pack positioning is causing a lot of problems in both the current game and the proposed changes. Has anyone considered the idea of marking starting positions for the 8 pack players? Two rows of four positions marked on the track would eliminate the problem. Line the teams up with the Pivots(or a blocker if the pivot is in the box) on the first two spots and alternate sides the rest of the way down. This will start all jams in a relatively even position, and with the addition of a 5-second delay for the jammer whistle, make strategically blocking the entire track very difficult. Though this doesn’t change the fact that the team with the lead jammers best strategy is to effectively stop playing in order to not allow the other team to play either.

    Reply

  28. Posted by herself on 9 December 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I like it because when i decided to play roller derby , that is what i thought i was signing up to play. It dissapoints me that some of my opponents will choose not to fight for the front and that my inate desire to be in the front ALL THE TIME is actually a disadvatage to me in the current incarnation of this sport. i hope things change, ive got a competitve, fast , blocks like a brick wall team that gets screwed outta points by lame play from other teams.

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  29. So, I haven’t read through all of the comments, but I just wanted to point out that TXRD still plays this way. The Texas Roller Derby ruleset doesn’t have ‘no-pack’ or ‘splitting the pack’ penalties, and we do not have the problem of slow derby. There is always a fight for the front when your jammer gets out to both help her by slowing the pack as well as to keep the other blockers from pulling “runaway pussy”. Our jams are only 1 minute, so we don’t encounter the problem of having one team lap the other.

    We do not have power jams, though, so I cannot speak to how it would affect game play in that way.

    Our first game of the season is Jan 29th, I invite you watch the webcast on our website!

    Reply

  30. Alternative solution: Let blockers score by lapping the pack. Keep the pack definition as it is. Consequences: “Back-away pussies” are scored on by lapping blockers — jammers need not start for scoring to happen. There are advantages to being in both the front (can break away and score) and the back (can set the speed/front) of the pack. Goating at speed can happen, but goating at a crawl will get scored upon by blockers. A team attempting to score with lapping blockers leaves a power jam situation in the pack, having abandoned their jammer to her fate. A power jamming team has the option to score with jammers and blockers. Seems to do everything you want, creates more strategic options, and would be a hell of a lot more fun for fans than the no-jams.

    Perhaps a rule would limit this option to the Pivot only. I don’t see the restriction as necessary, but I can see why it might be preferred. (Actually having the strongest blocker wearing the stripe.)

    Reply

  31. I agree with some of this, but I have a slightly different solution:
    Much like the “shot clock” but further
    1. Keep the two whistles, but have a minimum of 10 seconds for the pack to clear, if not the jammers are released.
    2. No blocking on the start and no blocking in the first two turns.
    3. None of that knee scrum stuff.
    4. Minimums for forward motion with regards to speed on the track the “pack” must make a lap ever 40 seconds and there are two dedicated refs to make sure of that happening. (Note: I say 40 seconds but whatever makes sense to speed things up) There is a POINT penalty for not making the minimum laps, it could either be you lose all points or you lose half the points or a x percentage rounded up. say like 25%
    5.Add points for things like:
    Lead jammer 2 points
    Pack that crosses the start line the most 5 points
    6. Allow the lead jammer to change based on who is in front so long as they are at equal laps.
    7. Allow the pivot to pace with the jammers not the pack
    8. Limit jammerless jams, if the jammer is out on a penalty, the pivot becomes the jammer but in order to score they must then pass the pack once.

    For me the solutions should not be overly complex or require a lot more. I think by adding some extra ways to get points or new ways to lose points, that are related to the speed of things, it might make for more interesting bouts.

    Reply

  32. Posted by Doc on 22 March 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Craig, keep in mind that the WFTDA rules are only changed by a vote from the entire skating membership. Just going with your #4 for the sake of brevity, if you think that the roller girls are going to vote in any rule change that requires MORE referees on the track you are dreaming deeper than those guys at the end of Inception. :)

    Reply

  33. This is potentially brilliant. I have a question though. Let’s say Blue Team’s jammer goes to the penalty box giving up a power jam to the Red Team. Blue Team’s blockers now attempt to race forward to prevent points, but one of them gets trapped by the Red Team. The Red Team slows down with the trapped Blue Blocker so Red Jammer can rack up some points. In this scenario, theoretically the trapped Blue Blocker should always take a knee; assuming this action would get her a destruction of pack major (if not, then she should commit any other major penalty). Pack definition would immediately shift to the rest of the already forward Blue Blockers who now only have to race ahead and burn the clock. Blue wouldn’t even hurt from the lost blocker as most or all of the penalty (and the power jam) could be burned off by the racing blue pack. The only drawback might be a skater potentially fouling out; but still I would think that this would be the primary counter to slowing pack speed in a power jam.

    If this was already covered somewhere and I missed it I apologize. I hope the WFTDA doesn’t just read this but play tests it as well soon.

    Reply

    • Yeah, this situation was already covered in a previous comment, which is here. In your scenario, all the red jammer would need to do is call off the jam immediately and start the next jam with an even bigger pack advantage.

      Even if a team were to deliberately destroy the pack, the one-time advantage they would gain from it would probably not be worth the one-minute disadvantage they would be putting themselves in. It’s like committing an intentional foul at the end of a basketball game. Yeah, you’ll stop the clock and get the ball back, but you’re potentially giving the other team two points in order to do it. That’s a trade-off that has diminishing returns.

      Although, as others have also pointed out, there are two issues with what I’m explaining as a counter to your scenario. First, if the pullaway or intentional penalty happens on the initial pass, there would be no lead jammer to call off the jam. I don’t have a problem with this, seeing as it would probably be a rare situation and would last a minute at most. On the other hand, seeing a team working their asses off to try and catch up/pull away from the other team for that long would at least be more entertaining to watch than two teams standing around and doing nothing.

      The second problem is if this happens on a scoring pass and the power jammer didn’t get lead status, such as from minor or a no pass-no penalty situation. Without a way for the solo jammer to call if off and to take advantage of the situation, it would seem more beneficial for the jammerless team to take the intentional penalty.

      Something like this is a weird consequence of not always having both teams play offense and defense at the same time, and not always giving lead status to the literal jammer in the lead. The first problem can be solved by making the pivot relevant again, as I will explain later this month.

      The second problem can be fixed by guaranteeing the first jammer out of the pack is always the lead jammer. Switching to no-minors this year (which sources are indicating to me are a definite go) will get rid of that way of being disqualified for lead. I believe that no pass-no-penalty should only apply to a scoring run, and not disqualify someone from getting lead status.

      That way, a jammer either gets through the pack first without getting a penalty and gets lead status, or gets a penalty and never gets through the pack. That way, the “lead” jammer is always in the “lead” on the track, which is less confusing for fans, and in fact is integral to making roller derby work correctly, something else I will be explaining later here on the blog.

      Reply

      • So has there been any “official” response to this proposal? Any chance we’ll see it tested? Has any leagues gone outside the WFTDA and tested it on their own?

      • Nothing official from the WFTDA itself, but I know for sure they’re aware of it if the flurry of traffic I’ve received from their private forums are any indication. (I would kill someone to find out what they’ve been discussing about it.) However, I know of at least a handful of leagues have seen merit in the idea, with refs wanting to vet the idea or players wanting to try it out on their own, and that the idea has enough traction to have been at least make the suggestion list in the initial rounds of the WFTDA rules revision process. As to its status after that, I have no idea. But I’m not optimistic about it, to be honest.

        On the bright side, USARS has implemented this idea pretty much word-for-word in its maiden rule set. I’m dying to see a game played under USARS rules (in person if I can help it) but they’re still in the process of building up a structure, much like the WFTDA did after it released its first set of unified rules.

        So there are other groups out there that understand that this is how derby is supposed to work. But until the WFTDA starts leading on the issue, it’s going to take a bit longer for everyone to realize that.

  34. When teams bring their slow start stradegy to our venue I have found that the best way to combat it was to literally knock one or two of the opposing blockers down and out of bounds when they are in that 1″ forward progress. We then have all four of our blockers quickly skate forward until jammers are released. Your jammer goes through a no pack, all four blockers stop on double whistle and move backward quickly reinstating the pack before the jammers reach your wall of four. You let your jammer through and sit on the opposing blockers. When your jammer scores 15 points when opposing team slow starts they are not likely to continue this stradegy. There is nothing more boring to watch than eight women just moving their feet. This is a contact sport, if you choose to attempt a slow start on our track there will be contact. I can guarantee it.

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  35. Posted by Leah on 18 April 2012 at 7:52 pm

    It’s not a bad solution, except that it would make the game very fast. I’m a skater, but if I were a coach, I wouldn’t dare let slower skaters on the track under your rules. Speed would be deadly, and I don’t really like watching one team chase another at top speed. To me, the most exciting part about roller derby is when the jammers are in the pack, so very fast packs are boring. I think you underestimate just how hard it is to prevent the other team from getting to the front if that’s all they want to do.

    Heck if you get goated, you just commit a major penalty so that your team can run away. Your counter to this seems to be that the power jam team just calls it off… but there are lots of power jams where the jammer isn’t lead. She’s not lead during the initial pass… Everyone has their preferences, but to me, a lot more laps skated and a lot less points scored seems kinda boring in roller derby.

    BTW, your comment about Nascar being so popular as justification for turning roller derby into a speed contest is a bit off. The fans hate it when the race gets all spread out and turns into an actual endurance race. Now they’ve got the “Green, White, Checkers” rule because they think the most exciting thing that can happen is giving all the slower cars a chance at the win (rewarding the losing team) by making them start nose to tail with two laps left. This often results in a crash (demonstrating a lack of skill). It’s all exciting to the fans though. The most popular races are the ones where the cars tend to stay close together, either because the track is physically really small or because the cars are artificially limited. There’s actually very few racing “purists” who would rather watch a fair, straight up endurance race. Most fans want “action”, not a real race. That’s why we’ve got short track speed skating in the olympics now, because it’s more exciting than traditional speed skating. Endurance skating is impressive, but “action” is what makes people watch.

    I kinda appreciate the scrums and the slow packs. Maybe that’s because I came into this sport under the current rules and I love playing it and watching other teams play it. I thought the 2011 championships were super exciting, with the exception of a few jams.

    Your post (and your other posts) are really well written, well thought out, and I love the illustrations. One thing to be careful about is comparing roller derby to other sports. It can be useful at times, but a lot of times it’s apples and oranges. I think the comparison of a penalty on a goalie to a penalty on a jammer is apples and oranges. A power play isn’t really like a power jam, nor should it be. A grand slam in derby doesn’t necessarily have to be just as grand as a baseball grand slam. If you were to find an analog for the power jam in hockey, it would be the penalty shot IMHO, not the power play.

    A major by a blocker should NOT equal a major by a jammer in terms of the opportunity for the other team to take advantage. A jammer scores points, and her illegal actions are more likely to earn her points or a better opportunity to score them than if the penalty was committed by a blocker. So a jammer committing penalties should hurt more than a blocker. This is like a lot of other sports, where if you illegally take away the other team’s clear scoring opportunity (directly effecting the score), then the penalty is worse for you. Like a penalty shot in hockey for preventing a breakaway, a penalty kick in soccer for a foul in the penalty area, a free throw in basketball for a foul on the shooter. Heck, you could stretch it and say pass interference in the end zone giving the offense the ball on the one-yard-line is the same thing in football (well, similar). A penalty that directly effects the score gives the other team a prime opportunity to score without having to play defense (or in the football example, gives the offense a huge advantage). A penalty kick in soccer is a massive opportunity to score, and it could account for 100% of the scoring in a game… and this is the most popular sport in the world!

    So I don’t think that the fact that it’s easy to score in power jams is a problem. It’s frustrating to see how some teams do it. But putting the penalized team at a big disadvantage isn’t a problem in my opinion. That has to happen in sports.

    I agree with you, I don’t like the strategy of doing nothing in order to keep the pack stopped. Some teams wait and then attack with the jammer, which is an honorable way to do it IMHO. Scrum starts and slow packs actually don’t bother me. No-starts bother me, but I think we’ve evolved past that. Skating clockwise doesn’t bother me either (in fact I would hate a rule that says you can’t skate clockwise). I just don’t think we solve the problem of no-effort (by blockers) scoring by changing the incentive so that we constantly fight over the front rather than the back. OK, so at least a fight over the front is a fight, rather than a stationary game of chicken. But once that fight is lost and the team that wants to run is in front, it’s gonna be near impossible to score for the rest of that jam. It’s the same problem in reverse. I just see roller derby that I don’t like (my imagination could be wrong I suppose)… and trust me, it’s not because I’m slow or out of shape.

    The most tiring thing I do as a jammer is fight through the pack. It’s the most fun as well. It’s the most exciting to watch. When I’m out of the pack watching my team chase the other team to try to get a goat, I get really annoyed that I’m just skating laps by myself (most people on my team think that getting a goat is the only way to force the pack to slow). It’s just an endurance race at that point, and as a jammer I can skate fast for a minute without much of a challenge. But if I fight through a pack for 20 seconds, I could be more tired than after doing 25 in 5. It’s only when jammers are in the pack that you see the skills (and endurance) at work.

    Reply

    • Great reply, there. I love it when people provide me with good counter-points. That way, I can counter-counter them!

      Your counter to this seems to be that the power jam team just calls it off… but there are lots of power jams where the jammer isn’t lead.

      Yes, but this would be because lead status doesn’t change once earned in WFTDA rules. If the lead jammer was made to always literally the jammer in the lead as in every other form of roller derby that has ever existed, past or present, this would not be a problem after the initial pass. Additionally, since the rules are designed for a game where both teams are on offense at the same time, removing a jammer from the track without properly compensating for this fact can also cause issues, particularly on an initial pass.

      Part of the reason why my idea may seem incompatible with current flat track rules is because flat track rules are incomplete, or counter to how roller derby has always been structured as a game. It’s not that the WFTDA can’t make it work their way, but it may take a complicated and overly-confusing set of rules to do it. Simpler is always better, if it can be helped.

      There’s actually very few racing “purists” who would rather watch a fair, straight up endurance race.

      Wrong. Sportscar and multi-class endurance racing is some of the most “pure” form of racing in the world. There are no gimmicks in sportscar/endurance racing—it’s hard to luck your way to a win when you race for 24 hours straight. NASCAR has gimmicks like big packs during restrictor plate races and guaranteed green-flag finishes, which are exciting, but artificial. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of taste or opinion, not a matter of fact as you seem to believe it is.

      WFTDA derby is also artificial in some ways. Forcing teams to keep the pack together by rule is a contributing factor to big points swings, helping to make comebacks possible. Of course, that’s exciting. However, if that scoring comes when blockers on offense are deliberately avoiding pushing forward to engage with the other team during a power jam, or a pack is held slow by rule instead of by blocking effort, it’s not fair, and it’s not “straight up” roller derby. It’s still enjoyable, however, even if it is flawed.

      Ideally, derby should be exciting and “pure” with few or no artificial restrictions on players and teams. That will eventually come in time when the rules get themselves worked out, even if that comes in some other form of derby that is not the WFTDA.

      A grand slam in derby doesn’t necessarily have to be just as grand as a baseball grand slam.

      Then why is it called a “grand slam?” Derby originally got the phrase from baseball for a reason, you know.

      This is like a lot of other sports, where if you illegally take away the other team’s clear scoring opportunity (directly effecting the score), then the penalty is worse for you.

      A clear scoring opportunity is not a guaranteed scoring opportunity. It would only “directly” affect a score if it was guaranteed. Yeah, a clear one-on-one breakaway in hockey is a a great scoring opportunity but the guy with the puck still has to get it by the goaltender, which isn’t always going to happen. Should they get penalized during that break, the penalty shot that may occur from it simply restores the same scoring opportunity they had before the penalty took it away. It doesn’t directly affect the score.

      Now, there are circumstances where referees can award points/goals to a team for a gross foul or under special circumstances. For example, if a hockey player intentionally knocks the net loose to prevent a goal that was going in anyway. That’s no longer an “opportunity” being taken away, that’s a 100% sure score being taken away illegally by the other team. No penalty will fairly make up for that, which is why refs have the power to award the goal in that specific situation. Again, the penalty is restoring what would have happened without the penalty taking it away. No more, no less. Scenarios such as this are extremely rare, however, since 100% sure things are extremely rare in sports.

      A penalty that directly effects the score gives the other team a prime opportunity to score without having to play defense

      WFTDA (and RDCL banked track) roller derby is, to my knowledge, the only sport in the world where a team can directly score by committing a penalty. If one of your blockers intentionally destroys the pack while your jammer is on a scoring pass, your jammer will directly effect the score to the tune of a free 4 or 5 points in the ensuing no-pack situation. In other words, it’s a situation where a team does not have to play any defense whatsoever in order to score…in a game that’s supposed to be one where teams need to play offense and defense at the same time.

      Name another sport where taking a penalty, committing a foul, or otherwise breaking the rules guarantees that team scores points or otherwise benefits immediately, and then maybe your sports analogies will carry some weight. Because right now, they’re looking kind of shaky! (Weren’t you the one that said to be careful about comparing derby to other sports?)

      But once that fight is lost and the team that wants to run is in front, it’s gonna be near impossible to score for the rest of that jam. It’s the same problem in reverse.

      You’re correct on that observation. A few people are starting to realize what you just have, about it being the same problem either way. Again, this is a consequence of playing “offense vs. defense” roller derby in a form of game designed for both teams to play both at the same time. (There is a form of a game designed exclusively for solo-jammer action, which I’ll be sharing with everyone in June.) This problem can be instantly solved by requiring both teams to start a jam with a jammer, reverting jammer penalties still outstanding at the end of a jam to blocker penalties, as in MADE in OSDA rules.

      I like power jams, though. Should they stay in the game, the problem of solving them from a rules standpoint is a complex one. If you make the front of the pack the place to be, a team without an offensive threat will have no reason to slow down to play offense, so you get and endless pullaway pack. If you make the back of the pack the better spot, a team without a jammer to defend against will have no reason to speed up to play defense, so you get backaway pussy and no-packs. Again, the WFTDA may eventually be able to make this work (and I want them to make it work) but it’s likely going to require additional rules and penalties to do it, further complicating things for skaters and fans.

      However, there’s got to be a point in a jam where, if a team completely fails or is grossly penalized, they forfeit any realistic chance of controlling the speed of the pack, scoring, or prevent from being scored upon. This always used to happen in WFTDA 1.0 derby because back then, players were terrible at blocking or skating with any kind of speed. No one was good enough or derby-smart enough to prevent it from happening, so it always happened. It was boring because people were seeing horribly inexperienced players play the game, not necessarily because the rules were bad. (This is something I intend on backing up later this year.)

      In sports, there will naturally come points where the tempo of a fast game slows down, or long periods of time where no one scores or no meaningful action is happening. This is just the nature of competitive sports, and nothing can change that unless you artificially induce action, or scoring, or close games. For a sport looking for legitimacy, the last thing modern roller needs is anything artificial, be that artificial constraints on its players…or artificially-induced excitement.

      Reply

    • Posted by derbytron on 19 April 2012 at 7:02 am

      “WFTDA (and RDCL banked track) roller derby is, to my knowledge, the only sport in the world where a team can directly score by committing a penalty. If one of your blockers intentionally destroys the pack while your jammer is on a scoring pass, your jammer will directly effect the score to the tune of a free 4 or 5 points in the ensuing no-pack situation.”

      Just spitballing here but after reading that paragraph, this popped into my head (or maybe I’ve read it before and forgot but I don’t think so).

      Maybe the solution is as simple as not allowing any scoring when there is no pack. When no pack is called, everyone would just reform the pack and jammers wouldn’t change position (even on the initial pass, where a jammer couldn’t get lead without legally passing all blockers, so passing blockers in a split pack wouldn’t count). It would just be like a momentary pause and play would resume in 1-2 seconds. There’d be no more intentional destructions and the back would no longer really have any power. If there’s no reason to split the pack, blockers would actually start blocking again and we’d see real derby. Any reasons why this wouldn’t work?

      Reply

      • Any reasons why this wouldn’t work?

        That might work with both jammers on the track. However, if you applied that same rule to power jams you may run into a tricky situation where a team on defense can intentionally induce a no-pack situation and force a jammer to slow down and wait for the pack to reform, or push through and score no points on the pass. That might come into play during a endgame situation where all a team needs to do is trade off blocker penalties for a guarantee that their opponent will never score. It may not happen, but it would be still possible.

        Something that might help to alleviate this problem is to issue a jammer penalty to the team that deliberately destroys the pack, or is most apathetic in their attempts to keep it together. This way the punishment is much more severe (and definitely more fair) during both 5-on-5 and power jam situations. Even if a team defending a power jam can’t get their jammer sent to the penalty box again, this time they won’t be able to deny the other team points in the no-pack, as in your suggestion. However, at least they know the offense blockers have motivation to stay with them in some way in order to avoid losing their jammer and their scoring opportunity, giving the defense a more realistic chance of defending.

        Although, that might be a bit tricky to call, and as current rules stand not all no-packs after the jam start are always penalties. There are other things that could be done to lower the effects of no-packs, like somehow mandate that both jammers get free passes in the no pack so the rear jammer gets the same benefit as the front jammer (though this would likely result in a lot of 0-0 early jam calloffs) or reduce the pack proximity distance some. It’s 7 feet on the banked track…personally, I’d like to see it be zero feet. But 10 is starting to look like too much.

    • Posted by derbytron on 19 April 2012 at 7:55 am

      “That might work with both jammers on the track. However, if you applied that same rule to power jams you may run into a tricky situation where a team on defense can intentionally induce a no-pack situation and force a jammer to slow down and wait for the pack to reform, or push through and score no points on the pass. That might come into play during a endgame situation where all a team needs to do is trade off blocker penalties for a guarantee that their opponent will never score. It may not happen, but it would be still possible.”

      That was the first thing that popped into my head is a possible problem but I don’t think it really is. First of all, that team would be picking up destruction majors and failure to reform majors like crazy, so in normal gameplay it wouldn’t work. But, even at the end of the game, that strategy depends on the offensive team just sitting in the back or front letting the pack split. Why on earth would they do that if they know it means their jammer can’t score? The offensive team would be blocking for their jammer. Hanging in the back or front would be completely stupid at that point.

      “However, at least they know the offense blockers have motivation to stay with them in some way in order to avoid losing their jammer and their scoring opportunity, giving the defense a more realistic chance of defending.”

      There would already be a motivation for the offense to stay with the defense. If they don’t stay with them, they don’t score. That’s a pretty big motivation.

      “There are other things that could be done to lower the effects of no-packs, like somehow mandate that both jammers get free passes in the no pack so the rear jammer gets the same benefit as the front jammer (though this would likely result in a lot of 0-0 early jam calloffs) or reduce the pack proximity distance some. It’s 7 feet on the banked track…personally, I’d like to see it be zero feet. But 10 is starting to look like too much.”

      Again, you’re trying to solve problems that this solution already solves. If neither team has any motivation whatsoever to split the pack, they wouldn’t ever be doing it on purpose. The pack would only split accidentally during normal gameplay where the blockers are so focused on blocking the jammers as teams, they drift away from each other.

      This solution, for sure, solves the problem. The question is whether or not it creates more problems than it solves. So far, I haven’t thought of any.

      Reply

    • Posted by Leah on 19 April 2012 at 3:26 pm

      If the lead jammer was made to always literally the jammer in the lead as in every other form of roller derby that has ever existed, past or present, this would not be a problem after the initial pass.

      I love watching banked track, though I’ve never even seen one in person. I do think some of those rules in RDCL would be great in flat track. I like that the lead jammer is the jammer in the lead. And you’re right that doing that would make it so that once a jam becomes futile, it can be called in most cases (as long as someone has completed an initial pass).

      Another way to ensure that a breakaway (or pullaway) doesn’t result in the remainder of the jam being a long stalemate is to not pull penalized players from the track. I don’t have the stats, but I think most jams that go the full two minutes are caused by the lead jammer getting sent to the box. I like the 1 minute jams in RDCL and the way penalties are enforced, but I kinda like it the WFTDA way too. RDCL is way simpler, but I think WFTDA is more fair.

      I realize sometimes there’s boring parts of sports, but if we can avoid it in a way that’s fair for both teams, we should. If under your suggested pack rules, one team got to the front and ran away and it turned into a stalemate, I’d want a jammer to call it.

      Wrong. Sportscar and multi-class endurance racing is some of the most “pure” form of racing in the world.

      Well, my point about Nascar being artificial and not pure is that it’s popular because of it. Well, I should say that it’s popular in the USA. Sportscar racing isn’t so popular in the USA. There’s usually a half decent turnout at the sportscar races, but it’s barely on TV. I like my racing pure. But if you let Roller Derby turn into a race I think it might be only slightly more exciting to watch a team pullaway than to watch them stand still 10 feet apart. If it’s artificial to keep the pack from racing away, then so be it. Kinda like how most Nascar fans don’t seem to mind restrictor plates.

      A clear scoring opportunity is not a guaranteed scoring opportunity. It would only “directly” affect a score if it was guaranteed.

      Right. You argued against the language I used, not my intent. That’s my fault. If a breakaway is illegally taken away, a penalty shot is awarded. An opportunity for an opportunity. Of course, that might not be exactly equivalent. On a breakaway you have a chance at a rebound, and you don’t on a penalty shot. “Directly affect” was the wrong choice of words. But hopefully you get my point that a blocker penalty should be different from a jammer penalty because what you gained in committing that penalty is likely different. I agree that power jams are overpowered (when a team exploits the pack rules to stop the pack), but I don’t think it’s the jammer in the box that makes it out of balance. It’s just not very balanced when they play out a certain way due to the pack rules.

      Maybe the solution is as simple as not allowing any scoring when there is no pack. When no pack is called, everyone would just reform the pack and jammers wouldn’t change position

      I think that would be in line with how other sports handle it. You can commit a penalty and then benefit, but the officials immediately take it away. Except maybe in the case of purposefully fouling the shooter in basketball. You potentially have points scored on you, but you definitely get the ball or have a shot at getting the rebound! It was only a few years ago that the NHL changed the rules so that you can’t substitute players if you commit an icing penalty. I think it was in the last decade that the NFL officials would run the clock down 10 seconds if the offense commits a penalty in the last two minutes while losing or tied… some penalties stop the clock. NFL teams can still take an intentional safety in exchange for field position.

      So, yeah, the officials should take away the advantage you gained by doing something illegal… but wow it took the NHL like 70 years to stop teams from icing the puck so they can get a line change. If it takes the WFTDA two years or four years to balance out those issues, I can’t complain.

      Probably the biggest issue that directly effects my league with this is the officiating. We don’t see a lot of intentional pack splits, so it would be a total crap shoot if we got into a game where a team wanted to constantly do that. So then we’d have to figure out what the refs are calling and play by that. If they don’t call destruction and failure to reform, then the team trying to kill a power jam is double screwed. No offense to our refs, but this seems to happen. Sometimes a team comes in with a totally different play style and the officials don’t know what to do with it and how the rules apply to it. Sometimes I get sent to the box for blocking while skating backwards, because there’s only a handful of us in the league that ever even try to do it. Sometimes a team yells “Stop!” and they grind to a halt together suddenly, and nobody goes to the box for breaking the pack.

      Your pack solution would really simplify it for the refs especially in smaller leagues, so that we wouldn’t be relying on them to be judging a pack thats always splitting or on the verge of it. That’s a good argument for your pack solution. But your pack solution would put a huge strain on the skaters in smaller leagues. Like you said, WFTDA 1.0 didn’t work well because the skaters couldn’t really skate or block that well. So the top teams in the WFTDA can block and skate, etc now, but smaller leagues still struggle. Impeding and holding other blockers back isn’t something that happens very successfully at the level I play at. Runaway pussy would happen all the time.

      It might be really cool to see good teams play with your pack solution, but I think it would be a disaster for the other 95% of teams that play under the WFTDA rules.

      Reply

  36. I may have come up with a solution. Think it through. I call it “The Legend Of Zelda Patch” to The Pack Solution. As my fellow geek friends will no doubt know, Link could shoot his sword if he was at full power…what if your solution only applied if one team’s pack was at full power?

    A team with all four blockers on the track could take off. If the opposing team gets a goat, then the pack is defined as normal. With this patch, if the goat gets a penalty, then the pack would STILL be at the back (or a no-pack, depending on where everyone was and how many blockers the opposing team had). The initial team would have to instead slow down, get their blocker back, and try to take off again.

    With this, some of the plays that the original Pack Solution eliminated would be back, but used more strategically. Scrum starts would be a much more calculated thing to be used in specific circumstances.

    Best of all, with the LoZ Patch, the game gets a ton of variety. The dynamic would be different every jam. You would have slow derby every time nor would you have runaway derby every time. Some power jams could be contained while others could still score big.

    Unless I’m missing something, this could make the intensity of the game go way up! The things that we so desperately want to get rid of now would become an enjoyable part of the game as it would be multi-layered.

    Plus, teams that like to play dirty would do so at a greater cost by losing a potentially powerful play if they keep sending people to the box.

    Scrutinize away.

    Reply

  37. (Also, this works with the split mixed pack too. If all eight blockers are on the track and becomes equally split, then the forward most group of skaters are the pack speeding up the intensity of the game and eliminating many “no-packs”. Refs would be able to simply glance at the penalty box to see if either team has blockers in the box.)

    Reply

  38. Sorry for the triple posting, but I’ve thought this out further and streamlined it to something possibly even better:

    Simply redefine the pack to this: “The pack consists of the foremost group of blockers on the track consisting of 4 or more blockers.”

    This I believe covers the patch I posted earlier while simplifying the rule change. Equal split mixed full packs would still be defined up front. Mixed packs of different numbers would be defined where the largest group was as long as it had at least 4 blockers. Single teams could still sprint to avoid power jams if they have all 4 of their blockers together. And split packs where no group was at least 4 blockers would still be a no-pack. Knee starts and jam-line starts would be largely eliminated if the opposing team had all 4 blockers on the track, but could still be an option if the opposing team had blockers in the box. Variety and action would both be increased while preserving everything the game currently has.

    The immediate problem with this definition (that doesn’t exist in the original LoZ Patch) is what happens when there are less than 4 total blockers on the track? Just in case anyone reading this thinks that’s impossible, there are at least 2 ways I can think of it happening right off the top of my head:
    —1) Both teams have 2 blockers in the box and another blocker picks up a major penalty (for a few seconds, there would be less than 4 blockers on the track). Or worse…
    —2) Both teams have 2 blockers in the box and one of the teams failed to start the jam with enough blockers (for possibly up to a full minute there would be less than 4 blockers on the track).
    During this time there would be “no-pack” and jammers would be able to score points freely. My immediate thought is that this is a hole that would need to be patched before this is a viable solution. However, part of me thinks that the scenario would be rare enough that this outcome doesn’t need correcting and is appropriate.

    Surely it can’t be this simple. I look forward to your thoughts on these 3 posts.
    —Latenight

    Reply

  39. Posted by Rex T on 15 May 2012 at 7:05 am

    Quick question, say blue team have a power jam and red team manage to take the front and begin to pull away.

    Assuming the skaters are of fairly equal ability, the quickest way for the blue team to regain control of the front of the pack would be to skate back around the track rather than chase the red team. That way they would catch them in half a lap, and would have time to build a solid wall across the track.

    (Apologies if this has been covered already)

    Reply

  40. In my six years as a coach and league commissioner, yours is the best analysis I have found regarding the current rulesets. If you have time, please let me know what you think about these possible ideas:
    1. On a power jam, there is no pack rule, and no 10 or 20 foot rule applied. The pack ref takes a break during a power jam, and let the horses run.
    2. On a regular jam with both jammers, whenever one team gets Lead Jammer, the other team automatically gets “Lead Pivot”, meaning that their pivot, wherever she may be, becomes the center of the pack, and blockers must be in proximity to her in order to make a legal hit. That would certainly speed up the game, wouldn’t it?
    Would either of these ideas work? It seems to me they might, but I have not put in the time analyzing it that you and some of the other commentators clearly have.
    At any rate, thank you for some brilliant work on this issue that is vital to the future of the sport we love.

    Reply

  41. [...] I stood near them at the bout but gave them their space as they had their moments watching derby for perhaps the first time.  I drank my Schlitz and heckled San Diego over their “strategy.” [...]

    Reply

  42. Posted by Jelli Knight on 5 March 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments so forgive me if you’ve answered this.

    I do like your solution, i didn’t at first but the more i read and think of the implications the more i think it could work. However;

    The problem with the solution “#1, the pull away that keeps pulling away” is an even bigger problem than it first appears. Lets say the red team if full of penalty racking a$$holes, they have a full penalty box and have only fielded one lonely pivot, who is able to line up on the pivot line. The blue team has a full line up but the red pivot is slightly faster than their fastest skater. At the whistle the red pivot takes of at jammer speed. The blue team has no oportunity to catch her (since she was lined up on the pivot line to begin with they couldn’t use a wall to catch her), the blue jammer cannot call off the jam since she hasn’t made her first pass yet and is not lead. When the red pivot catches up to the blue blockers, all the blue blockers recieve a major penatly thanks to rule 6.10.15
    Thats 4 penatlies for doing nothing wrong. plus the red pivot has been able to burn off a lot of time for her team mates in the bin.
    That’s not really fair is it? The blue team can have better strategy, team work, blocking and footwork skills and play 100% clean, but if the other team is even slightly faster they’ve lost before they’ve started. It’s just a race.
    Not only that, but if the red team gets their jammer back the red pivot still has the incentive to stay miles ahead of the other team, who are now out of play and cannot block the red jammer at all. The red pivot can still try to block the blue jammer though.
    I don’t see this as being any different from the runaway pussy problem. It’s turning a game of skill, teamwork, strategy and contact into a race. Which is boring.

    Your comments on that section:
    “1: Knowing that the possibility of a pullaway could happen in the first place, teams (especially when on the power jam) would be much more likely to keep at least one blocker at the front of the pack…”
    That doesn’t help if the pivot lines up on the pivot line, and even if there is another blocker they can line up at the front, or get lucky for a split second and end up at the front. once they’re in front it’s just a race, and there are a lot of ways for someone to end up at the front that don’t involve skill.

    “2: A team is only going to want to try to lap the pack if their jammer is in the penalty box, since they would have no reason to keep the pack slow. Once the jammer penalty is over, there’s no reason for the blue team to keep things fast…”
    If you’ve got the faster jammer why wouldn’t you want to be 3/4 of a lap ahead of the other skaters? They will be out of play and unable to block your jammer, you can still try to block theirs.

    “3: If the red team stays with the blue team, eventually someone is going to get tired, or get their skates crossed up, or make a mistake. Remember, all would take for the pullaway to fail is for the chasing (red) team to peel off and re-goat a single blue blocker. They don’t need to recapture them all to stop the pullaway, although it may be a good idea to do that eventually to lessen the possibility of a re-pullaway.”
    This goes back to my example, if you’re executing a pull-away, having fewer people is an advantage, fewer people means less chance of someone to get goated or tripping or getting tired. Having more people in the box is an advantage again. Teams will likely start choosing to only field a single, speedy pivot during a power jam.

    Im not too worried about the fact that the power jam could essentially become a guaranteed non-scoring jam but i am worried about the rear blockers being penalised unfairly in this situation, and without ANY hope of regaining the advantage. Any strategies for reclaiming the goat only work while that goat is still in proximity to the pack. once she’s half a lap ahead it’s game over.
    Remember this doesn’t only apply in power jams. If one team can stay more than 10ft in front of the other team, the pack is at the front and the front teams jammer cannot be blocked by the rear team. The rear teams jammer can be blocked and the rear team blockers are utterly useless unless they can catch up. Once again this is a disproportionate advantage, and one that does not necessarily go to the most skilled team. a team that has fewer players, who are slightly faster than the other team, and manage to get to the front before or on the whistle is automatically the winner. That’s why they’re called runaway pussys.

    Some people have suggested having the jam called off once that front team reached 10ft from the back of the other blockers. But doesn’t that just incentivise the slower team to stop and skate backwards to get the jam called and have another chance to goat in the next jam? Or if the forward team doesn’t want to have the jammer called off, and the other team is stopped, the foremost team will also have to stop. Stopped derby again.It’s creating the same problems as we are trying to solve.

    It’s unfortunate because your idea is otherwise pretty airtight, but this lapping the pack problem is very tricky and has the potential to ruin the game even more than the sausage and slow derby tactics.
    There’s got to be a way of keeping the pullaway team within reach of the rear team, (which would also eliminate the lapping problem) but i can’t think of one.

    The other solution to the pack problem (which i’ve suggested many times in my home league) is to simply give the head ref the option of issuing a “Pack is boring” pentaly which would go to any and all skaters responsible for the yawn-fest. The hand signal would of course be two middle fingers

    Reply

  43. [...] trouble during a (full-strength) jam. (This is old news and is covered extensively here  and here) While splitting the pack (forcing the refs to call ‘no pack’ and all blockers must disengage [...]

    Reply

  44. Posted by "Doc" Poole on 28 April 2013 at 3:24 am

    My wife has been playing roller derby for the last 4 years and until recently I’d never seen a team actually use not moving at all as a strategy. I assumed that the occasional slow jam just was something that happened every now and then. Her last bout the other team used this as a strategy exclusively, and it was incredibly frustrating for her team and like pulling teeth to watch. I read a great deal into what’s already been said and there have been changes to the rules in flat track recently to stop this from happening, but they’ve actually made them worse. I’m fine with the single whistle start but the jammers are starting way too close to the pack to gather enough momentum to break through an opposing teams non moving line of lame at the start. If I’m only restating the obvious I apologize I didn’t take the time to read every comment posted.
    She and I discussed this problem t length and it seems that this strategy has become a bit of a new trend. Skating skills of the pivot and blockers are now not as important as some teams ability to turn into an unmoving mass of girl parts. Before reading this I had given thought of rule revisions to disallow or even punish a team for this type of thing and came up with a few ideas. After stumbling onto this I felt pretty validated. Roller Derby should be a fluid forward moving game that encourages skaters to become better skaters, not immobile road hogs. Here’s my suggestion.

    1- Keep the single whistle start but move the jammers back 10-20 feet from the blocker starting line to allow them to gain some speed and momentum before encountering the pack.

    2- Redefine pack as to where the lead pivot and 2 or more blockers are at, the lead pivot and blockers do not have to be on the same team.

    3- Blockers 10 (or 20?) or more feet away from the pack have broken the pack and are out of play. There is no penalty, just no blocking or assisting their jammer until they close within a 10 (or 20?) foot radius of the pack. Any blocker that gets lapped by the lead pivot gets a major and goes to the box.

    4- Once a lead jammer is established the opposing team’s pivot becomes the lead pivot. However this may or may not be the best thing for the game. It would have to be play tested to see how well the dynamics would work simply to keep the jam moving forward.

    5- During a power jam the pivot who’s team jammer is in the box automatically sets the lead pivot position for the pack. Again this would need to be play tested.

    6- 30 second rule, if the lead pivot does not complete a lap in 30 seconds the ref has discretion to call the jam.

    So in reality rules number 1-3 might do the trick by themselves.

    Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated, I’m going to be writing the WFTDA and including some GoPro footage of the game I mentioned and maybe one footage of inter team jams using these rule modifications if I can get them inboard.

    Reply

    • Posted by "Doc" Poole on 28 April 2013 at 3:32 am

      *inboard = on board iPad auto corrected. Hand signal for rule #6 will be 2 extended middle fingers (great idea Jelli Knight)

      Reply

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