USARS Finalizes Derby Rules, Launches Olympic Aspirations

After months of planning, tweaks, beta tests, and input of feedback, USA Roller Sports has approved its first official set of roller derby rules for submission to the the USARS executive committee for final review. They are also to be used in USARS roller derby member leagues, effective immediately.

This marks yet another important step in roller derby’s international growth. Recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee nationally, and the International Roller Sports Federation (FIRS) internationally, USARS is—by law—the only organization in the United States that can launch a legitimate push for top-level international competition or Olympic inclusion of roller derby, or any rollerskating sport in general.

That’s good to know, especially with the re-emerging news that the International Olympic Committee has short-listed roller sports (which includes roller derby) as a possible addition to the 2020 Olympic Games.

Eight sports made the list for consideration. The competition roller sports faces include baseball, softball, karate, wushu, wakeboarding, sport climbing, and squash. There’s only room for one of these to make the cut, however, since the Olypmics have already committed to adding golf and rugby to the Games starting in 2016. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup, and all that.

Derby’s Olympic chances at this early stage in the game are likely slim. A final decision on which of the eight sports will make it in is to be made sometime in 2013. That’s too soon for the world (and men) to catch up to the sport’s explosive growth here in the United States. You can’t have an Olympic event without high-caliber athletes from all over the world taking part, after all.

Then again, all disciplines of a sport will be taken under consideration by the International Olympic Committee. Derby may have an outside chance at coming along for the ride if roller hockey, roller speed skating, and roller figure skating are deemed viable for the Summer Olympics, just as their ice skating counterparts have been part of the Winter Olympics program for decades.

Even if it’s too soon for derby to make it all the way, there are still thousands of amateur athletes within the USARS membership that have an opportunity to apply their skills to the sport of roller derby.

So that we know what those men and women might be getting themselves into, let’s familiarize ourselves with the style of roller derby USARS is bringing to the table.

The USARS set of rules were formed in a way not too dissimilar from the process the WFTDA is currently undertaking. A beta set of USARS rules were initially released, feedback was taken, and beta test games were played before a final document was compiled.

The big difference is that WFTDA rules are voted on by its players only, whereas USARS rules were a consensus of players, coaches, the community, and USARS itself. (Fans of roller derby, all.)

In a nutshell, the first stab at these rules are an attempt to bring together all the best ideas of the different rule sets out currently there. It will probably take a few years of actual game situations to iron out the kinks, but that’s to be expected with any new rules document.

You can grab the full set of USARS roller derby rules here (PDF). I’ll run through them from top to bottom and pick out some of the things that I like, the things I don’t like, and anything else that I feel is of interest. (Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.) For ease of comparison, if you don’t see a rule explicitly mentioned here, assume the USARS version to be the same as the WFTDA equivalent, or inconsequential enough to not make a huge difference.

USARS Roller Derby Rule Book 2012.01

RD10 Teams

RD10.04 Player Roles
(b) Pivot: Pivots are Blockers that have the potential to assume Active Scorer status. Pivots begin the jam on the Pivot Line.

Score a victory for the Occupy the Pivot Line movement: Pivots are required, by rule, to line up on the pivot line at the start of a jam. It’s where they belong!

RD20 Timing

RD20.08 Overtime Play. If the score is tied at the end of a game, the following will apply: After a one (1) minute break, the teams will play a five (5) minute Overtime Period, observing all rules of regular play. …

This makes a lot more sense, now that I think about it. If sixty minutes aren’t enough to find a winner, putting it all down to a single OT jam makes luck (good or bad) too big of a factor in the final result. Plus, why should we be limited to just two minutes (length of a jam in USARS, same as WFTDA) of extra derby, when we can have five?

Even better, there’s still the possibility for sudden death: Double overtime is one extra jam played with no lead jammer, and if that somehow doesn’t settle it, triple overtime makes the first team to score a point an immediate winner.

RD40 Start of Play

RD40.01 Participating in the Jam. Game play shall include only those eligible Game Roster players on the Track in an Upright Skating Position (on one skate or two, with no other body parts or equipment components touching the floor, except that a Jammer may start the jam with one hand down in the speed start position if s/he desires) and otherwise in compliance with starting position, equipment and uniform requirements at the jam start whistle (“Active Players”); all other players will be excluded from the jam at the jam start whistle and will be waved off the track by a referee (“Excluded Players”).

This is an overly complex way of saying two simple things: All players are released with a one-whistle start, and starting on a knee will exclude a player from playing in the jam.

It’s not explicitly stated here, but USARS rules also mandate a blocker “start box,” the rear of which is demarcated with a second line 10 feet behind the pivot line. Anyone wishing to participate in a jam must be completely inside this box and standing upright—no exceptions (and no loopholes).

This setup, along with the requirement of a forward-starting pivot, should be more than enough to get rid of overly-dumb jam start sequences that have been plaguing WFTDA play.

RD40.02 Direction of Play; Continuous Motion. Beginning at the sounding of the jam start whistle, and throughout the duration of the jam, all Active Players will continuously skate in a counterclockwise direction on the Track; clockwise movement on the Track is not permitted at any time. …

This makes the practice of backwards skating or stopping on the track while within the bounds of the defined pack a no-no. Stopping is okay when a player is too far ahead of the pack and is waiting for it to catch up, though. This is also a rule in current in banked track rules.

Rules that force an action on someone that they should be naturally doing anyway are something I’ve never understood. Especially in this case, where there may be situations where going backwards is tactically necessary if the pack is going forward very, very slowly, a common sight in flat track derby as it exists currently.

I can understand what this rule is attempting to do, but making clockwise skating illegal kills off some of the completely legitimate (though rare) reasons why you would need to do it.

However, required forward motion may actually turn out to be a redundant requirement when considering the consequences of this rule:

RD40.05 Defining the Pack. The Pack is the largest group of Blockers comprising players from both teams in proximity to one another, excluding Active Scorers, except as set forth herein. “Proximity” is maintaining a Relative Player Position not more than ten (10) feet apart. When two or more groups of Blockers comprise an equal number of players and are more than ten (10) feet from one another, the Pack is the largest group of Blockers most forward on the track. When two or more groups of Blockers exclusively comprise players from the same team, the Pack is the group comprising all Blockers on a team and positioned most forward on the track.

Thank God.

This pack definition is The Pack Solution, pretty much word-for-word. For those that haven’t yet seen it, this definition of the pack means that the no-pack scenario is now completely impossible to attain, defining the pack towards the front whenever possible.

Now, a team wanting to slow down the pack can only do it by physically blocking the other team. A team wanting to speed up the pack can only do it by evading those blocks and getting around everyone else on the other team. It’s completely fair, completely foolproof, and guaranteed to put meaningful pack play back into the game.

Full disclosure: USARS had contacted me not long after I published this idea, asking me permission to include it in their rules. I gave it, they tested it in a game, I clarified a thing or two, and then they added it to the rules pretty much on the spot. (In the USARS beta rule set released a few months ago, they used the WFTDA pack definition rule…and we all know how I feel about that.)

This is awesome. It’s not just that common sports sense prevailed, but in that I’ve essentially helped write the rules that may one day be distributed around the world and played with at the Olympic Games. I am literally squeeing right now.

However, there’s one bit about the pack rules that I don’t know what to make of, a pretty significant one that’s implied in rule RD40.06: There is no 20-foot engagement zone. You’re either in the 10-foot bound of the pack, or you’re out of play and subject to penalties if you block anyone.

This is and interesting take on in-play/out-of-play that I hadn’t seen before. I can’t visualize how this would affect pack play (particularly in the rear), so I’d like to see how this changes things before saying it’s a good or bad thing.

RD40.09 Determining Active Scorer. A Pivot may break from the Pack during his/her Jammer’s initial attempt to pass through the Pack and may become an Active Scorer once the opposing team’s Jammer has emerged from the Pack. …

Here’s a blast from the past: Pivots can become jammers at their own initiative. Panty passes are not required for a pivot to become a jammer, and in fact do not exist in this rule set.

Pivots need only to chase the lead jammer from the pack after he or she is declared as such, and they’re instantly eligible to score points. (A pivot can never be the first person to break out of the pack to score.) That team’s jammer then becomes a regular blocker (even though they are still wearing the star) for the rest of that jam. If a team’s jammer is in the penalty box, their pivot is ineligible to score, keeping power jams intact for their duration.

This restores the original purpose and position of the pivot in roller derby: The last line of defense that can cash-in superior defensive positioning within the pack for an inferior offensive opportunity on the jam, a trade-off that isn’t always the no-brainer that it appears to be.

Making the pivot relevant again adds a whole new layer of depth to the game. Soon, I’ll be diving deep into that topic as well as many others about the hows and whys of roller derby from new perspectives. If you’re a fan of WRDN on Facebook, you may have seen this teaser preview, a mysterious hint about what that’s going to be all about. (It’s going to be awesome, if you needed a second hint.)

Update August 2012: And if you want to see the idea and strategies behind active pivot play in roller derby, you can read that in Chapter 4 of the Another Derby Series: The True Role and Purpose of the Pivot.

RD40.11 Lead Scorer May Change Throughout the Jam. Following the initial determination of Lead Scorer, the opposing Active Scorer may assume Lead status by passing the Lead Scorer in bounds and without committing any penalty during the pass (a “Clean Pass”).

Another callback from banked track/classic derby. The lead jammer is literally the jammer in the lead, and that status can change if the other jammer earns it by passing the other jammer. Note the “lead scorer” and “active scorer” terminology is due to the fact that the player who has lead on the jam may be a pivot, and “lead pivot” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Neither does “lead scorer,” actually, but whaddaya gonna do.

There’s one nitpick I have here. Rule RD40.10 says if a lead scorer goes to the penalty box, lead status is forfeit and no one can call off the jam, despite the fact that the jammer or pivot not in the lead will be passing them as they get sent off.

This creates a loophole that would allow a team leading holding a moderate lead with time running out to prevent the other team from stopping the clock. If the leading team commits a jammer penalty while holding lead jammer status, the other team will never be able to call off the jam in an attempt to try and squeeze in one or two more jam starts or use time outs before the expiration of the period.

If you’re going to give a player the ability to earn back lead status, taking that ability away because of a penalty committed by the other team isn’t fair. For rules consistency, lead status must change when the trailing jammer/pivot passes the penalized jammer on the track or in the penalty box, only to disqualify someone from getting lead if both jammers were declared ineligible on their own initiative.

RD55 Penalties

RD55.02 Impact Fouls. Fouls (any action or movement prohibited by these Rules) committed during game play that impact or affect the movement or position of players on the Track will be subject to the following penalties, in accordance with the impact of the Foul upon the game:
a. No impact, no penalty: causing an opposing player to momentarily lose balance, but not Relative Player Position.
b. Minor (1 minute): causing an opposing player to lose Relative Player Position or advancing, improving or intentionally altering own position.
c. Major (2 minute): causing an opposing player to fall down or go out of bounds; significant impact to game play.

Look closely and you’ll see this is the “no minors” rule set that everyone wants the WFTDA to implement. Even though you can still get a “minor” penalty, there’s no accumulation of illegal-but-not-really-illegal actions. This will allow players (and officials) to play without having to worry about ticky-tack things that could come back to bite them later.

As a sports fan, this makes waaaaaay more sense. If a player does something “illegal” to another player, but no loss or gain is made from that action, why is it a penalty? Roller derby is a contact sport. Let ’em play.

The addition of a two-minute penalty means punishments will better fit crimes depending on how badly the foul changes the game, although I’m on the fence as to its implementation.

I like the fact that an illegal action severe enough to cause a skater to fall down is a major penalty. There’s a big difference between a back-blocking penalty that causes a player to lose one or two spots on the track, and a back-blocking penalty that causes a player to fall down and take out three or four players. That difference is now accounted for.

However, if what would normally be a minor penalty (causing someone to lose position) also directly causes a player to streak out-of-bounds, the language here states that action would be upgraded to a major.

I think this is meant to discourage last-gasp blocker kamikaze dives on a jammer on the verge of breaking out of the pack, a situation where both players often hit the floor or spill out of bounds. But that may also mean a relatively harmless minor becomes a major if the fouled-upon skater touches his or her skate on the boundary line, which sounds way too harsh a penalty.

In any event, if players are skilled enough to avoid getting penalties in the first place, this may not be a big issue. Especially when you factor in…

RD55.07 Fouling Out. A player receiving three (3) Major penalties in a single game, or any combination of seven (7) penalties in a single game will be declared ineligible to play the remainder of the game.

A full knockdown off a clean hit and its consequences are a part of the game. But a big hit that isn’t legal within established rules needs to be severely punished and carry severe consequences. The risk of a quick trip to the showers for over-doing it does just that.

Some of the most dangerous penalties are those that cause a fouled-upon skater to unexpectedly or awkwardly fall to the floor, where they are the most defenseless and are most liable to sustain (or cause) serious injuries. Since any illegal action that causes a skater to fall will be a two-minute major penalty in USARS rules, that means a player who is overly reckless will only get two chances to reign it in for fear of ejection upon the third, regardless of how many minor penalties they’ve accrued up to that point.

I’m really digging this. It feels as if it was implemented for the safety of everyone out there. A skater that can’t control themselves and is the primary cause of players to falling down left and right is a hazard to everyone out there, so maybe it’s better that they exit the game. If they keep doing it every game, that could be a sign that they’re not quite ready to play against other people in a safe manner—certainly not at a potential Olympic level of competition.

RD60 Serving Penalties

RD60.02 Penalty Box Capacity. No team may have more than three Blockers and one Active Scorer seated in the penalty box simultaneously.

In other words, up to four players from one team can be in the penalty box at once, potentially leaving a lone blocker to fend for themselves. Derby is a team sport, but it’s kind of hard for one person to be a “team.” I believe even a heavily penalized team should have at least two players on the track at a minimum, like in WFTDA play.

As a consequence, the absolute minimum number of players that could potentially be on the track at once during an active jam is three: One blocker from each team, and one scoring jammer/pivot on one team. (Ick.) If that lone scoring player also gets a penalty…

RD60.04 Active Scorer Penalty. An Active Scorer will serve the entirety of any penalty imposed. If both Active Scorers are seated in the penalty box at the same time, the head referee will call off the jam and begin a new one. …

Playing jammer (er, scorer) musical chairs is pointless when the emphasis is on a jammer passing people on the track for points. If neither team has a jammer out, even for a moment, there should be no jam. Banked track play has a similar provision in its last jam major rules, stating that if both jammers get whistled off the track, the jam (and the game) ends immediately.

The next jam after a double-jammer penalty situation will have both teams start with a jammer and pivot, minus the appropriate number of blockers. Any position players still in the penalty box will remove their helmet covers and come back in as a regular blocker when their penalty expires.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

There’s my rundown of the rules. For the most part, I’m positive on them even with one or two things I personally don’t like. (But what do I know?) If it turns out those little things were better for the game after all, then great. If it turns out the stuff I like turns out to be horrible for the game, that’s great too. As long as we know what works and what doesn’t work, we can all build toward a better set of rules for everyone.

But rules are only rules. How they’re applied by people playing the game is a different animal entirely.

When looked at on the whole, how would the USARS style of roller derby differ from the WFTDA style of play that everyone is used to?

It seems clear that USARS rules will almost guarantee a faster tempo of play. Making the front of the pack the favorable place to be, combined with the fact that lead jammers will almost always have a scoring threat hot on their heels, makes outright speed just as of important skill to have as blocking and evasion.

Speaking of blocking, USARS derby will put more emphasis on pack blocking and blocker engagement skills. Blockers will need make sure that their jammer gets out first while simultaneously worrying about keeping both the opposing jammer AND pivot behind them if they have any hope at a legit offensive opportunity.

It’s clear that a set of rules like these are designed primarily for those that have a higher level of skating skill. That’s not to say that someone brand new to skating or derby can’t play in a USARS game, because rules are only part of the equation; the level of the skaters you’re playing against is just as important as the rules that dictate how they play.

Two different sets of roller derby rules, for two different groups that have two different desires about participating in the sport. Why is that a bad thing?

USARS rules have, in my opinion, a much higher potential “top-end” to them. WFTDA rules (as they stand at this moment in time, anyway) are written in a way that reward slow play, not letting a fast team use their outright speed to any kind of advantage. Instead, teams battle to out-slow each other. The only possible end result of that path can be ultimate slowness… also known as no movement. It was a result that was realized, to the displeasure of many.

However, in USARS rules, if someone is attempting to pull away from you in the pack with speed, it’s possible to out-speed them by going faster. There is no fixed “ultimate speed,” because someone who works harder can always go faster. For those that can’t be as fast, they can be better in other ways to neutralize and prevent that speed from breaking out by working towards attaining “ultimate blocking” skills, to which there is also no upper limit.

This is what too many people within the WFTDA community can’t seem to wrap their head around. People that believe the faster style of derby USARS is proposing is a one-dimensional “go fast, turn left” game. In reality, it is they who do not understand how roller derby is “supposed” to work as a sport. There’s way more to it than that.

But even so, if you don’t like these rules, or fast derby, or anything that isn’t WFTDA derby, there’s a really easy thing you can do about it:

Don’t play USARS derby.

If you don’t want to go through the bother of changing the style of play you’re used to, that’s perfectly fine. No one is going to take over the WFTDA and tell its players to roller derby in a way they don’t want to play it.

As long as skaters just want to play roller derby in a fun, competitive environment, the WFTDA (and the MRDA) will be there for them, just like the WAKA is there for people who want to play kickball. (You can watch their championship game online, too.) It needs to be, and I want it to be, because everyone who wants to play derby, regardless of skill, should have that opportunity.

However, there are people who want to play derby in a serious (and I mean fucking serious) competitive environment. This is something that WFTDA/MRDA cannot provide without lessening their focus on the core of players that just want to play derby. They should not be left behind at the expense of those wanting to push the sport forward.

If I have anything to say about it, they won’t be.

But by that same token, those wanting to play for fun shouldn’t be holding back the potential of those that want to push the sport forward, a consequence of trying to cram everyone into a “one-size-fits-all” concept for the sport.

Right now, USARS is the one willing to pick up the torch and take it all the way to the Olympic cauldron if the opportunity to do so becomes available.

But like any torch relay, the ones who started carrying it need to recognize when it’s time to start thinking about passing it to the ones waiting to receive it at the next level.

38 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Windy,

    First, I wanted to say that I like your blog a lot. I have been following it.

    1) The Jammer shall wear the inverse colors of his or her team so that the crowd can see the jammer more easily (example: a team’s uniform is a black jersey with green helmet, the jammer’s helmet shall be black with a green jersey.) Pivots are designated by the stripe on their helment and two armbands with the team’s logo.

    2) No jammer is permitted to have an unfair advantage over his or her opponent. Jammers may not begin from a kneeling position. To set up for a jam, the jammers on both teams must take the speed skater position just behind their line. The jammer is then expected to skate as fast as possible to catch up with the pack and penetrate it. Any jammer that does not take the speed skater position shall earn no points for his or her team as a penalty during the subsequent jam.

    (Example of skater position:

    3) Blockers and pivots are to take a special position when beginning a jam, in preparation for the whistle: one foot behind the player with all four wheels on the track, and the other foot en pointe, with the player’s weight upon it. All other positions are not lawful.

    4) Skaters may only skate clockwise once a jam has been called off, in order to get back into position and set up again, but never in play. Skaters may only stop skating entirely if injured or setting up for the next jam and are banned from stopping to gain a tactical advantage. Stopping or continuing at a sluggish pace (defined as slower than a man can do a slow jog) shall be treated by the referees as cheating.

    5) The track shall be redesigned thus: there will be four lines. The first line will be the flash line, demarcated by diagonal yellow and black striped tape. Five feet behind that is the pivot line, marked in yellow tape: pivots must have one foot on the line before skating. Five feet behind the pivots is the blocker box, marked in red tape. All blockers must be inside the box for the jam to start Ten feet behind the blocker box is the jammer line, marked across the track in blood red tape. The jammer must have one skate on the red line to begin the jam.

    6) There will be two whistles blown: one for the blockers and pivots and one for the jammers. On the first whistle, the entire pack MUST start skating at full speed toward the flash line ahead of them Once past the flash line, they must continue a vigorous pace for the full jam and all jams during the game. Failure to comply with this rule may result in the expulsion of the entire pack and/or a deduction of up to 100 points at the discretion of the referees.



    • Posted by Technical Difficulties on 13 February 2012 at 10:45 am

      #4: if you get out of play ahead of the pack, allowing the pack to catch up to you is cheating? This on top of no engagement zone, just the 10′ blocker-to-blocker rule for pack definition? You also have very little opportunity for a skater who gets the wind knocked out of him/her to catch up to the pack in a reasonable amount of time.

      Generally speaking, deductions of up to a bazillion points at the discretion of the referees are not going to work well, unless we’re using “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” scoring.

      #8: if “change of strategy” is the only reason to swap out a skater, you’ll have many starters die of exhaustion, or else lose millions of points per game as skaters tire enough to need replacing.

      #10: unless they manage to get (and have legal resources to “vigorously defend”) a trademark on “roller derby”, we don’t need a rule making WFTDA/MRDA Queen and King of All Derbyness.

      #11: The Head Referee is the Head Referee, and should generally be the most experienced ref who is serving as pack, not jammer, referee. The jam timer (an NSO) should be blowing the starting whistle, unless USARS rules changed that.


  2. Oops!! I accidentally erased what I was going to do before I launched into my schpiel! Sorry, very sorry, Windy, but the part I erased asked you what you thought of the rules I have come up with, since you seem to have a lot of experience with this sport. I am hoping you will continue to read what I have written anyway and don’t think I am some nut…. (Turning red)

    7) The referee shall only blow the second whistle when all pivots and blockers have crossed the flash line. Once this is accomplished, and the second whistle is blown, the jammers on both teams MUST begin a nimble sprint and proceed to attempt to penetrate the pack, and they are forbidden to skate slower than the average man can jog. Referees shall treat failure to skate at regulation speed as a major penalty with the added punishment of a point deduction, up to and including 150 points. Expulsion from the game results for repeat offenders.

    8) Bull pen rule: Each team shall maintain a roster of 15, not 14, players, as it is exactly 3 times the amount of players needed on the track. The bull pen shall be placed back to back with the penalty box in the center of the track, with the remaining ten players seated. Interaction with the penalty box by team members is not allowed.
    Coaches may replace players on the track during a game if the player is not playing according to standard or to execute a new play, switching between jams. Players may be replaced on the track in cases where a teammate has been expelled from the game and in cases of injury.

    9) Male skaters:
    Male skaters must wear protective gear over their genitals during bouts as team policy. Skaters who skate without protective gear risk testicular torsion, testicular rupture, pelvic fracture, penile fracture, and possible internal bleeding, all of the above requiring hospitalization. MRDA and WFTDA insurance does not cover intentional disregard of the rule.

    The legal hit zone for a male skater is defined as being between the lower rim of the collar bone and the upper thigh, 2/3 the way down the tibia. Intentional hits to the groin and inner thigh are a penalty and shall result in a five minute stay in the penalty box by the perpetrator. (NOTE: I noticed MRDA rules were lifted from WFTDA with this oversight.)

    10) WFTDA and MRDA are the authorities on Men’s and Women’s Roller Derby. All skating and non-skating personnel must be at least eighteen to participate. Players must be male to skate in the men’s league and female to skate with the women’s league. Transgender individuals must have lived as their assigned sex for 2 years prior to making the team. Referees can be of any gender. Non-skating individuals affiliated with MRDA and WFTDA may never be discriminated against based on age, sex, gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. Disabled individuals may participate so long as their disability is not a hindrance or obstacle to participation.

    11) Head referee rule: The head ref is the person who blows the whistle to begin the jam. For difficult decisions on penalties he may stop the clock and call in the refs to confer on a call. He has the power to throw coaches, spectators, and non-skating personnel out of the building if they are interfering with play or are harassing others. He may also stop the game entirely in an emergency at any time.

    So, whaddya think? Any better than USARS?


    • “9) Male skaters:
      Male skaters must wear protective gear over their genitals during bouts as team policy. Skaters who skate without protective gear risk testicular torsion, testicular rupture, pelvic fracture, penile fracture, and possible internal bleeding, all of the above requiring hospitalization. MRDA and WFTDA insurance does not cover intentional disregard of the rule.

      The legal hit zone for a male skater is defined as being between the lower rim of the collar bone and the upper thigh, 2/3 the way down the tibia. Intentional hits to the groin and inner thigh are a penalty and shall result in a five minute stay in the penalty box by the perpetrator. (NOTE: I noticed MRDA rules were lifted from WFTDA with this oversight.)”

      It’s not an oversight. Also they weren’t ‘lifted’ as that smacks of theft (and I’m not saying that’s your intention, I just feel words are powerful and should be used as such).

      MRDA has been working with WFTDA and were allowed to utilize the same ruleset, but (with permission) changed all pronouns to gender-neutral ones (instead of femine pronouns only) and were given the go-ahead to watermark the ‘MRDA’ rule-set with their logo.

      In regards to genital specific protective gear, some leagues require it, some don’t. It shouldn’t be up to a governing body to determine genital protection. We’ve had a number of people who have brought up horror stories CAUSED by wearing an athletic cup (including testicular torsion from the edge of a cup). I also fail to see where an athletic cup would prevent pelvic fracture and internal bleeding. Should everyone also be required to wear padded shirts as a hit might break a rib?
      Should a transmale skater lacking the equipment to need an athletic cup be required to wear one?
      Will the refs be performing cup checks along with gear checks?

      I also fail to see why a hit to a legal blocking zone should become a penalty at 5 times the current penalty box stay because someone gets hit in the groin.

      Girl Fawkes
      (speaking not as a representative of MRDA, but her own self)


  3. Posted by Costa Ladeas on 12 February 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I’ll tell you this……

    USARS is gonna attract a different fanbase than WFTDA. The sports fan will end up going to USARS. Take that to the bank.


  4. These rules sound awesome! It makes sense for USARS to put in more athletic rules into derby, and derby will probably bifurcate. Those that want to play casually will play WFTDA rules, the rest will play USARS.

    The question is whether USARS will have a national tournament as well. WFTDA’s big 5 tournaments ensure that WFTDA rules will have an enduring place in the derby world. Unless USARS also organize a championship of similar calibre, their rules will be swiftly forgotten.

    What I can see happening, should USARS rules take hold, is leagues having their home teams play WFTDA so the less athletic skaters can get their chance to skate. The travel teams, though, would play USARS. I can’t wait to see this brand of derby–high speed, more tactical derby.


  5. Regarding overtime:

    “This makes a lot more sense, now that I think about it. If sixty minutes aren’t enough to find a winner, putting it all down to a single OT jam makes luck (good or bad) too big of a factor in the final result.”

    I’m not sure I agree with the logic there. What about a game that is tied after 59 minutes going into a final jam? How is luck any less of a factor in that situation than it is in a WFTDA-rules overtime jam?

    Point is, eventually there has to be a last jam — assuming the score is tied going into it, why is it any more or less fair if it happens at 59, 60, 65 or 70 minutes into the game?

    That said, I actually do like these progressive overtime rules heading up to sudden death. It may be years and years before I ever see a USARS-rules triple overtime, but I bet it will be FUCKING RAD when it finally happens.


    • Posted by Chris Jones on 13 February 2012 at 7:31 am

      I agree w/ Tracy Williams on overtime–as long as the score totals seen under the current ruleset don’t decrease substantially with the new USARS rules (I personally would expect more scoring, but we’ll have to see in real gameplay). The high totals and variance in scoring (it’s rare to see two single jams in a bout with the same score) makes prospects for an exact tie at the end of regulation very low. IMO the scoring rates are similar in Cricket (and yes, this is probably the only similarity between the two sports), where if a tiebreaker is necessary the teams play a super over, i.e. similar to a single final jam.


    • I’m not sure I agree with the logic there. What about a game that is tied after 59 minutes going into a final jam? How is luck any less of a factor in that situation than it is in a WFTDA-rules overtime jam?

      Point is, eventually there has to be a last jam — assuming the score is tied going into it, why is it any more or less fair if it happens at 59, 60, 65 or 70 minutes into the game?

      Luck can be a factor with a minute left in regulation, yes. But then again, it could be with two minutes left in regulation. Or five minutes left. Or ten. Or 24. Or during the first jam of the game. Point is, a team has a full 60 minutes to try to build a lead large enough to protect against bad luck, or to try and stay close enough to capitalize on good luck. Over time, things usually even themselves out even if something weird happens in the dying seconds of a close game.

      In a single-OT jam, though, there’s no chance for things to work themselves out. Five minutes (two or three jams, probably) is a fairer indicator of which team is better overall.

      Really close football games often come down to sheer luck, like where a fumble may bounce or who just happens to have the final possession. Or a coin flip, which is why the NFL changed the OT rules for the playoffs last season. First to score isn’t always the best indication of who the better football team is, especially if you come out on the wrong end of a 50/50 situation and never have a fair chance to get the ball back.


    • With all due respect, WindyMan, I think you are missing my point. I’m specifically talking about a situation in which the game is already tied with only enough time for one more jam. Why is the outcome “fair” if that final jam starts with 1 minute left to play in regulation, but “not fair” if that final jam happens as overtime?

      The logic of your stance really leads to “a game should not end on a given jam if the score was tied at the beginning of it,” which I doubt you actually believe.

      There is nothing magical about 60 minutes that means the team leading at the end of it is better and objectively “deserved” to win; it is just the point at which the rules say the game is over.


    • In the NFL if it goes to OT a team can win a coin toss, get a good kickoff return, and a couple of good runs, and FG, WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!


  6. Posted by James McAllister on 13 February 2012 at 9:50 am

    There are still some problems in the rules I pointed out back in September, but appear to be still present. Off the top of my head, my favorite is this.

    RD40.03 allows you to burn off a lot of time by constantly false starting. Per RD25.02 the period clock only stops for time outs. Though there is an exception to not have a jam break of 30 seconds due to a false start, you could easily take up 30 seconds this way (wait, is this 10 feet? or is that 10 feet? I’m confused, point it out again?) Imagine this happening at the end of a game if you had a lead. The rules don’t really define what prompt is. You also only get the penalty for doing it 3 consecutive times, so you could do it twice every jam to really burn things up.


    • Posted by Technical Difficulties on 13 February 2012 at 11:39 am

      If they still have a hash mark every 10 feet then it’s not ambiguous, and given the 10′ pack member spacing (unlike 5′ in banked) I hope they keep those markings.

      There might need to be a referee discretion option for chronic/intentional false starts; however, not only is it not a penalty until the third time, but with the Pivot able to score and a good set of blockers slowing down the unpenalized Jammer, it’s not nearly so disadvantageous as it looks to be even 20′ back.


    • Posted by Technical Difficulties on 14 February 2012 at 10:52 pm

      Repeated false starts might also be penalizable under RD55.04c (Avoidable delay of game).


  7. Posted by Nothing new to a lot of us! on 13 February 2012 at 10:01 am

    While I haven’t skated in any of the USARS rules bouts, nor do I foresee myself doing so, I have skated dozens of bouts and seen dozens more played under the rule sets that more closely align with some of the major “changes” in this USARS one, and I can tell you this…

    In my opinion, single-whistle starts and having pivots that matter make for far more exciting, strategy-filled bouts that have a tendency to be much closer in score. Having to control both the front and rear of the pack at all times means you have to think far more than if you’re just worried about the back. Having two skaters who can become active jammers means you have to control the pack, not just skate in it.

    As to scoring, this type of rule set encourages a bout where teams are always battling for points, not just accumulating them by skating circles around a stand-still pack during endless power jams. You will see lower scores than you will in a WFTDA game, and those scores will tend to be a lot closer owing to the battle for points on each jam between jammers who can lose lead jammer status at any time.

    There will be a lot of 2-0, 3-2, 1-0, 4-3 jams. The 16-0, 24-0, 30-0 etc speed skating around a captured blocker jams won’t happen.

    Such games are not for everybody, and for those who like 20X, 50X, and even 100X type scores these rules will suck.

    But for those who are interested in a more strategic and faster game and want to see a close approximation of this style of derby, check out a league / bouts played by those that play something other than WFTDA.


    • Posted by Lisbeth on 17 August 2012 at 9:33 am

      “I haven’t skated USARS…” Oh ok… so you have nothing to contribute.

      I have skated both. Can it.


      • “I haven’t skated USARS…” Oh ok… so you have nothing to contribute.

        I haven’t skated USARS, either. I’m pretty sure I’m in a position to contribute to the discussion about it.

        Plus, this commenter appears to have played under MADE/OSDA rules, which are effectively the same as USARS rules (scoring pivot, moving packs). I think they have a lot more to contribute to roller derby than someone who shuts out a good comment without even considering where they’re coming from.

  8. 4) The idea of rule four is to always be skating forward in a counter clockwise motion. The track is a giant oval. If a blocker goes ass over teakettle at point a, then it is up to the blocker to get up as fast as possible and haul ass back into formation in the pack at point b. Since the idea is to not get knocked down in the first place in the game, it will push skaters to fight harder to stay on their feet. Further, the skating should be fast, so the very worst case scenario is to wait until the pack comes back to the blocker.

    8) Skaters who have a shattered ankle are just not going to skate, and a player who gets canned by the referee for fighting or for hijinks might just have to be replaced-an arrogant piece of shit jammer with a horrible attitude may infect the whole team and make everybody there’s life hell, so why bother letting her/him continue a tantrum on the bench when a simple replacement should fix the problem, especially if it permanently renders a team minus one player for the rest of the game? Who wants to play like that? And I might add that in other sports coaches take players out of the game all the time when they are no longer playing up to par or are just being a total and utter douche: baseball coaches relieve their pitchers all the time, basketball coaches will bench a ball hog, and hockey coaches will sometimes change the whole roster. A tired skater is one who is no longer able to skate up to par.

    11) The Head Referee should be very experienced: I have no disagreement there, and he should be the most experienced, in fact. However, were it up to me, I would look to baseball for answers on how to change this up (hey, it has been around as a sport for 200 years; they must be doing something right.) In baseball the head umpire is behind home plate. He is there because that is where the plays begin, and that is the best spot to see what is happening during the game as a whole, the big picture. By his call the game starts. By his call plays are final. The other umps are then free to pay attention to the runners and the outfielders.

    What does this have to do with roller derby?-It makes things simpler. The head ref should be the big kahuna on the outside track, paying attention to everything that is happening so the other referees are free to pay attention to the specifics. With him blowing the whistle he can stop a cheating jammer before the jammer starts, and stop a game of stroller derby before it leaves the starting area. The jam timer should be able to focus on nothing but the clock for the sake of accuracy and his job should be autonomous from governing the game at all.

    9) Male skaters wearing a cup or some sort of protective gear: I don’t know what has to go there, but something eventually will. Comparable sports already use them as a rule: around the world, rugby clubs and hockey leagues (and even some skateboarders) wear somthing down there to protect the wedding tackle. They have been at this a lot longer than us, so maybe it would be wise to look to them on the matter, especially since the level of skating has been getting better and better with each year and shows no sign of slowing down. That’s first of all. Second, roller derby is a sport meant to be fast with hard hits: it is much more likely that a player is going to get injured from not wearing protective gear than wearing protective gear, and that includes the groin for guys. A hard enough hit to the groin can cause a man to lose consciousness from the pain, a misplaced skate making contact there can rip up the vas deferens like confetti, and because there is a lot of blood flow in and out of that area, testicular rupture (meaning crushed balls, not just a little owie) can lead to a lot of bleeding internally, in addition to certain sterilization. (Read about hockey’s early days in Canada-it was grisly.) Ipso facto, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    Third, a player that wears protective gear is more likely to be able to get back up and keep playing than one that is downed, meaning better odds of scoring. I am certainly no gear Nazi and have no desire to see players waddle around the track looking like marshmallows, but the standard should be wrist guards, helmet, knee pads, cup or equivalent, mouth guard, and optional shin guards for a fella to get on the track. Not too much, not too little.

    Fourth, because MRDA rules are derived from WFTA, it has no provision for what happens if player A intentionally makes contact with the crotch of player B, making him fall to the ground and eliminating him as an obstacle. (The chart on the website would suggest the play is legal.) I don’t know about you, but the idea of some guy intentionally slamming another guy in the nuts and then skating away to score doesn’t sit too good with me morally. The reason I make it a big penalty is because, unlike other injuries, a slam like that can make a man fall to the ground and be unable to play (why do you think they teach it as a skill in women’s self defense classes?!) How much longer would it be for a jammer to figure out that all he has to do is make a well placed check to the nuts, skate over his opponents (who are left on the ground coughing in misery, assuming this is a fast skate and the impact was big, plus few of them are wearing cups since league won’t mandate it) and score big points with NO obstacles? How much longer would it take for a blocker to try the same trick and make a clean path for his jammer, while most members of the other team can put up no defense? It would be bad for the sport overall, and promote a terrible image of it when so many have tried so hard to make it legitimate. We’ve already been down the anything goes route and it became a travesty of itself. There is no need to return.



  9. Fifth, insurance: insurers are fickle. I have heard of many cases where the insurance company refused to pay the bill when a client refused to follow proscribed safety precautions. Now, the arrangement with MRDA and WFTDA players is that they won’t sue the league in case of an injury, but no agreement exists between players and insurers or the leagues and the insurers. If a whole shitload of players (or even single ones) refuse to wear the protection, the insurers might sever ties with the league: they are businessmen and see the league as an investment, and if there is too much risk involved, they will bail. You’ll have thousands of skaters with no insurance in a sport with a high risk of injury, you might even lose players that way. You also might look stupid to the general public when so many sports organizations, professional and non, require a cup or something like it for insurance purposes; hell, Pee Wee football even requires it. (See legitimacy concerns-why would people who put their sons in cups for Pee Wee take their kids to matches to see adults who won’t spend the money on a cup for themselves?.) This might not be a big concern just yet, and isn’t right now, but I promise it will be someday soon. The bigger this thing gets, the more important it will be. As for a ref doing cup checks, these are grown men, so no-but the insurance company might have a word to say about it.

    Last, the transgender thing: I should have been more clear; I was actually looking at a statute the Olympics and FIRS already use for guidance. I presume that the skater in question is already post operation. The truth is, there are a lot of sick tickets in this world, and there is a lot of talk of wanting derby to go to the X games or something or other like it. The sick tickets might try to take advantage of legitimate transgendered concerns, people who would cheat their way to a spot. It wouldn’t be fair to a real transgendered woman to share the track with a person only pretending to be one so he can be on the team.

    10) Getting a trademark on roller derby is not likely since it has been around since at least the 1930s. However, I guarantee that if WFTDA and MRDA do not get ahead of the curb and claim derbydom for themselves ala Simba claiming Pride Rock, USARS is waiting in the wings to do it for them. There is plenty of division to go around in derby and all it would take for USARS to take the prize would be to present alternatives to WFTDA and MRDA, whether in the rule book or changing the style of play or even simply paying the skaters to skate. WFTDA in particular was founded by the skaters, for the skaters. However, crowds are starting to gather, and more than just a couple hundred. Expansion is taking place in other nations. Money is coming in. And on many teams, skaters are improving: the teams that do best are the ones that listen to fans and intentionally cultivate a high quality athlete, many also having a rec league. (Look at Texas for reference.) A choice can be made here. MRDA and WFTDA can make decisions to allow more growth in derby, keep it profitable so it can continue getting bigger, make sure you got the talent, and blow the roof of this sucker, or, bicker and bitch into oblivion, allow the skaters who want to stay small minded and petty and do things against the interest of the SPORT (like throwing tantrums over fans booing them when they skate slower than a slug can fart, or whining about the loss of a tutu to the team uniform) to dominate, and in the end, do the dirty work for USARS: they smell money and aren’t attempting an overt co-opt of derby at this very moment because WFTDA is doing a great job of spreading it to other lands for them, making their path easier when they change the rules to be more appealing to fans and skaters fed up with the usual derby drama, steal the players, and present the sport to the IOC, with all that goes with it (read: multi-million dollar deals with Armour All, endorsements, NBC sports, etc., just like skateboarding.) Speaking figuratively, WFTDA and MRDA, the skaters, the fans, the coaches, the families, and the promoters are the rightful heirs of this sport, not USARS. They should be the ones to reap the rewards, to see it prosper rather than have some bloated beaureaucrat steal it out from under them, possibly eventually causing their demise. They were there when it was just a bunch of Texas nutballs skating, and deserve to see it through to the bitter end.


  10. Posted by N8 on 14 February 2012 at 7:15 am

    As usual, I reply with a simple nitpick, instead of anything of actual merit:
    “The big difference is that WFTDA rules are voted on by its players only, whereas USARS rules were a consensus of players, coaches, the community, and USARS itself.”

    Refs/official also get a vote in WFTDA, although the way it’s weighted makes an official’s vote less than a skater’s vote. But, they do get to submit ideas/suggestions for rules changes just the same as skaters.

    And becoming an NSO is something any person should be easily able to do if they live near a WFTDA league.


    • Posted by Lisbeth on 17 August 2012 at 9:35 am

      WFTDA skaters are being indignant and dismissive of fans, refs and other skaters about that stupid STUPID scrumming tactic, among other things. So of course the votes of non-skaters is weighted.

      WFTDA hijacked the sport. USARS is bringing it back.


      • WFTDA hijacked the sport. USARS is bringing it back.

        Not a “hijacking.” I think what’s happening here is that the WFTDA found a Really Shiny Awesome Thing, but doesn’t quite know how to use it to its fullest potential. Others want to help them do so, but a lot of the people in the WFTDA don’t want to share the Really Shiny Awesome Thing even though some of them know exactly what to do with it so everyone will benefit.

        C’mon WFTDA, share the Really Shiny Awesome Thing with everyone. It wasn’t yours to begin with, so stop claiming it as such.

  11. Posted by Eliza on 14 February 2012 at 10:40 am

    I’ll admit that as a small town skater my first initial reaction to the USARS rules set was “WTF?” Now that I’ve read the whole thing through a few more times, and read explanations and opinions such as yours I’m starting to the see the benefits. However, a common fan complaint that I get is that the rules are hard to understand and that it is difficult to know whats going on. Now maybe its because I’ve ‘grown up’ playing WFTDA rules, but I’m not entirely convinced that USARS rules are going to be that much easier for a fan to understand.


    • A fair observation, Eliza. It’s going to take many years of revisions to make sure rules are cut-and-dried for everyone.

      Personally, I feel USARS rules are much more straightforward than WFTDA rules. The key is that USARS focuses more on what players must legally do (making everything else illegal and therefore a penalty), where as WFTDA rules go a little too overboard with saying what’s illegal only, leaving situations where something not accounted for is not explicitly legal, but isn’t a penalty, either (loopholes).

      But in the end, I’m just wanting to make sure people understand what USARS was trying to do with its set of rules. Even if you or someone else doesn’t think much will come of it, the fact is that a lot of people don’t like WFTDA rules (including those within the WFTDA), so now there’s a new option out there.


    • Posted by Lisbeth on 17 August 2012 at 9:40 am

      10 pages of rules (USARS) vs 40-something pages of rules (WFTDA)…

      I’m sorry, what’s so hard to understand again?


  12. Posted by The Real Question on 14 February 2012 at 1:07 pm

    USARS ruleset looks like it will result in:

    1) Low scoring games

    2) Highly penalized games

    Will this be exciting?


    • well soccer is low scoring yet there are at least a BILLION fans.


    • 1) USARS games will probably be lower-scoring, I agree. But there is no direct correlation between “excitement” and total number of points scored. College basketball games are lower-scoring than NBA games, for example. But that doesn’t mean college basketball is worse. It’s just different. It’s played at a different pace.

      Think of it like money. If I told you you could have $100,000,000,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars, or $500 U.S. dollars, which would you choose? People who like big, flashy numbers would take the Zimbabwe money without thinking twice. People who understand value would take the U.S. dollars, because they’re actually worth more.

      Strictly judging by the rules, a USARS point is worth way more than a WFTDA point, in terms of how well coordinated and how well a team must work to earn it, in my opinion. Of course, I say this blind to seeing USARS games in action, so opinion is open to change.

      2) Maybe, but probably not. The WFTDA seemed to go backwards with its last rules revision, in regards to penalties (among other things). I hope they’ll get that cleaned up for this year. Still, assuming a set of rules will directly result in more penalties is to be ignorant of the factor of how skilled the players playing the game are.


    • Posted by Seen similar rules before on 16 February 2012 at 9:56 am

      Lower scoring? Yes. But lower scoring and more evenly matched by both teams. You’ll wind up getting point spreads of a factor of 1.1/1 to 1.3/1, and none of those looney 50/1 or 100/1 scores. Again, for some 400 point wins are exciting. These folks will hate the USARS rules. But if close scores – even if they are low – are what floats your boat then you’ll like the USARS rules.

      As to penalties, what I do know is that bouts played under rule sets with “no minors” tend to have about 5 to 10 penalties in TOTAL during the bouts. For some reason, when the rules are expressed in a “this is allowed, and everything else is a penalty” as opposed to “these are the penalties, and everything else is allowed”, skaters tend to have a clearer notion of what they are supposed to be doing, and the bout winds up having far fewer skaters in the penalty box. Just anecdotal observation though.


    • Posted by Lisbeth on 17 August 2012 at 9:36 am

      One word: SCRUMMING.

      How much fun is THAT to watch? I’ve watched fans walk out of high-scoring, stand-still games of derby. It’s sad and needs to stop.


  13. Personally, there are some things I like about it, somethings I dislike about them (The # of players allowed in the box at one time, the 2 minute majors, Runaway pivots)

    I do like continuous skating, I do like no knee starts, but I think the WFTDA rules would be better served with a single whistle/upright (I don’t care about racing, but no ‘downed’ starts) forward motion start.

    But I’m not in nor near enough a WFTDA league to have a say. Though contrary to the article here, my team has been a USARS member for more than a few years and as a Coach/Head Ref during the time the rules sets were being worked on, I can’t say I nor other than 1 league in Mobile that is largely defunct and VERY Green, can I say I know of anyone who was given a opportunity to provide feedback.


  14. Posted by Scar Trek on 15 June 2012 at 9:47 am

    Is there any video footage of bouts played under USARS rules yet?


    • None that I’m aware of. If there was any out there I’d probably be the first to find it. But there may be soon, with the news that USARS is going to be putting on regional/national championship tournaments, nine in total (8 regional, 1 national) later this year.

      If there’s a USARS (or OSDA/MADE/etc) rules game anywhere near me, I’m going to go to it, and also see if I can get it recorded for posterity. Part of the reason why I put up the Gamecast page was so I could try some non-WFTDA/MRDA/RDCL derby out there as well, so hopefully there will be the opportunity to get some, if not host some if someone else is doing it, before the end of the year is out.


    • Posted by Lisbeth on 17 August 2012 at 9:38 am

      I thought someone videod the beta game we played in Mobile last year. It was a fast-paced, exhausting game, from a skater’s perspective. Low crowd turn-out, simply because of lack of advertising, so I couldn’t gauge crowd reaction. I’ll see if anyone posted it.


  15. Posted by Jennifer on 8 November 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I have just retired from WFTDA play after 7 years and you know why? I am sick to death of what WFTDA derby has become: Scrum starts, nitpicky pentalties that have nothing to do with the game, 15 minute time-outs for The Referee Show, sloooowwww skating, and no more good old fashoined big hits that make ladies fly. I hope these rules can bring the sport back from the brink of a second extinction. Fans don’t want to watch WFTDA derby and without thier support (and money), we don’t skate.


  16. […] players and fans in this country. The big story this year is the emergence of USA Roller Sports, its version of the game, and the organization’s maiden national tournament which will run concurrently with the WFTDA […]


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