Archive for the ‘White Paper’ Category

Points Per Jam: Roller Derby’s Default Difficulty

It should be difficult for a roller derby team to score points. So why does it often seem so easy for them to be scored instead?

Derby scoring has seemingly been getting easier and easier over the last several years, with point totals climbing higher and higher. This year’s rules updates appear to have addressed this trend, sure. But even taking games played in 2014, it is still not abnormal for many of them to end with a combined total score of 300, 400, 500, 600 (!), or even more than 700 (!!!) points.

Press me for 5 points. And again. And again…

Press me for 200 points.

Whether point totals of such magnitude were reached in a close game or a blowout, if it is possible for two teams to together score that often in a 60-minute game, any individual pass for a point, let alone the non-scoring initial passes, must be relatively easy to accomplish.

If it were really that difficult to get points, there wouldn’t be so many of them scored in the first place!

Very high-scoring games still happen quite a lot in the WFTDA and MRDA, especially during mismatches. Scoreboard-spinners can also show up in other derby variants, like in USARS, MADE, or the RDCL.

However, games where the scoreboard hits perilously high totals are less frequent in non-WFTDA forms of roller derby, and of a lesser magnitude when they do happen. This is in part because scoring points is appreciably harder to do, on the average, in these versions of the game.

As a result, these games can often be much more competitive.

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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.


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The Pack Problem

There’s a problem brewing in modern roller derby.

This problem doesn’t have anything to do with the schism between the flat track and the banked track.  It’s nothing to do with the drama over someone’s comments about how to skate.

I’m here to bring to light something I believe is a problem that’s right in front of us. It’s right under our noses. You may have even seen it a million of times and not have realized it.  It’s a problem that’s festering and waiting to potentially ruin roller derby as we know it. What could it be?

Here it is, plucked straight from the WFTDA rulebook:

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.

If you don’t see a problem here, then that’s the problem.

I’ve spent years of my life watching roller derby: Old-school, WFTDA, flat track, banked track, in person, streaming live, YouTube clips, you name it. If it’s roller derby, I’ll eat it up.  I love roller derby like nothing else.

However, I’m also pretty passionate about sports in general, and regularly follow sports with enough regularity to understand how they work, what their rules are,ahow they work, and how teams try to push the limits of the rules to exploit any gray area they can to gain an advantage. Such is the reason for the old saying in NASCAR auto racing: If you ain’t cheatin’, you aint’ tryin’.

I’m not insinuating that anyone is cheating in roller derby, of course. But the spirit of the saying holds true in all sports. If you’re not pushing the bleeding edge of the rules, then you’re leaving a potential advantage out there that the other team may be using against you.

With that, I present an essay to the roller derby community, specifically directed at the WFTDA.  As any sport grows, and teams get better, the desire to win becomes greater and greater.  The desire to win any possible advantage over the other teams is born from this.  From that, you’ll eventually have teams looking for loopholes in the rules that they can try to eke an advantage out of, however small.

I aim to demonstrate that there is a potentially disastrous loophole lurking within rule 4.1.1, the pack definition rule.  I will use real-world examples, a thought experiment, similar situations from other sports, and good-old common sense to get my point across in ten chapters.

I hop that everyone can, at the minimum, get a better understanding of the problem at hand.  I want to see derby improve for the better, and this is my 12,000 word contribution to that effort.

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