COULD PROPOSED PENALTY CHANGES BENEFIT THE SPORT?
Commentary by Magilla Guerilla, ARRG Bout Co-Announcer – Photos by Bob Dunnell
Welcome to the “Land of Guerilla” today and I hope everyone is enjoying this amazing “30n30″ effort as much as I am.
Celebrating and talking about everything that is Arch Rival Roller Girls while walking everyone up to the 2012 ARRG Local Championships on Saturday, April 28 at Chaifetz Arena will continue, after I get to share my random thoughts for a bit.
So with apologies to Monty Python, “…and now for something completely different.”
You wouldn’t expect me to stay on point, now would you? Regardless, I thought I would take a moment to not talk about the past or the present, but something that might really be a big change for the future of flat-track roller derby.
Early last year (possibly even prior to that, but it wasn’t on my personal radar at least), there was large scale talk in the derby world about the removal of minor penalties from the sport. So much so, that there were multiple bouts played under this rules change as the impact of this alteration was analyzed.
The results were very positive and it appears as if the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association will be taking this proposed rules change to a vote at some point this summer.
It is possible that derby in the last half of 2012 will be played in a totally different way than it is today.
Of course, this is all speculation on my part. While the removal of minor penalties from the sport is being regarded as a positive change and all indications would suggest that this rules change will be implemented, it hasn’t happened yet. So until then, we operate in the world of maybe.
So what does this mean to the skaters and the fans and for derby overall? Well, a lot to be honest.
This will really change the sport as we know it, possibly in dramatic ways and it is remarkable to think how one simple decision could have such a domino effect.
As we speak, minors are a major part of roller derby, pun intended. As you may or may not know, minor penalties are “assessed if the infraction has limited impact on safety or game play.”
Majors are penalties that are “assessed if the infraction has extensive impact on safety or game play.” If that sounds subjective, well it really reads that way, doesn’t it?
Regardless, by acquiring four minor penalties or a single major, a skater finds themselves in the penalty box for one minute. If they do this seven times within in a bout, they’re asked to leave the track for being assessed too many penalties.
It sounds simple enough, but to get to this point and to keep this process accurate isn’t simple at all.
If you have ever been to a derby bout – and if you haven’t, coming on April 28 for the local championships would be a fantastic place to start – you will notice a whole bunch of volunteer staff assembled all around and inside of the derby track.
They are feverishly using white boards, hand signals, penalty boards, dry eraser markers, lights, bells, whistles and the kitchen sink to try to record and track the penalties the skaters are acquiring as they play.
I have done some part-time work as a Non-Skating Official before and I can tell you that the sport moves fast and can be pretty stressful depending on your job.
Now, being a skating referee seems harder than calculus as far as I can tell, so I am too chicken to even think about taking on that gig.
For a sport that is supported by volunteers donating their time and energy, roller derby needs 15 to 17 skating and non-skating officials to operate a bout.
Okay, so how does that compare to another sport? Professional hockey needs 10 skating and non-skating officials to operate its games. Hockey has the benefit of financially compensating these folks, so of course there is probably no end to the amount of people that are willing to participate.
That isn’t always the case with roller derby. To ask leagues to find the people they must have in order to put on the sport without the fat paychecks isn’t easy. Anything to help ease that burden is a good thing for not only established leagues, but even more so for newer leagues looking to get started.
While I would hate to see any dedicated volunteers for this league lose the chance to continue to offer their passion to the sport, there is some immediate benefit for the fans as well as the leagues. Less people on the track blocking sight lines is a simple benefit, but the fans will also better be able understand what is going on during the bout.
I remember when I first started watching derby and how confused I was as to why skaters seemed to be randomly leaving the track for some penalty I never noticed. Minors are hard to see for a fan, especially for a new fan. With so much action to focus on between the packs and both jammers, casual observers generally don’t look for minors.
So when your favorite skater gets pointed to by a referee and they flash the number four with their hand indicating they have to go to the penalty box, you probably wonder how they got those minors in the first place.
If you don’t mind me being honest, even today I don’t realize how many minors are being assessed during a bout as so much communication passes between referees and non-skating officials through non-demonstrative means.
Of course, when a skater is asked to leave the track, I take notice.
One might think that the level of physical play is being held in check by assessing minor penalties to keep things from getting out of hand. Why not toss around an extra elbow or two if you won’t get called for it, right?
The only problem is that it is already against the rules to do very dangerous and potentially harmful things in derby, like elbowing another skater in the head. That would not change.
Maybe I am a little naïve, but I think everyone that plays roller derby wants to be safe and keep others safe as well. I just don’t see a group of skaters with the intent to hurt others working in the old rules or in the removal of minors. Referees would penalize and remove the offending skaters then, now and in the future.
I think the ARRG ladies want to skate, execute and not hurt someone. Well, I mean hurt them a little, I guess. It’s hard to not get a little bruised up if you get sent into the third row from a big legal hit.
I do think physical play will be more intense and jammers better be ready to get clutched and grabbed by blockers, but physical play seems to be one of the more popular aspects of derby with the fans already.
Remove some of the fear of minors and I think we will see more strategy execution, legal physical play and more excitement in every jam.
Skaters can focus on play and not worry while sitting on three minors. Jammers won’t have to put themselves in the penalty box as a blocker to clear out their minors, so they can go back in and jam instead of worrying they might give up a power jam to the opposition by getting a fourth minor.
There will be no more keeping talented skaters on the bench in key situations down the stretch because they have three minors.
It cleans up some of the bureaucracy in derby and allows the fans a chance to see their favorite skaters playing more and hopefully doing more of the things we love to see them do. Major infractions will still be penalized and you will still see power jams and late bout drama.
However, a power jam will even have more meaning now. That jammer did something major to get them called off, not a series of minor things during the course of the bout.
Is it possible that a world without minors is a bad thing and that all of my opinions are out of line? Sure, of course that could be the case.
I haven’t been a student of roller derby for as long as I have other sports, but every other major sport that you can name have changed their rules more times than you can count. Any sport played fifty years ago would be unrecognizable today or vice versa.
Why not try out something new if it has worked for other sports, too?
There will be loopholes found by smart teams and leagues within these changes, but that is happening already and it is the nature of adaptation in any sport. Some new definitions of track cutting, multi-player and clockwise blocking could also pose a challenge for skaters used to the traditional rules, so there could be some confusing moments at the outset for veterans.
I hope that this change takes place, if for the simple fact to see how it plays out for the growth of the sport.
If it fails and lowers the quality of play, change it back. If it succeeds and makes the sport better, then fans of roller derby can just sit back and enjoy.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget that this space will have tons more information heading your way this month as we move closer and closer to Championship Night on April 28 at Chaifetz!
COMING UP TOMORROW AT 8 AM FOR ARRG’s “30n30”: The ARRG All-Stars return to action this Saturday in the city that’s home to “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” Following a mid-March trek to Ohio that saw mixed results, the locals look to grab their third victory of the season against a hard-charging group of Tennesseans. We pass the baton to Derby News Network contributing writer Muckety Muck and get some perspectives from a visiting scribe who follows WFTDA South Central derby action. On Wednesday, we’ll preview the ARRG All-Stars upcoming battle with the Memphis Rollin’ Hustlers.
ARRG’s “30n30″ is a daily feature that examines different aspects of the Arch Rival Roller Girls – St. Louis’ first female flat-track roller derby franchise. In this section every morning at 8 AM for the entire month of April, a new feature will be presented.
Other installments of ARRG’s “30n30″: PRE-SERIES SET-UP (1) EVOLUTION (2) THE DREAM TO PLAY AT CHAIFETZ (3) LOCAL SEASON RECAP (4) ARRG ALL-STARS (5) SAINT LUNACHIX (6) ROOKIE RIVALS (7) REFEREES & NSOs (8) PRE-BOUT RITUALS (9) POST-BOUT RITUALS.