WFTDA 2017 Rules Update: Major Gameplay Changes

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The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association released their updated rules in December, and leagues have been able to use them since then, but the new rules won’t be optional any longer starting February 15th.

Last time we talked about the major overall format changes to the rules, and in case you still haven’t really looked them over yet, we picked through the specific changes to gameplay, and located where to find them in the new Rulebook and Casebook.

WFTDA provided a list of the changes to gameplay, but here we will give a little more context to what has exactly changed since the 2015 ruleset. While this should be used as a guide, keep in mind this is our interpretation of the changes, and that everyone should thoroughly read the Rulebook and Casebook to get a full understanding of the updated set. We will refer to page numbers in the Rulebook and the Casebook with each change, for example: R3.3 or C2.5.

  • If a team fails to field a jammer, the jam won’t start and the offending team’s captain will be given a Delay of Game penalty. (C4.45)

In the spirit of keeping the game competitive and exciting, if a team fails to send anyone out as jammer at the start of a jam, they will be penalized. The game will be stopped, and the team will have a new opportunity to send someone out. You may remember at Championships when Victoria failed to send out a jammer with a quarter of the bronze medal game left, thus giving London a full two minutes to score unopposed, an opportunity that can no longer happen in this way.

  • Cuts may be avoided if the skater cedes their illegal position by exiting the track. C4.37

As the game has evolved to slow down and focus on finite footwork, the track cut has become a bit more forgiving over the years. While it is still “illegal for a skater to use the out-of-bounds area to gain position on someone who is upright and in bounds” (R4.2.2), a skater who has found themselves standing completely back in bounds ahead of an opponent who has knocked them out (or they haven’t passed yet) may quickly exit the track and re-enter behind the appropriate skaters. The rules have gone from the tiniest toe touch back in bounds resulting in a cut to the penalty being treated more like a false start.

HOWEVER, the skater must exit the track immediately to give up their position, and there will be no warning by the refs. This leniency is for those track cuts situations that happen before you know it, that happen because of that hit that knocks you across the infield and back in bounds, or maybe for the new skater who stands up in bounds even though it’s so they can clearly exit the track to right their wrong.

  • No penalty for a skater who illegally blocks because of being illegally blocked. (C4.7)

The beginning of the penalty section (R4) states that if a skater commits an infraction, they should be penalized for said action. Now it also follows up by saying that if someone uses an illegal action that affects someone else and causes them to commit an unavoidable illegal action, the unavoidable one will not be punished. Ever get shoved out of the way by an opponent’s forearm and it causes you to promptly back block someone else? Well, now that won’t take you off the track.

Another example is outlined in C4.7 and also explains a situation in which none of the participants would get a penalty.

  • Not allowed to stay out of bounds after being warned if they can re-enter without having to skate clockwise. (C4.25)

We mentioned this briefly in our last article, but some changes happened to encourage people to play the game. One such update is that skaters are obligated to return to the track from out of bounds– if they can do so legally and don’t have to skate clockwise to return. Previously, this only applied if the out of bounds skater was required to form a pack. Meaning, if the white team only has one blocker on the track, the lone skater can’t just stand out of bounds and intentionally keep a pack from forming.

This is another penalty that requires a warning from the referees before being given, and now, even if you have other teammates on the track, you can’t just hang out of bounds for no reason.

  • Intentionally using the point of the knee or elbow is penalizable. (C4.11)

Contact penalties typically happen if someone gains position or causes an opponent to lose position after using an illegal blocking zone, however, a penalty can still be given even without those results. Now if you forcefully contact someone with the point of your elbow or knee, it can be a penalty, even without gaining position or knocking your opponent down or out of bounds. The Casebook highlights this specifically in C4.11 and is an example of how the new rules seem to be really cracking down on unsporting play.

Photo credit: Dave Wood Photography.

Photo credit: Dave Wood Photography.

  • Jammers can still have lead status even if their helmet is removed due to gameplay or an opponent. (R2.2.2)

Jammers can only enjoy the luxuries of their position, scoring or lead status, if they have the star cover on their helmet. If the jammer manages to achieve lead status and removes the star, they also lose their lead status and the power to call it off. Previously, if it came off due to gameplay or an opponent ripping it off their head, the lead jammer could replace it on their head and still call it off, but now they’ll still be able to call it off without returning it to their helmet. This only happens in instances where it comes off out of their control, not if they remove it themselves.

This change isn’t as explicitly laid out in the new rules, but is different because of a lack of verbiage from the 2015 ruleset. Before, it specifically mentioned in 2.4.7 that if the helmet cover is removed in this manner, they could put the cover back on to regain their lead status. Now in the rules section about lead jammer, it only mentions committing a penalty or intentionally removing the star (by the jammer or their teammate) will result in the loss of lead status.

  • Helmet covers cannot be intentionally hidden. (R2.2.1)

While star stashes are still a thing, Rule 2.2.1 says that jammers (or pivots) may not purposely conceal the star when it is off their head. No more shoving it in your pocket or shirt – it must either be on your head or in your hand.

The Casebook outlines a couple examples about concealing the star under C2.2.1, and outlines the Jammer hierarchy to determine who the jammer is if there is confusion about start position or possession of the helmet cover.

  • Tripping is a penalty even if it’s part of skating motion. (R4.1.2)

This updated rule takes some of the guesswork away from the officials and gives a more black and white guideline to follow. The change isn’t as explicitly shown in the rules, however, but the old set described a penalizable low block as: “5.3.7 Any contact outside of the normal skating motion that lands below the legal target zone and causes an opponent to fall or lose relative position.” Now there is no mention of “normal skating motion” but the updated rules say: “4.1.2 Using an illegal blocking zone also has sufficient impact to warrant a penalty if the contact puts an opponent significantly off balance, or significantly alters their trajectory or speed.”

While falling small still lessens the risk and can help a skater avoid a low block (C4.1), causing an opponent to fall by tripping over your feet will always be penalized now, putting greater emphasis on footwork and stopping control.

  • Blocking with Illegal Blocking Zones can be penalizable even without loss of relative position. (R4.1.2)

In 2015, the rules upgraded the forearm penalty from extended touching (measured at three seconds or more) to any contact that holds an opponent and impedes their mobility. (C4.15 helps illustrate this sort of situation.) Now the 2017 ruleset aims to bring legs into the same measure of impact.

The prior ruleset said that any contact initiated by someone below mid-thigh that didn’t cause the opponent to lose relative position was not a penalty (2015 rules 5.3.6). In the updated 2017 section about impact with illegal blocking zones, it says contact that significantly holds someone back is sufficient impact for a penalty (R2.4.2).

  • No longer a point of no return at the penalty box. (R4.4)

This is another change that could easily sneak by unseen without comparing the wording of the new and old rulesets. Previously, the 2015 rules specifically stated that skaters should skate to the box in a counter-clockwise direction ( and that if a penalized skaters went completely past the point of no return, they would have to take a lap to enter the box legally ( The 2017 ruleset has no mention of the point of no return or which direction a penalized skater should head to the box. Passing the point of no return was a costly mistake in years prior, especially for jammers who were already giving up 30 seconds of scoring time.

Being able to choose the most direct route to the box would reduce the time that skaters aren’t engaged in the game on the track. There are many worries about collisions between skaters and officials in the outside lane, but referees have already had to look out for skaters knocked out of bounds and returning to the pack in any direction. A skater should only ever have, at most, half a lap to skate to the box, when previously they may have had to sprint a full lap in an effort to get there as quickly as possible.

  • Skaters can’t be denied points due to the illegal actions of their opponents. (C3.13)

Earning a penalty means that you can’t be on the track for your team for 30 seconds, but it also means that you give up your point very quickly. After a jammer passes the first opposing blocker, they earn the points of anyone in the box or not on the track at the time. Now, if a Jammer completes a lap through the Pack without the legal opportunity to earn a pass on any opponent, the Jammer can still earn points.

Previously, a jammer could end up with a zero-point scoring pass if there was never a single blocker on the track to initially pass to gain the points of the rest of the blockers. Now the Casebook explains that when all but one blocker from the opposing team are in the box, or heading there, and the remaining blocker removes themself from the track, a jammer who completes a pass can still earn their points since no one from the other team was around to give them an opportunity to score.

  • Jammers who sit in the penalty box at the same time are immediately released. (C4.67)

Previously, if both jammers received penalties, sprinted to the box, and sat at the same time, they would both stay seated for 10 seconds and then be released. That gives 10+ awkward seconds for the blockers on the track to stare at each other until the point scorers returned.

Although, it wasn’t as bad as stopping the jam and playing musical chairs like it was in a previous version of the rules (Jammerless Jam 6.4.5), this most recent update will minimize the time that there is not a jammer on the track by immediately sending them back to play as soon as their butts hit seats simultaneously.

  • Keeping a downed skater down by standing over them is a penalty. (C4.58)

While it has previously already been illegal to contact a downed skater, there hasn’t been anything written that explicitly prohibits someone from standing over a skater in a way that keeps them from getting up. An instance in the recent past that looked something like that was during Omaha D1 Playoffs when Angel City’s Cheker blocked Minnesota’s Fannie Tanner and proceeded to stand in a way that prohibited Fannie from righting herself. Cheker did get a Misconduct penalty for it, but now there could be a reason to penalize that action even if no contact was made.

  • Destroying the pack by slowly skating clockwise is penalizable, except at jam starts. (C2.22)

Keeping pack definition is the responsibility of blockers from both teams, with sudden actions that break it being penalizable. However, small adjustments that eventually put the teams more than 10 feet apart are given a warning to reform before becoming penalized. This is often seen in passive power jam scenarios where the white team stands still and the red team slowly gets pushed out further than 10 feet and causes a no pack situation. After a warning, if both teams quickly make efforts to reform, there should be no penalties.

Now, the same can’t be said for blockers at the back of the pack who may slowly back up to also cause a no pack situation. They no longer get the leeway of a warning. As stated in the Casebook: “Roller derby is played in the counterclockwise direction, so clockwise movement is held to a different standard than counterclockwise movement…” This means that even if it’s not a sudden movement in the clockwise direction, a blocker can immediately be penalized if they are inching that direction and the pack breaks because of their movement.

Here’s a handy video Bristol Roller Derby put out about the rules as well!

Next time, we will cover WFTDA’s changes in game structure for 2017 and wrap up our discussion of the new ruleset.

There’s a set date of February 1st for when updated policy documents will be released by WFTDA, as well as the translated and e-publication versions of the updated rules, so stay tuned!

The post WFTDA 2017 Rules Update: Major Gameplay Changes appeared first on Derby Central.

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