The Commish

Hi, my name is Jerry Seltzer. My father invented Roller Derby in 1935, I promoted it from 1959 to 1973 and am called The Commissioner by some.

Many feel like the game needs to be played differently to keep the players happy and the fans interested in coming back, but many felt until Sandi Mustang Johnson vented her feelings on Rollin' News that it was just disgruntled outsiders (moi) who were complaining. And that is why Rollin' News has given me and my associate, Bob Noxious, the opportunity to show you that the fault is not entirely in the rules, but in the way you are playing.

You have constructed a wall where none is required... Of course, you can continue to play the same way, but the fans will continue to appear at games as empty seats. Oh, this does require you to skate, but isn't that what Roller Derby is supposed to be all about?

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars...."


This broadcast by the Commissioner has been hijacked, just this once, by me, Bob Noxious.
I’m one of the handful of the original announcers left in the game, just a month away from completing ten years within the sport. I’ve probably seen more bouts in more places (Canada, Europe, Australia) than all but a few. I had also coached for nearly 3 years.

Last week, The Commish reposted Windyman’s breakdown of the ease/difficulty of point scoring based on four rule sets on my FaceBook wall. I went through much of what Windyman had to say. In fact, I was the only to comment on the post etched into my FaceBook wall. Windyman’s breakdown had shown WFTDA to be more advantageous to the offense than any other major rule form. My reaction? An anti-WFTDA rant on rules? Nope. An accusation that the author’s logic was flawed or numbers weren’t right? Nope. What caught Jerry’s attention was a very different logic that I brought to the table: 

“I think the X-factor is not just the rules, but how you decide to play them. The passive offense does not have to be played! The defense can choose to keep skating at pack speed (just don't stop first, then decide to skate again). Why would you stop two moving blockers, against four, when you're defending a power jam? "Old school derby" CAN be played to your advantage MOST of the time. And we have a generation of skaters/coaches who have never seen it. If I'm on the sideline, we force the other team into our game, saving passive offense for when it makes sense - if the other team let's us. I laugh thinking competition would go home to learn this "new" strategy that's been developed.

WFTDA doesn't have a "rule problem." We choose to play the loopholes, instead of the intended game. Truth is, the game can be played today much as it was in 2009. This conversation has been contentious to others in many ways. “Oh, then it’s back to defense where you run. What fun is that?” I’ve heard that so many times, yet nothing is farther from the truth. Once pack definition was updated, no team can legally run, leaving their competition in the dust, UNLESS the opponent allows them to run by chasing. OK, race like hell! That’s a disciplinary issue, not a rule issue. We created rules problems when those who couldn’t figure out how to outplay opponents picked apart holes in the rules. I think the WFTDA has made some fairly legitimate steps to close those holes up, with the new definition multi-player blocking being a part of the fix...it's just not called consistently enough yet from crew to crew. That takes time.

I’ve spoken to dozens of skaters from top 60 teams who are convinced I don't know what I'm talking about when saying THEY DON'T HAVE TO PLAY THE PASSIVE OFFENSE! "Well, if we keep going we're breaking the pack!" Bullsh*t! If the other team STOPS, THEY ARE BREAKING THE PACK so long as you maintain pack speed. You just cannot increase your speed, until they follow you. Then RUN, because every team chases. 

We all learned derby predicated on facets of physics that only make sense. On defense, the closer you match the opposing jammer's speed, the harder it is for her to get through the pack! I’d have a sit block put on a jammer, then fence her to the inside line any day over stopping to try and catch her. How do you catch, while stopped, a person traveling at up to 15 MPH? You hope she slows, then wait to collide.

On offense, you slow down. But even stopping on offense is not the answer, because you need some momentum made adjustments. It’s like standing flat-footed in any other sport. If you’re not on your toes or moving, you’re too late to move to where you want. The passive offense, to me, is situational. Teams with physically strong jammers, have the advantage in SOME situations. But the sport is like lemmings. ONE does something, it throws their opponents off, so everyone decides they have to learn it. On a broadcast call when two blockers stop on a power jam as the other team's four blockers stop. I go nuts. I constantly explain how that doesn't make any sense. How does that give them the best chance to stop the jammer? How is that not the best way to get someone hurt? What makes even less sense is the four blockers standing there, watching their jammer ram into skaters they could have easily sealed off. Jamming must suck. Has it run up numbers…YES! Has it run up record-breaking numbers? NO! I can say that, anecdotally, I’ve seen many fewer 30 plus power jams this way than we had did when traditional power jams were a minute long. But we forget.

I know stroller derby didn’t come from a national power. It was developed by a second-tier team with a smart coach. I was at the small, Midwest, non-sanctioned, tournament where that was first broken out. He had every counter to his start figured out. I talked to him at length. Teams taking a knee, moving backward, his team could out maneuver all of it. The refs, at first, were not sure what to do. 

Some rules changes forced by this play now give us fewer options. Elimination of the two-whistle start guarantees were stuck with the scrum. The pack, should they line up traditionally, has lost the power to control the tempo. 


WIndyman spent a lot of time trying to put real-life numbers to "the issue," but the real story is you can play the game a number of different ways. Unfortunately, the issues at hand were not created by WFTDA. They were created by coaches and skaters. Many of the best in the sport have taken a situational strategy and turned it into the norm. That IS the real problem. It’s the international adaptation of these strategies that are hurting the game, by attacking holes in the rules. It’s too bad. Does it hurt attendance…maybe. Does it hurt retention? Absolutely! We can continue to play the game we want, but we cannot force people to watch it. That’s on US. I feel I can break down a game as well as anyone, yet you cannot explain the reason behind some strategies that are used regularly. Slow the game down using strategies that are not easy to explain and even when they make sense and people don’t come back. WFTDA didn’t push us there. We brought that on ourselves. 

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Hey Bob, this is a thoughtful analysis. However, I have to disagree with this:

"The defense can choose to keep skating at pack speed (just don't stop first, then decide to skate again). Why would you stop two moving blockers, against four, when you're defending a power jam?"

Because, the rules.

"5.10.5 - During a No Pack situation, skaters will be warned that there is no pack and will be penalized if they do not immediately attempt to reform the pack. … For skaters in the front group, this includes coasting, BRAKING, or COMING TO A COMPLETE STOP."

"5.10.6 - An attempt to reform is considered “immediate” if the action is taken as soon as legally possible. … If a Blocker is in the front group, THE MUST ACTIVELY BRAKE until they come to a COMPLETE STOP (coasting is insufficient)."

If a pack is moving and a team wants to keep putting up a rolling defense, once the pack splits that team is forced to slow down again, whether it wants to or not. Sure, the rear group will get a penalty. But in committing it, the front group must choose between a slower pack (as forced on them by the rules) or a failure to reform penalty (the same). Both of those things are negatives to a team wishing to keep the pack moving while killing a power jam; both of those things are positives for the team wishing to score big points.

(And we wonder why there are so many penalties in WFTDA games these days?)

So yes, this is and always has been a rules issue. There are situations where teams wishing to keep a fast pack can keep it fast, but many, many more situations where it can be slowed (legally or illegally) and no fair opportunity for teams to speed it up again once it's stopped. In any event, it's a lot harder to draw a cutting penalty on the opposing jammer when the pack is moving. If playing defense in a rolling pack is easy, imagine how much easier defense is when you don't have to block anyone at all.

One other thing: Remember early basketball, when there was no shot clock? Teams could choose between playing active offense (shoot the ball) or passive offense (hold the ball indefintely). To me, your argument about the main problem in WFTDA derby is equivalent with that of basketball in this era "is not just the rules, but how you decided to play them. The passive offense does not have to be played!"

Yeah, a basketball team could choose to play the game. But they had to change the rules so everyone would be FORCED to play the game. Note that this wasn't just because a team playing (basketball) passive offense led to boring games--it was so the other team would have a fair chance to play the same game as their opponents, no matter what their opponents tried to do.

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I have to agree with Windyman for the most part. Coasting is no longer acceptable to reform the pack. You can still speed a pack up but it has to be done with damn near perfect timing or you will find yourself in the box for failure to reform or pack destruction. As others have mentioned about this, you really have to know how tight the refs call those penalties. It is not the same everywhere. It's still a good article and not impossible. Something to think about for sure. Passive offense was definitely one of the strategies that I've heard plenty of fans complain about.

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