This will piss some off, but here goes.

There is a great facebook page:  Derby over 40….so the other day some idiot (male) all of a sudden blasts me for every crime known to man except pedophilia with the Grand Canyon.

His point (I thnk) was stay the F… out of our Roller Derby today, you old jerk, has been, etc (pick your own word). I of course responded twice as violently, which I later removed from the site and apologized for this non-appropriate comment there.

I guess some people do not like that I pretty much express my opinion, and if they think I hate modern derby they are so wrong;  it is just I will always say what I feel that I think (note: my opinion) makes the game better, and certainly more appealing to the fans and skaters.

Someone I really respect posted on one of the well-read sites that his league (he is an NSO) was told by a sponsor that they may pull out next season if the games are as boring as the one last Saturday.  OK, that is a matter of choice.

And yesterday there was posted the new changes of the WFTDA rules (by the skaters, for the skaters,by the 5-person rules committee).  On cursory reading I do not think they made the game any more fan friendly or encourage actual skating by the players who pay to skate and mostly want to play a more participatory game.  And unless I am wrong, clockwise skating is legal.

Look, I don’t get credentialed by WFTDA any more (actually, that wouldn’t make any difference), so this might just increase my unpopularity with some, but for crissakes, can I say you are destroying the game I love right before my eyes.

When I say I love what LA Derby Dolls have  done to simplify the game or that Donna at One World is doing, or that USARS and MADE are providing a game that is far simpler than the 70 or so pages of rules that have fans and skaters confused (I have no idea what most of the penalties are called for, which would not be meaningful except it can cost teams victories). And they seem to be presenting an attraction that has skaters standing around while a jammer speeds around the track unimpeded.

And the rules encourage teams to pile on meaningless points so that the “rankings” can be higher; what kind of sportsmanship is that?

Hey, USARS does not have that many leagues.  If I were a league that knew they weren’t going to make it to the championships for years, I would quickly contact USARS now to get in their tournament this year, skate what I think is a more-engaging game, and be on a major TV live stream, and maybe skate against the Number 2 team in the world, The Oly Rolllers in a fast paced game!

Wake up, WFTDA, I became a big fan of modern Derby because of Val and the Windy City Rollers in 2005 and today I go to the Resurrection, Sonoma County, BAD  and Sacramento games whenever I can – you can verify that with the leagues if you want -but hate to see the fans decreasing in so many areas because of the “loopholes”, penalties, whatever.

You are not skating to please me or anyone else except yourself.   If you feel there is any truth in the above, then think about it.  Maybe I will see you in Tulsa for the USARS championship; you will see me at Rollercon and also in Milwaukee.

Dammit, I love Roller Derby, it is in my DNA.  Please get an anti-rule committee and make the game fun to watch.  And if you think I am wrong, that is fine too…..we can all express what we feel.

39 comments on “This will piss some off, but here goes.

    • A couple of thoughts on this topic. The best jammers have trained hard to know the rules and play to stay out of the penalty box. So let’s not put all the blame on the “rules.” It is a game of skill, athleticism, strategy and intelligence. Secondly, it can be a very rough game where inappropriate play can cause injuries. Recently I viewed a game where high blocks were frequent and rarely called. Skaters are put at risk of injury by lack of appropriate penalty calls. Shortening the jammer penalty to 30 seconds sounds like it would help minimize passive offense or standing around. Speed is only one way to approach sports. Slower play as in rugby comes to mind or the ground game in football. And fans do appreciate the contact between opposing players. Slow down or defensive strategy in basketball has been occasionally used by some with some success. Most championship games in basketball feature good defensive play. The biggest objection to passive roller derby is some players are standing around not doing anything. This is a valid criticism and I can’t think of any other sport where this happens. And with all due respect the “old or original roller derby” had big blockages of skaters along the rail in a dead stop with players punching the daylights out of each other. So it was not all speed back then.

      • Gosh Jerry, you’ve pretty much pegged my exact thought patterns so I don’t much have to say nuthi’ but DITTO!! It is disconcerting to see well-ranked teams bouting with maybe 100 spectators, mostly family and a few friends….

    • i recently skated in a MADE bout this past weekend and it was a blast!! plus, it was funny(not really) to me that i was a bit out of practice for skating in a fast paced, no stop hitting game! we’ve been conditioning ourselves in wftda for such slow play that making an accurate hit while skating fast was a real challenge. i’m so excited for my next bout, and i’m ending my vacation in the new york mountains by participating in a fan interactive charity bout by Man’s Ruin. if a fan donates a set amount, they get to change rules, make us skate backwards, or make a ref jam! it’ll will be a hoot for a good cause;)

    • I posted this on my facebook page: the fight should stop over which game should be played…..if you are skating a game you do not like, find a league you like. If your attendance has plummeted because fans are disenchanted with whatever they are seeing (or not seeing on the track) stop trying to fill venues with hard work, promotion, ticket sales, etc, and just skate that ruleset in your training area with no fans, and you will be happy because it is your game and your strategy…..there is room for all here……but if your attendance has decreased, just face up to it and accept it.

  1. It is interesting to hear that the USARS and MADE have rules that are an improvement for the fan. Dallas area leagues all seam to follow the WFTDA rules and most of us would have little influence to change that. I agree that the WFTDA passive offense game is boring to watch and look forward to sorting through the other rule-sets to identify the areas of potential improvements. It seams like a group of skaters could mash the three rule books together and come up with the best of three rules and guidelines. I have only been skating since March and share your opinion about the bouts being boring for fans to watch. I was going a completely different direction to solve the problem (in my own mind). I had thought that Derby should be treated like speed skating; no fans, just players paying to play in weekend long events at different venues. This would be more along the lines of self sustaining rather then dependent on a fan base. Maybe hockey type bar league support, etc. I prefer the direction of a more interesting game, but did not think that it was truly possible without introducing risk that would scare off many players. I am 42. I participate in roller derby for exercise and excitement. It has been extremely entertaining and the players are all great people. I do want to see it taken up a notch or two, but It would be a shame if older players were left with only a recreation version of the sport because a pro version existed. I hope the fact that I do agree with you comes across. Your experience in this sport is priceless.

    • It “seam(s)” like I am doing a lot of sewing in this. Please excuse and replace with “seem(s)”. 🙂

      • what is happening in other areas (i.e. Chicago, elsewhere in Texas) is that players are practicing both rule sets (USARS and WFTDA) and are sending teams to the USARS tournament since many are too far down the ladder to even think about qualifying for WFTDA championships……and if you are over 40 and haven’t joined “Derby over 40” on facebook, you are missing a great group of 2250 (YES) skaters over 40 who are still participating in the game.

      • Thanks Jerry-I joined the over 40 group last week. Like I said, I can’t hardly wait to read through all of the rule sets. Maybe I can make some suggestions locally.

    • Truer words were never spoken. I bet when we look back in 15 or 20 years, we’re gonna see that what we call “roller derby” today has formed into 2 or 3 variations for different demographics. Ask any squash player “Why don’t you just play tennis?” and they’ll tell you all the reasons squash is more appealing to players – deeper strategy, requires better fitness, more dynamic, etc. This is despite the fact that tennis gets all the press coverage and fan attention and money.

      Jerry, I bet when I’m your age, there’s gonna be a roller derby that appeals to Olympic-caliber athletes, a roller derby that appeals to television advertisers, and a roller derby that appeals to the “waitress by day, roller derby queen by night” crowd. These almost certainly won’t all be the same roller derby.

      • Honestly, right now I wouldn’t surprised if we look back in 20 years and wished the sport was still around for more than recreation. I always tell people that you stopped skating for yourself the moment you sold that $12 ticket, yet we don’t learn. I’ve had hardcore fans tell me they’re done. Frankly, if it weren’t for league play, where the teams often forgo the loopholes and actually play, I’d just about have had enough.

        As one announcer at ECDX posted last night (and I paraphrase), “There’s nothing quite like seeing the two best teams in the world get together and hardly move.”

        Derby has peaked in North America. Few are talking about increased attendance this year (unlike the last few), and the market is over-saturated. Derby isn’t close to ready for TV. The product isn’t consistent, the current version is too hard to understand, too slow to entertain, and the best product, the Big 5, doesn’t have the production value sports/sponsors expect and most the seats are empty except for Champs (which are filled by derby participants). If you can’t fill the seats, you won’t fill televisions.

        And, let’s not forget that many fans become skaters. Drop in fans, a tough task to recruit.

        I’ll see the new rules clarification for the first time tonight. Hopefully, it opens up play a bit.

        I love the game. I’ve always supported WFTDA, but right now I’m more than confused as to what the bigger picture is. What plan does this fit into? Regions gone, a slower game, divisions that are either too small or way too big…it’s been a tough year. I love the people to death, and for now, that’s what keeps me going.

  2. right on Jerry!! i agree with EVERYTHING you have stated.Derby from the 50’s thru 70’s was the BEST. There have never been the amount of crowds now that were at games in the past, when i used to watch it, i despise WFTDA rules, theyre boring and not fun to play OR watch!! i love you!!!

  3. The biggest problem people have with WFTDA rules is the “patient offense” which allows a team to rack up the points while the opposing jammer is in the box for sixty seconds. The quick fix for this that could be implemented very, very easily, is to have jammers serve a 30-second penalty – nothing else changes. I’ve written about this several times in a variety of places. I’ve actually reffed a game in which ALL penalties were served for 30 seconds (which I am NOT advocating here – only jammers get the reduced sentence) however, the reduced penalty time for jammers in the games I experienced fostered a faster game with much less of the “patient offense” and less opportunities for huge point differentials.

    I like the rest of the WFTDA rules, for the most part. I’m okay with CW skating and the strategy it brings to the game. I suggest leagues experiment with a 30-second box time for jammers and see what they think. The difference in the game might surprise you…


    • QD, I cannot possibly comprehend how having different player positions serving different amounts of penalty time is a lasting solution. Not only does it not attempt to eliminate unnecessary boring play, it devalues the blocker position. If the game was properly balanced, one blocker penalty would be just as detrimental to a team as one jammer penalty. But the 30-second jammer penalty “solution” is basically saying blockers are less necessary for the game than jammers, because the jammers need to come back onto the track sooner for the game to work.

      There is a better solution to the problem than that.

      • Let me start my reply by saying that I am a WFTDA ref. I am a big fan of WFTDA game play and rules. Now, on with my reply…

        Windyman, in no way did I say that blockers are less necessary for the game than jammers are. Of course blockers are critical to the game, however a team fields four blockers and one jammer. Losing a blocker or two during a jam doesn’t have nearly the impact on a team as losing their point-scoring jammer does. Thirty second penalty time for jammers is not about “making the game work” – it’s about balance.

        Notice that Jerry feels there should always be a point-scoring player on the track. I’m pretty confident he would give two reasons for this. One, he feels derby teams should always be playing both defense and offense at the same time, and two, losing the jammer (point-scoring skater) is a pretty big deal – a bigger deal than being down a blocker or two.

        Under WFTDA rules when a team’s jammer goes to the box that team is short their point-scoring player for the duration of the penalty; I’m cool with that (sorry, Jerry). However, this allows them to play the “patient offense” (also known as the “passive offense” the “pace line” the “stop game” and others). I’ll explain the strategy in a little more detail when I respond to David below, but essentially, the team that still has a jammer on the track comes to a stop. When this happens we often see 30 to 40 points scored during the “power jam” and we see 60 seconds of something that doesn’t look like what a lot of people think derby should look like.

        So given all of this, the quickest, easiest fix for WFTDA play is to simply reduce the jammer penalty to 30 seconds. The jammer still goes to the box for the infraction, but there is much less time to set-up the patient offense and take advantage of the power jam. Jammers might pick up 15 unopposed points, but there’s no way they’ll pick up 35. Recently, when I reffed a game in which jammers served 30, there was much, much less of the passive offense – these were quick, fast, exciting games that fans and skaters loved.

        I suppose some of the other ideas that Jerry likes, such as making the pivot the point scorer, could be considered, but the change I (and others) propose could be implemented right away with virtually no changes to rules and officiating practices. I would like to see WFTDA leagues give this a go and share their findings. If others find this to be an effective way to limit the passive offense, maybe it should be considered as a WFTDA wide rules change.

        You may be right, Windyman, there may be better solutions, but the simplicity of this one and the ease with which it could be implemented make it a good idea in my opinion.

      • I need to clarify something in my admittedly long-winded post below. In the fourth paragraph, when I said “this allows them” it should read “this allows the opposing team” – sorry for the confusion.

      • As a blocker i cant say im as important as our jammer. He is the only one who can score points for our team. Its my job to protect him. Its my job to stop the other teams jammer ten fold more than to stop their blockers. Jammer is the most important position on the track. Id like to try the 30 sec. Jammer penalties. I think it would foster a sense of urgency in blockers to attack the opposing wall to score 5 quick points because a decent wall can stop a jammer for 20-30 seconds if there is no offense (passive offense). Just my 2 cents. It may not be the solution but we have to try things out to find out whats going to put us in the right direction.

      • Roller derby without blockers is just girls racing on quads on a track shorter than a speed track while wearing fishnets and facepaint.

    • Roller Derby was designed to be a game with offense and defense at the same time…..If a jammer is penalized during a jam, go to the penalty box, but then allow the pivot to do what it was created for (BY ME): jam if there is no other jammer. Implemented in 1959 along with designated blockers and jammers and 2 pages of rules.

      • YES YES YES!!! I have been trying to advocate for the break-away pivot, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.

    • Mark..a couple of question. What is a ‘patient offense’? Secondly, if a jammer goes in the penalty box..or any other position for that matter..doesn’t someone else on the team take over as jammer? If by putting a jammer in the box it means a team has no jammer that’s just plain dumb. Could you please explain?

      • Hey David, as I mentioned in my reply to WindyMan above, under WFTDA rules when the jammer goes to the box their team skates without a point-scorer for the duration of the penalty. It’s not the way some other derby works, but it’s been a part of WFTDA play since the beginning of the flat track revolution thirteen years ago.

        Often times when the opposing jammer goes to the box, the team with the advantage (the power jam) goes into a patient offense. They stop all forward motion on the track and let their jammer fight her way through the opposing blockers. In most instances we end up seeing a “no pack” or “out of play” situation, which allows the jammer to skate on by and pick up five points.

        A lot of people don’t care for this, and it can end up creating some huge point differentials over the course of a game. It’s been a hot topic of discussion for some time now in the derby-verse. I (and many others) propose a simple solution that limits the jammer penalty time and keeps gameplay, for the most part, fast and furious.

        There have been a lot of proposed solutions tossed out there, but I believe the reduction in the jammer penalty time is a quick, easy to implement fix.

  4. Jerrt, you just said exactly what I’ve been saying for years and I got all kinds of grief for saying those same thing by many people, sometimes even you. I know this phrase has been beaten to death but derby really is a very simple game. Why these girl’s leagues have chosen to complicate it to the point that they are losing fans, sponsers and a number of their own skaters is beyond me. The incredible amount of penalties are, and I’m sure I’ll get alot of negativeity back for saying this, a joke. They aren’t needed and only make the game more complicated and less interesting. I know the girls want to do it their way which is fine but the novelty of having girls skating has passed. Now they have to do something to keep that audience and it doesn’t appear that’s what they’re doing. The no-moving jam, the skating clockwise, the jammers scoring ridiculous amounts of points… all these and some other things are causing spectators to lose interest.

  5. The thing that had me extremely frustrated this year was that they increased the minimum skills requirements to 27 laps in 5 minutes. This took my old ass a while to accomplish. I guess the idea was to increase the speed of the skaters–meanwhile, they failed completely to speed up THE GAME! Jerry, you are correct in that there is ZERO incentive to do away with the passive offense as long as score differentials count towards ranking. I had two fans approach me at our first home bout with “WTF is this standing around shit?”

    I don’t agree with everything you say, but in this, I totally agree. You have more experience and knowledge that anyone in the sport currently so I respect you for that.

    My league recently made WFTDA so I’ll see what we can do from the inside.

    • A number of women have expressed that including the minimum skills requirement will make it even more difficult for newbies to skate (and one comment “why is it necessary when the game is so slow now”). I never even thought of that…..kind of a disempowerment.

  6. Jerry
    Just read your blog for the first time in awhile and I enjoyed and agreed with you on the points you have addressed. You have known me for quite some time so when I say, “If someone is pissed off they better slow down and be glad it wasn’t on” and if I was a skater in these leagues there would be a whole lot of pissed off people to say the least. WFTDA and other leagues rules and their committees have a giant problem and that is there doesn’t seem to be a true vision of where these leagues, teams and skaters will be in 10 more years if they continue their present direction.
    There was a few things wrong with all Derby’s but Roller Derby Rules wasn’t one of those wrongs. I will take the position that Derby always wanted to put people in those arena seats and have television ratings that would help that happen. That idea should be supported by WFTDA and other leagues by having a game that just about anyone could understand after viewing that game a couple of three times.
    I believe that the interest for Derby will subside because who wants to watch a game that is so confusing, boring and lopsided, as these rule heavy game/bouts are. The Games perform by these Roller Girls are not going to substaine the fan interest they’ve had, (except parents, relatives and friends) much less future development of a greater fan base. That opinion is based on the importance of being entertained and understanding the Game. My last opinion is WFTDA and other leagues should get a good promoter and committees that will help unite all the leagues and steer in the same direction.

  7. Hey Jerry. Hope you’re doing well.

    I love derby in all of it’s forms, and even when people shit on the type I play (coed, renegade rules), I do my best to get people to understand that there’s good in every form of the sport and that they’re all needed for there to be a place for skaters and fans of all types to be happy.

    Admittedly, there are more and more “high level” games that are just tough to sit through. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the on-skates skill of many of the upper tier skaters, but that doesn’t equal an engaging or entertaining game to me. I’m skating in a double header at the end of this season, one game renegade and one game WFTDA rules, and I’ll be spending the next six months praying that the team I’m facing will play WTFDA like it was skated in 2008 instead of how it is now.

    I think, in general, the WFTDA has done more good than harm to the game for obvious reasons. This transition period that the rules are in right now in WFTDA is killing it for a lot of fans though, and if you’re not worried about the fans… don’t charge admission.

    I’m eager to see what the new rules committee does to rectify the ongoing problems that the game has had (if a complete WFTDA mark, please read as “strategy the fans just don’t understand”) because I think having all forms of the sport be exciting and attractive to fans and skaters is really the best end-all result.

    As always, I enjoy reading your unique perspective on the evolution of the game in all of it’s forms. And if you’re pissed… just imagine if you had to stand there and play it.


    • SPK, WFTDA has done much good and really no harm….they are the organization that has really restored the game….doesn’t mean we who love the game shouldn’t express what we feel…..I can’t believe that changes aren’t coming. There never will be just 1 Roller Derby anymore…..Leo gave it to the world, and you now can choose the one you like, and if the one you like isn’t just where you like it, help change it.

  8. When people speak as that poor excuse for a human being did, I just consider that Ignorance is Bliss Jerry. I have never read anything in particular that sounded like you were being negative about today’s game. As far as I am concerned you are a gentleman that speaks from his, as you put it, you DNA!

  9. I’ve been a “modern” derby announcer and statistician since 2006, and I can say that the “passive offense” is about to drive me away from derby. It sucks! Can you imagine a football game where a running back runs an end run to the right, while all of his blockers run to the left, and then the defense can’t try to tackle the running back because he doesn’t have any of his own teammates near him? That’s the same ridiculousness that happens with the “passive offense”!

    If I were the modern WFTDA commissioner, here’s what I would do to correct the “passive offense.”

    1) Once the jammer is engaged with opposing blockers, those blockers can continue to block the jammer regardless of the nearness of the jammer’s own blockers. In other words, when you have blockers who are actually trying to play derby by blocking, they should not be penalized, nor should they have to stop blocking, merely because the “pack is split.”

    2) Since it’s usually obvious that the jammer’s own blockers were the perpetrators of splitting the pack, in EVERY case where the pack is split by “passive” skating (i.e., not keeping up with the opposing blockers who are actually trying to block and play derby), one of the “passive” skaters will receive a splitting the pack penalty and go to the box. There won’t be a period of time where the teams can reform the pack (after having to let the jammer through without being able to block). The defensive team can continue to block and the passive team must send a player to the box. If the passive team again splits the pack, they send another player off to the box.

    The above two provisions will please the fans, as they will get to seen lots more blocking with teams having to fight for every point they score. Also, it would be an incentive for teams to once again practice offensive blocking, as otherwise if you lag back your jammer will take LOTS of punishment. I’m an old, decrepit ice hockey player, but if I was a derby skater and the opposing team was playing “passive” offense, I can guarantee that i would drill their jammer into the first row of seats every time they tried to pass! Maybe a half-lap later when the jammer got back on the track the jammer’s teammates might actually try to block, else BAM! back into the seats goes the jammer!

    I would also implement, 3) when a jammer gets sent to the box, her pivot automatically becomes the new jammer for the remainder of the jam (no star pass is needed). If the pivot is sent off, or was in the box already, then the team will skate without a jammer. Whichever skater returns to the track first, the jammer or the pivot, becomes the jammer for the rest of the jam, in that event.

    Rusty Wheeler

    • too many trite rules, too many penalties…..Rusty, such great points……if WFTDA only realized that everyone who brings these things up is not trying to destroy the game, but trying to save it. If you want to play diddly derby, then go private, lock the doors and do what you want……If you want the public to pay to see a game……give them a game…..the twain will never meet.

  10. I should add a couple of things. Basketball had to add a “shot clock” to force teams to either take a shot at the basket (and having to at least “get iron” on the shot) or else give the ball up to the other team. Anyone who is old enough to recall watching the “four corners offense” (which wasn’t any offense at all) can testify as to how boring it was.

    Also, I was a hockey goalie. I always like to tell people that I played hockey until I was 38 years old and never spent a minute in the penalty box! People would then ask, “You never got a penalty?” To which I replied, “No, I got penalties, but goalies don’t have to serve their own penalties.” Hockey folks realize that without a goalie (and if the teams are even strength) it would be pretty much impossible to stop the other team from scoring. Since the jammer in derby is also very important, it would be an improvement to the game to NOT send the jammer off to serve their own penalties. Like I said above, either have the pivot automatically become the pivot if the jammer is sent off, or else designate another player to serve the jammer’s penalties (although the penalty minutes would get credited to the jammer so they couldn’t individually get unlimited penalties). When hockey goalies get penalties, someone else has to sit in the penalty box for the goalie, and the goalie’s team skates short-handed.

    Jammers getting penalties would still hurt their team by having to skate with fewer players on the track, but the games wouldn’t be so lop-sided as they are now. And derby teams wouldn’t base their whole strategy into trying to force the opposing jammer into a back-block or cutting the track penalty.

    I should also add that clockwise skating has to be banned before someone gets seriously hurt. I’ve seen skaters leave the (derby) penalty box while skating clockwise when an outside pack ref (skating in the normal counterclockwise direction) was skating right at the skater. Both had their eyes on the action on the track, and just avoided hitting each other with what would have been a 30mph impact! And lots of other near misses. It also gets old watching a skater get knocked out of bounds and then the blockers skate clockwise to get behind the jammer (not to mention those blockers never seemed to get called for splitting the pack or for being out of play).

    It was weird, too, because WFTDA allowed skaters to skate CW most of the time, although you couldn’t skate CW to go to the penalty box nor to pick up a dropped helmet cover!

    Rusty Wheeler

  11. To love something does not mean that one must accept every aspect unquestioningly. To ask tough questions and to voice dissent are the things that show that one truly wants the best for the sport. I may not always agree with you, but I do appreciate your voice in the discussion. I think it is a shame that we see so many people in our ranks who blithely nod their heads in agreement with everything “membership” wants regardless of what it does for the interested non-member parties (read: fans and sponsors). Thank you for shaking your cane at “The woMan” and making your case.

  12. I think that changing one rule would eliminate the “passive offense.” Make the jammer part of the pack. Then the offense would be forced to engage the defense on a power jam. Not to mention, the jammer would be forced to skate much faster to catch the pack. There would be more speed, more hitting and less super high scoring. It would be heaven!

  13. I just don’t want to see roller derby die because nobody comes to watch. Watching slow derby is a chore. Fans don’t come to be bored. Fix it however you want, but fix it.

    I did see a USARS game two months ago. Local “pickup” USARS league full of the best cross-association, cross-league skaters in town, vs. the brand new tottery suburban league. Point spread? 40 points. Boring? Hell no!

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