Saturday’s semifinal bout between Rat City and defending WFTDA-champion Rocky Mountain was one of the most awkward bouts I’ve ever watched. I’ve never seen fans express so much anger at both teams. And, it all stemmed from the very legal decision by Rat City and Rocky Mountain to stand on the track and not skate. That’s right. On three of the bout’s jams, the jammers were never released because the pack did not move. On many more occasions, at least 45 seconds of the jam clock ticked away before the jammer whistle sounded. And, though it drove the fans crazy and the rules should change to prevent such loopholes, it proved to be very effective for Rat City, the initiator of the strategy.
(Read my recap of the bout on DNN and the controversy in the comments.)
Coming into the tournament, Rat City was rarely included in talk of who would make it to the WFTDA Championship Tournament. Rocky, Oly, and Denver, the top three seeds, were considered the frontrunners. But, after upsetting Denver Friday, Rat City became the talk of the tourney. It was assumed they would lose to Rocky and most likely play Rose City for the coveted third-place spot. No one expected them to give Rocky much trouble. They were wrong.
Any team can beat any other team on a specific jam. But, once you factor in many jams, it is much more likely that the better team will outscore the other. Rat City recognized that Rocky Mountain was the better team. They knew their best chance was to shorten the bout and hope they could beat Rocky on enough jams to win. In addition, Rat City knew they could gain an advantage by getting in the heads of Rocky Mountain’s skaters. Rocky has a history of letting their emotions get the best of them. The same passion that motivates them to astounding achievements on the track works against them when thousands of spectators are booing them. One needs look no further than Rocky’s penalty box visits Saturday night. Though I do not have the specific penalty counts, Rocky regularly had a full penalty box. By shortening the game and rattling Rocky, Rat City was able to post a shocking final score: Rocky Mountain 117-Rat City 107.
The reaction to the delayed-start strategy was devastating with the brunt of the anger directed at Rat City. Various hardcore Rat City fans had scathing things to say about their team. Some said they were switching over to rooting for Rat City’s rivals. Many more claimed that the skaters were ruining roller derby. Star skaters on both teams were in tears after the psychologically-draining bout. Rat City prepared for this bout by bringing in people to heckle them at practice. They were well aware of the consequences of their strategy.
That said, I disagree with bile being hurled at Rat City. First of all, Rocky Mountain deserves just as much of the blame. They could have started any of these jams by skating forward (see WFTDA rule 220.127.116.11.2). But, since they had the lead (and didn’t factor in the emotional toll of the heckling); it was to their advantage to let the clock run down. And as explained above, for Rat City, this strategy was better than facing Rocky Mountain hit-for-hit jam-after-jam. Rocky Mountain is the better team. This was evidenced by two 20-point jams. But after these big jams, before Rocky could run away with the bout, Rat City slowed things down with delayed starts. It was ingenious.
But, though it was ingenious, the rules need to change. WFTDA and most of its member leagues are clearly interested in pleasing the fans. And, aside from a sadistic few, no one wants to see clock time wasted without ladies hitting each other. The fans pay 10, 20, 30 dollars to watch roller derby. WFTDA needs to introduce a rule that both allows for delayed-start strategy and pleases the fans by assuring there are no jams in which the jammers are not released. I recommend a “jammer release clock.”
Before I describe this concept, let’s talk about basketball. In professional and collegiate basketball’s early days (and still in many high school leagues), a team with a lead could just dribble the ball for the remaining few minutes of the game to secure their victory. Some particularly over-matched teams may score the first few points of the game and try to stall for the remainder of the contest in hopes of pulling off an upset, their best strategy. In response to this not-playing-is-the-best-strategy strategy, the shot clock was introduced. This required teams to shoot the ball in a specific amount of time (currently, 24 seconds in the NBA.)
Why don’t we adopt something similar for roller derby? Why not force a jammer release after some amount of time in the jam? I’m not going to go so far as to name a specific time. I’m just suggesting that there be a required release. This would allow teams to delay starts when it is strategically prudent to do so, but it would keep the fans happy by avoiding “stroller derby.”
I was raised to work within the system to make changes if something upsets me. I suggest if roller derby fans, skaters, movers, and shakers are really upset about the time wasted during a bout in which roller derby should be played, then they should work to change the rules. Write letters to WFTDA. Work within your league to influence WFTDA. Personally, I think we should focus more on getting rid of the biggest time waster present in every sanctioned bout. It dwarfs the time lost with the delayed starts in the Rocky-Rat bout. I’m talking about the 30 seconds between jams. This comprises at least 15 minutes of every 60-minute bout. But, that’s for another article.
Work to change the rules. Don’t punish the skaters on the track who are using the rules to their best advantage and trying to entertain you.