Monday, February 9, 2009

A Discussion - Assigning a Penalty for Failure to Reform

At a recent interleague scrimmage a skater asked me about the penalty I'd given her for failure to reform the pack, and why she'd gotten the penalty rather than anyone else. This turned out to be a lot longer than I'd expected, but thus is the price for clarity and thoroughness.

Before we discuss who one would assign a penalty to and what that penalty might be for failure to reform the pack, we must first discuss when we would assign a penalty for failure to reform the pack. This is really the problem with enforcing this rule consistently amongst referees, more than is deciding who deserves what degree of penalty. As has been pointed out in other places by other fine referees, the problem here is that this penalty is unique in penalizing inaction, where every single other penalty penalizes action. I have in the past explained myself in making this call by pointing out that the players penalized made eye-contact with me during my calling of no-pack*, and then still did not skate. This however cannot be a necessary road sign on the path to calling this penalty every time, not if we're to call it correctly. Because, just as a skater cannot be guaranteed a warning at twenty feet before being penalized, neither can a skater require a warning of no-pack (or be required to see that warning) before being penalized. It is ultimately always the skater's job to know where they are in relation to the pack. So, what do we need to make this call?

Simply, we need inaction. That is, we need someone to have the opportunity to do something and then fail to try and do it**. So that need for inaction means we need an opportunity for action, which means that the penalty cannot come at the moment the pack splits. A good guide is thus - notice that the pack is split, now check to see if either group is already working to reform it, at the same time, check to see if it is still split. If you've taken the time to check these things, then enough time has passed and, if the pack is still split, you should feel comfortable assigning a penalty.

So now, what penalty? You should, as stated in the rules, default to a minor. There are certain circumstances though that will justify a major immediately. One prime example that comes up often is a team intentionally destroying the pack in order to free their Jammer. But how do you judge intent? The rules tell us that if we have to infer intent, we're to infer legal intent, so it must be totally clear to us. First, where is the skater's attention? Is everyone looking either at the other group of skaters and their Jammer or at the referee calling "no-pack", or are they focused on opponents and actively blocking? It should be clear which of these would indicate intentionally refusing to reform the pack. Secondly and related to the first, what are they doing? Again, are they actively blocking, or are they snow-plowing, holding each other back or taking a knee? Again, the two options seem to clearly indicate two different intents. And of course, even if you were to start with a minor, one should always be willing to upgrade that to a major in response to continued or repeated failure to reform.

The last part of this equation then is who should get the penalty. Sometimes it will be obvious who is "most responsible". A Pivot snow-plowing and spreading her arms to hold her teammates back, a skater up front ignoring the referees and yelling at her teammates to "Come on! Speed up!" or a skater in back grabbing her teammates' uniforms and keeping them from skating forward are all pretty reasonably the "most responsible". However, there are other times when everyone seems to be acting the same independently, who should we penalize then? The rules say that if no individual player can be singled out, then the Pivot or Captain gets the penalty. While that could be an easy out, wouldn't we like, shouldn't there be, a better solution? What if the Pivot's in the box and the Captain's on the bench, who then would we penalize? My solution has been to never resort to the Pivot or Captain in this case, but instead to assign the penalty to the player closest to the "other pack", as they are, in some way, most responsible. This is because they, more than anyone else, could reform the pack quickly. Anyone else would have to do the work of passing them, so if everyone acted the same, the closest player would reform a pack first, and so they must engage in the most inaction for the pack to not reform. Going back to our original discussion of why this penalty is unique, we see then how this player is most responsible.

As I started out saying though, this is a tough call to make, especially if a referee has not made it before. Indeed, it might be the toughest call to make in the current ruleset, if not all of derby. But like any call, practice, and more importantly, a thorough understanding of the rule and it's enforcement make every call both easier and more correct than the previous.

*note that during this discussion, I will consistently refer to no-pack, but the same general rules would apply in a split-pack situation, and indeed, there are even examples I'll use that must be a split pack situation and not a no pack.

** It is important to note here that it can sometimes be the person physically working the hardest that is doing nothing. For instance, if the pack is split, it might be the skater in the front racing away doing the least to reform, do not make the mistake of mistaking physical activity for working to reform or of assuming it is always the rear-most portion responsible for reforming a pack.

1 comment:

  1. Something that can really help with this is having a clear division of labor among refs, especially if you ref with the same group of people most of the time. On my league, the front inside pack ref watches the front half of the pack, while the back inside pack ref watches the back of the pack. At a recent scrimmage during a split pack, even though I was front pack ref, I looked back to see if the skaters in back were trying to speed up. This caused me to miss the fact that the skaters in front were not slowing down, for which I should have been assessing penalties. Clear communication about which refs are watching which skaters, whether it be the whole pack or parts of the pack, can help in quickly identifying who is "most responsible."