Sunday, September 13, 2009

Derby's Strike Zone, Twenty Feet

If there were one call complained about more consistently than any other, it would have to be twenty feet (and it's kid sister, ten feet). This probably comes as no surprise to anyone. This, despite the fact that we've universally acknowledged that no referees will ever get this dead on every time, let alone referees as a large mass getting it dead on every time. In short, we'll never be robots any more than we'll ever be zebras, to expect us to is unrealistic and naive. But more importantly, it's time we start understanding that that is O.K.

The problem of course is that twenty feet is so solidly defined that we make the mistake that it should be as such so solidly measurable. Where relative position is understandably a discretionary call (as much as some people might not like that idea), twenty feet has a sense that it isn't, because outside of derby, twenty feet is inarguable and not discretionary. We need to start coming to the understanding though that in the context of roller derby, as is the case for almost all other calls, twenty feet is a discretionary call. It is discretionary in the sense that it is the referee's best sense estimation in the moment, in motion, of measuring an invisible distance or area. We see the parallel then to baseball's strike zone.

In the strike zone we have a relatively well defined, measurable space that is nevertheless up to someone to measure and estimate by eye in the moment, in motion. This is not to suggest that strike zones aren't argued about during games, obviously they are. But it's rare that that complaint is carried over to after the game. It's generally accepted that the umpire will call it as best they can, that it's not entirely possible to get it perfectly correct, and that it's more important that the calling is consistent and predictable for the duration of the game, so long as it is generally predictable by the rules.

We should then adopt this same standard for twenty feet. That the call comes in between nineteen and twenty-one feet, and is consistently the same throughout the bout (IE always at 19.5') should be considered to be strong reffing. That a skater and team could spend the first jam or two feeling this measure out, and from then on have a solid understanding of where it will be called by this crew for the rest of the bout should be a standard of consistency for which we should strive in the immediate, even if our goal continues to be the unattainable perfect twenty by all referees in the future.

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