Sunday, July 3, 2011

No Minors. Thoughts, reactions.

During this ECDX weekend I was able to officiate one of the WFTDA’s Beta-test bouts, trying out a new ruleset with no minor penalties. The ECDX had three such Beta-tests scheduled, in addition to those happening elsewhere; I was assigned to Head Referee the bout between Maine’s Port Authority and Steel City’s Steel Hurtin’. Below are some of my reactions to it.

1) It was a lot of fun. That’s my biggest takeaway from this experience. Spectators report me walking away from the bout smiling. Yeah, I know, that’s serious business. But it was exciting, and so much fun. You remember when you first saw Roller Derby and thought “I love this game!”, and then you started refereeing or NSOing (or skating or announcing) and as you learned to do that you thought “I love this game! This is fun!”? But then, slowly, maybe you didn’t even notice it happening entirely, it became a little less fun, and a little less fun. You’re getting yelled at for not calling something that’s defined as having no impact on the game. Or you keep getting called on things you can’t imagine actually matter. Or you can’t explain what’s going on because even the skaters and refs don’t seem entirely sure. There’s a lot of timeouts to get all these minors sorted out, it’s not the best experience. This experience, without minors, was different than that, it was fun. But why it was fun has to do with these other points.

2) You can focus on the game more. As refs, I really think minors distract us from the game itself. For instance, there’s the reporting of the penalties that can cause us to miss something important. A Major penalty, a pack destruction, a Lead Jammer trying to call off the jam, or even a team whose facing the wrong end of a 2-on-4 pack while down a jammer getting their two skaters up to the front of the pack. We miss that stuff. But it also keeps our attention on things that again, are defined as having no impact on the game itself, so we’re paying far too much attention to stuff fundamentally unrelated to the game, instead of the game. With no minors, I can see something happen, I can dismiss it faster than I maybe otherwise could (it didn’t have significant impact, move on), and I can see the game develop, I feel it’s rhythm, and that allows me to better anticipate what action will happen next.

3) It’s less confusing. Spectators and announcers don’t usually know why someone’s received their fourth minor. They don’t know what three she got before that one, and they probably don’t know what her fourth was either. Is that a surprise? It shouldn’t be, the skaters usually don’t know that either, and that’s because the referees usually don’t know that information. I feel like a superstar referee when I can let a girl know “Black 42, you have four, (it was a forearm)”. But now, almost every penalized action is obvious, the spectators see it happen and see it affect the game. The skaters experience the effect, often times know they did it, and the referee is under no confusion about it. Even penalties coming in from the outside are easily communicated. It’s transparent, and that’s to our mutual benefit.

4) It was easier to administrate. In the bout I officiated we had two NSOs on the inside, the Penalty Tracker and the Jam Timer. There was no need for an Inside White Board, or two Outside White Boards. No need for a wrangler. We did add one NSO, a Penalty Tracker on the outside, to see if we needed one on the inside, from our one trial, the conclusion is no, we don’t. This means you have only one NSO in the middle, the Jam Timer. Consider also how much easier that makes it for everyone to see everything. But also, no Official Timeouts for handle late fourths. No intentional fourth minors.

5) It was aggressive and kept moving. Now, let me be clear, by “aggressive” I mean it kept things happening, it was offense oriented. With no minors, there’s more Lead Jammers, that means more aggressive blocking, rather than passive blocking. In the Windy City v Charm City bout I watched there were multiple hits that resulted in the whole crowd reacting. No penalties for those, they were just big hits. That’s not common right now. That’s fun. And the heightened penalization of Direction of Gameplay and Multi-Player Blocking penalties meant things moved forwards far more than they stood still or backwards.

6) This last one though is perhaps the one I’m most excited about. To begin with, there’s a simplified strata of impact, we train referees on one scale, penalize this, not this, and here are you’re three exceptions. That makes it easier to train and standardize to. We will have more consistent refereeing, more quickly. But also, review. Four years ago I told Kool-Aid that every week NFL referees get a video of their calls from the weekend and a review how was their positioning, was the call right or wrong, what could be improved. We can’t do that with minors, we are making literally hundreds of calls a game, one referee can make a hundred calls themselves in some games. Right now, we can only teach referees to generally be in this spot, and to want to move to be in position, and list some scenarios. But now we have the potential to review the dozen calls they made. You were out of position on this call because of this. You overcalled this because you missed this. This is huge. And it also makes it a feasible reality for video review during a bout, if that’s something we want. But that’s another discussion.


  1. This seems to make sense to me. With less NSOs this means that smaller start-up leagues could be fully staffed on a week-by-week basis. They could also get into bad habits (players and refs).

    Slips - TCRG, Vancouver BC

  2. What sort of "bad habits" do you mean?

  3. Sounds good and could be the start of improving the game. But sad for me. As a new NSO, I can see my chances of getting a game slot getting slimmer. Back to the stands for me, I guess.

  4. I am really glad I found this blog. It's really nice to hear the perspective of officials! While I'm still a little leery of the new rule-set at least I can rest assured that it will be a smoother situation for Zeebs and NSOs.

  5. I think you had some valuable first-hand insight here. I used to run scoreboard, and my wife is a derbygirl. The concern for her is that now that certain types of moves are no longer illegal, we'll see more things like rib injuries from elbows and what used to be classified as "dirty" hitting.