Officiating Curtis E Lay by Jules Doyle

Published on April 13th, 2012 | by Curtis E. Lay


Curtis E Lay by Jules Doyle

“But I Didn’t Touch Her!” A Field Guide To Penalty Calls

To this day, I love the old Roadrunner cartoons. Poor Wile E. Coyote. His wonderful, fundamentally flawed plans always ended with him falling off a cliff, blowing up, or falling off a cliff and then blowing up. With the money he spent on giant crossbows and earthquake pills from the Acme Company, he could have just ordered take-out roadrunner from the nearest diner, but damn it if he didn’t keep plugging away…but I digress.

A defining feature of a Roadrunner cartoon is the mock Latin names at the beginning, which give the cartoon a pseudo-documentary feel. The Roadrunner comes tearing out of the desert, and then in freeze-frame, you see a caption like “Roadrunner (Velocitus holycrapus).” Seconds later, the Coyote churns into view; his caption is more down-trodden, like “Coyote (Moron blowupicus).” Hijinks ensue…free bird seed, faulty catapult, fall off cliff, blow up. Glorious.

Well, in honor of the Roadrunner and Coyote, and in anticipation of this weekend’s Dust Devil tournament down in the Sonoran Desert, I would like to offer the first installment of my own pseudo-documentary, a Field Guide to Penalty Calls. If anyone likes it, there may even be a second installment, possibly inspired by that “kill da wabbit” cartoon. Without further ado:

The “But I Didn’t Touch Her!” (Bogus noncontacticus)

You’re skating along, not touching anyone, when suddenly some goofball ref like me is giving you a fourth minor. Or, you see an opponent skating up behind you and suddenly she slows or swerves to avoid whatever sinister plans you had for her…no contact, but here again goofball ref is calling your color and number, giving you a clockwise block or a multiplayer block.

Following said call, the skater will quite often turn to said goofball ref with a stupefied expression, arms extended in disbelief, and say, “But I didn’t touch her!” Or, “You’re crazy!” Or, “Jesus H. Christ!” Or, “Judas H. Tits!” Or “_______!” (As in, your mouth is wide open but you’re so angry that no sound comes out.)

Let’s dissect the “But I Didn’t Touch Her,” because there are several possibilities as to why this sneaky penalty has invaded your life. As I see it, there are at least four distinct varieties:

1. It was a bad call by the ref.

Sure, refs miss calls from time to time. (Blasphemy!) But let’s dig a little deeper into the more subtle and genuinely confusing cases that actually reflect fair, correct calls:

2. It was a delayed call by the ref.

A skater is in bounds, in the engagement zone, hasn’t hit anyone for about half a lap, and suddenly gets issued a fourth minor for a contact penalty. Sounds like a bad call alright. But, several times per bout, we have situations where a ref calls a minor on a skater, then reports the minor to the wrangler, who reports it to the penalty tracker and the penalty board, and it turns out to be the skater’s fourth minor, and that information then gets relayed back through the NSOs to the ref, who calls the skater off for her fourth minor.

That process sounds simple enough, but in reality it can take several seconds to complete, especially if there are several other penalties to process. By the time you get whistled for your fourth minor, you may have skated half a lap since you committed it, and you may have put the actual contact out of your mind (or, in a loud venue, you never even heard the call to begin with). Until refs and NSOs are replaced by loud robots, time delays are a part of the game.

3. You committed an illegal positional block that had impact.

A few penalties in the WFTDA rules are extra special, in the “bad” sort of extra special way: they’re normally contact penalties, but sometimes they are illegal even when no contact occurs. Two common examples are multiplayer blocks and clockwise or stopped blocks.

If you and a teammate obstruct an opponent with a link (joined hands, hooked arms, grabbing uniforms, line-dancing, etc.), and that link causes the opponent to slow down or change her trajectory, it’s a multiplayer block, because you initiated a positional block in a way that would be illegal if contact occurred, and it had impact (the opponent slowed or changed her path). It is similarly illegal to position yourself in front of an oncoming opponent and then stop or move clockwise, causing her to slow or change her trajectory.

Correctly assessing positional blocking penalties takes a lot of practice, because many interacting factors are at work…timing, distance, speed, established positions and pathways, etc. So, refs: work hard on recognizing the initiator, the actual act of obstruction, and whether or not it had impact. And skaters: if you have lingering questions about these calls, ask your refs to walk you through them. (Just be sure to do it during practice or down time, not during a time out in a bout…that would be RIVETING viewing for your fans.)

4. You tried, unsuccessfully, to do a very bad thing.

Some actions are regarded as so dangerous that they are penalized harshly, even if no contact occurred. Fortunately these are rare, but they are cases where the “but I didn’t touch her!” defense is explicitly overruled.

To illustrate, let’s bring back the Roadrunner and Coyote. Go here, fast-forward to 1:25, and watch the ensuing action. The Roadrunner intentionally attempts to trip the Coyote, who jumps the Roadrunner’s leg. Even though no contact occurs, the Roadrunner should be expelled for an egregious Low Block (see WFTDA Rule 6.3.11, and note that attempting to trip an opponent is grounds for expulsion, whether or not it was successful). That Roadrunner…what a cold-hearted bastard.

Joking aside, several egregious swing-and-miss expulsion penalties are outlined in the WFTDA rules. These actions tend to be easy for refs to spot, plus they’re dangerous, so don’t do ‘em.

So there you have it, a short synopsis of the “But I Didn’t Touch Her!” Refs will do our collective best to drive the first variety extinct. Hopefully, the other three make more sense now.

Until the next installment of A Field Guide to Penalty Calls, don’t fall off a cliff and blow up.

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Curtis E. Lay

Curtis E Lay is a level four certified WFTDA referee, plying his trade in Seattle. He writes about officiating for Derbylife.

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Curtis E Lay is a level four certified WFTDA referee, plying his trade in Seattle. He writes about officiating for Derbylife.

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