You Suck, Ref! Life After Minors
The 2013 derby season is under way, and it gives me much to anticipate—the camaraderie and support of fellow officials, fostering good working relationships with skaters, and involvement in our community, to name a few. I’m looking forward to what’s new…new faces, new strategies, new derby names (why is nobody named “Dashing Trudy Snow” yet?).
I’m also eager to watch play evolve under the new “No Minors” rules, recently released by the WFTDA. Ahh, minor penalties. I can almost hear Edith Bunker singing “Those Were the Days.” While most folks I know seem to have welcomed the demise of minors, I worry about some potential pitfalls for the stripey types. Before I get to that, however, a fun diversion:
Why I already like No Minors
The end of minors has several outcomes that make me happy…like, dancing-baby-penguin happy. Here are just a few:
• The amount of energy we sank into managing minor penalties was akin to the energy it would take to translate Homer while unicycling through a chicken coop. I look forward to redirecting this newfound attention surplus into maintaining safety, managing game flow, and yes, administering major penalties as needed.
• A fan sitting in Row Z might have thought that roller derby was the stupidest sport in the world when rafts of skaters were being sent off for measly fourth minors that you couldn’t even see from Row A. I am glad to no longer be culpable in that particular matter. Let’s hope that Big Illegal Action + Whistle + Hand Signal + Skater Exiting Track = a better fan experience.
• One of my pet peeves is now extinct: skaters will no longer take intentional fourth minors at the start of jams; by extension, I will never again have to hear this action be called a “cougar.” Thank God. Yes, humor is subjective, but to me the “cougar” joke was just not funny. I chuckled the first time I heard it, sure…by the nine thousandth time, I was pretty much ready for that rogue asteroid to collide with the Earth.
Reffing under the microscope
The new rules won’t be all wine and roses, though. In my opinion, our calls are going to be under a much finer microscope than before, and rightly so. In the old rules, many erroneous calls were minors that drew little attention. That false sense of security is now gone altogether.
Let’s say, under the old rules, I incorrectly call a minor elbow on Dashing Trudy Snow, and it’s her first minor. Is there a ripple effect? Sure, once Trudy is sitting on three minors, but by that time the memory of my bad call (if it was even noticed) is muddled with two other minors.
Similarly, if someone hits Trudy with a minor forearm, but I miss it, Trudy is probably irked. But, given everything else that happens in a jam, a stumble from an opponent’s forearm might not burn too brightly on Trudy’s radar. In each of these cases, I blew calls, but my ineptitude is obscured to some degree by the “Fog of Derby,” if you will.
Fast-forward to the new rules. Without minors, I’ll call fewer penalties. But now, all of my bad calls will have major impact on the game. All of them. The Fog of Derby won’t hide that. Trudy either gets a minute she didn’t deserve, or she gets taken out of a play illegally, with no call on her opponent. Crap. No Minors isn’t quite as bright and shiny when I think about it that way.
The wording of all penalties has been revised somewhat, and an article could be written on each one of them (zzzzzz…er, I mean, oh boy!). For now though, let’s briefly consider two:
Multi-player blocks. Quick: what’s in Neopolitan Ice Cream? Right! Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry! Three distinct ingredients! If you have a carton of ice cream with only chocolate in it, is it Neopolitan? NO! It’s just chocolate! Silly Rabbit!
Like Neopolitan, a penalized multi-player block has three ingredients: a multi-player linkage; an opponent trying to go through that linkage; and discernible impact to the opponent as a result of the linkage, including slowing or swerving to avoid it. If even one of these ingredients is missing, but you call a penalty anyway, you just screwed up and had major impact on the game.
MPBs are all majors now, including ones that would have been minors under the old rules. With walls being such a big part of strategy these days, the pressure is on to get these calls right. So, refs: sharpen your instincts for anticipating and distinguishing Neopolitan from simpler flavors with clunky names like “vanilla-strawberry.”
Clockwise blocks. Under the new rules, physical contact initiated by a clockwise-moving player that causes impact to an opponent is a major. That’s a tighter standard than before. These calls get screwed up a lot, often due to poor reffing fundamentals, so the new rules are a great excuse for a review. While there are countless possible scenarios, let’s stick with an old favorite:
The pack is skating up a straightaway. A blocker veers very sharply outside to hit an opponent. She gets a clockwise block call from a referee who was skating forward in pace with the pack, and she is off to the penalty box, wearing that classic “wha…?” look. This call gets made all the time, but red flags abound.
First, a quick common sense test. If the blocker truly is changing from going counter-clockwise to clockwise in one abrupt move at pack speed, she’s going to encounter G-forces that are straight-up astronaut (please use the phrase “straight-up astronaut” as often as possible from now on), and her wheels will probably set the playing surface on fire. Is that what you saw?
Also, a (moving) ref must NOT judge the swerving blocker’s change in direction relative to other (moving) skaters; the ref must judge her change in direction relative to a spot ON THE FLOOR. We get so used to thinking about “relative position” to other skaters, but this is not a time to do that. Shoot a glance at her feet, and maybe at a 10-foot line for reference. And remember: you’re moving, but the coach who will soon be coming out to yell at you is essentially stationary. That’s a much better vantage for judging if a motion was clockwise (or if a call was bogus).
The advent of No Minors makes refs’ lives easier on some fronts. On others, however, we have our work cut out for us. We all need to assimilate rules changes, take stock of our judgment, and exorcise bad habits. As stewards of the game, our calls should be about maintaining safe and fair playing conditions, not altering game outcomes. Let’s work to ensure that bad calls with major impacts go the way of the dodo…and of the “cougar.”