I just recently turned 30 and I find that the older I get the more annoyed I get with the littlest things. I hate driving to work and sharing the road with people who have no concept of how their turn signals work. I detest hipsters, who look homeless, that order shots of Patron at the bar. If you are a guy in a band with dyed black bangs covering your eyes, I want to punch you in the face. I would rather be water boarded than go to a mall. At this point I am 5 years away from being Andy Rooney with full sleeves.
There are a lot of things that annoy me in roller derby, hence the name of this column, but minor penalties are definitely in the upper echelon of my list. They are way too subjective and ticky-tacky depending on who is officiating the game. While the Big 5 has the best roller derby ref crews on the planet, there are still a lot of inexperienced or just plain bad refs working regular season games. These minute penalties add up quickly and can severally hamper even the best team when they are on the road.
Minors make a confusing game, even more confusing as a penalty can have varying levels of impact on the game. The majority of fans don’t get them. Ticket sales are what makes games possible and if the fan base plateaus that will hamper the growth of the sport. Non Skating Officials (NSOs) have to track them quickly, in real time, and hopefully get them right. Included with that, this puts a lot of bodies and equipment in the middle of the track, which makes that little island even smaller. Finally the idea that 4 minor impact penalties get added together to be the equivalent of 1 major impact penalty has always been strange to me. 4 small incidents is equal to 1 penalty that dramatically affects play? It doesn’t make sense that if a skater’s elbow raises four times on a check causing minimal, incidental contact, that it is equal to one direct elbow shot to the body that causes an opposing player to fold like a cheap lawn chair.
Minors hinder and unfairly penalize aggressive play in roller derby. In a full contact sport (football and hockey being the prime examples) small infractions of the rules go uncalled on every play and are considered part of the culture/spirit of the game. Roller derby games are not being decided by who is the best team in a 5 on 5 situation but by who can keep the most players on the track at a time.
Roller derby games are not being decided by who is the best team in a 5 on 5 situation but by who can keep the most players on the track at a time.
Power jams and penalties have emerged as the deciding factors in who wins or losses games thus discouraging players from going for big hits or attempting to thread the needle on an upcoming wall. Ironically in what is touted as an aggressive sport, it has become more beneficial to play it safe then to take a chance.
Could roller derby exist without minors and if so what would this glorious world look like? Back blocks would still draw majors if jammers tried to bulldoze their way through the pack, just like charges in basketball. High blocking minors don’t exist currently and low blocks wouldn’t change much as most of the low blocks that are called are majors anyway as they take opposing skaters off their feet. Elbows, forearms, and hands could have more leeway when things go aster on a check while things such as shoving or grabbing another player could automatically be met with a major penalty that would be used throughout WFTDA. Skaters would know where the line has been drawn instead of that line being determined on a game by game basis by an officiating staff. The same can be said for almost every other penalty that carries a minor/major conflict in WFTDA play.
Whenever I have this conversation with someone, the great sticking point always seems to be “yeah, but what about track cuts?” Personally, I hate minor track cuts as I think the lack of points plus the minor penalty double penalizes the jammer for one action. If your point scorer is not scoring points, that in and of itself is a hindrance to your team. “But what about major track cuts? Wouldn’t a jammer just skate around the last wall of defense or cut through the middle of the track, to come back around to score again?” Actually this rule already exists, its skating out of out bounds. This could also be issued against blockers who try to advance their position by stepping out of bounds to intentionally cut around other blockers.
Look- I am not perfect. I drink enough coffee to caffeinate a small third world country. My body is more Buddha than Christian Bale (a lot more to be honest). My idea of organizing important documents is to throw them into a big pile on my dresser. I used to wear jean shorts for God’s sake…JORTS! That all being said, I also know what my imperfections and mistakes are and I work to fix them. That is what I hope this article spurs, a discussion and an attempt at change. What can you do? If your a player, encourage your league to try a scrimmage without them and see what the results are. Innovations do not take place without experimentation and this is no different. Many things have changed since the first flat track roller derby game; hell a lot of things have changed since 2008. Minors are a major mistake that need to change as well.
*photo by Axle Adams