WFTDA 2017 Rules Update: Major Format Changes

WFTDA 2017 Rules Update: Major Format Changes Photo credit: Deadwards

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association released the new rules at the beginning of the month, and we took a quick look at them last week and talked in general about the updated look and changes to the format. Now we are going to delve a little deeper to break down the organization of the Rulebook and the Casebook and how WFTDA went from 74 pages of rules to a much more condensed version.

Here, we will look at the rules as a whole and break them down for those who are familiar with the old format as well as those taking on derby for the first time and have no clue what they’re looking at.

We recommend spending some time with the rules, even if you had the old set memorized, and then follow up by reading them again alongside the Casebook. It sets up scenarios that teams could easily play out at practice, and catch even the derby veteran up to speed on the intricacies of things such as scoring or star passes – always a good thing.

At the eighth revision of the WFTDA ruleset in 2015, things had become finite and specific, a side effect from years of skaters finding loopholes and asking lots of questions. They were repetitive and laid out what you could and couldn’t do with little context or explanation. Also, if you weren’t familiar with the language it was hard to get a clear understanding of everything without already knowing a thing or two.

The 2017 rules have been pared down to give you the essential on-track information. A lot of things that are typically handled before or after a game have been moved to appropriate officiating or policy documents, such as roster size, uniforms, forfeits, and track specifications. Those updated documents won’t be released until February 1st, but WFTDA has a list of all the moved items on their site, so you can clearly see what’s missing.

The rules now start with a conversational summary of the game instead of a clinical list of regulations. It reads almost like a script you might already have ready for every time that someone asks you how roller derby is played. That same opener also runs through what a common jam might look like, and even details a bit of strategy, to give a well-rounded vision of how the game is played.

What that means is that right away someone who just wants to get an idea of the rules and the game can have that all on one page, without having to wade through paragraphs describing the specific details of the track first.

Since the tone of the format has changed, there isn’t a number for every thought, but sections for broad ideas and explanations, making the Rulebook a little less extensive. For example, the previous rules went as distinct as “1.11.1.3.4 The Head Referee will announce a decision. This decision is final.” For reference in such a large book those specific numbers are helpful, but with the new, shortened version, a broader format outlining the main concepts works better.

In the old rules, you wouldn’t get to the explanation of the pack until section 3 on page 14, while in the new version you can find it midway through section 2. As an example for how WFTDA has condensed things, this section starts out similarly to the old rules but previously they had to specifically mention that jammers weren’t part of the pack. Since the definition of a pack is a group made up of Blockers, now it relies on the implication that Jammers are not included.

Photo credit: Deadwards

Photo credit: Deadwards

The penalty section is where things get interesting. Likely the most looked at portion of the Rulebook, the old rules laid out 16 different infractions and what was and wasn’t a penalizable action for each, coming off as the be all and end all list of penalties. Now, instead of sectioning off each individual penalty, the principle behind each kind of illegal play is laid out, justifying why it’s wrong and providing a guideline for refs and skaters to follow.

For instance, 4.1.1 explains that depending on the impact, contact to Illegal Target Zones is penalizable, and follows with the chart of said zones; above the shoulder, in the back, and below the mid-thigh (previously categorized as high blocks, back blocks, or low blocks). Then 4.1.2 Impact with an Illegal Blocking Zone means you can’t use your hands, elbows, or your head (previously categorized as forearms, multiplayer blocks, elbows, or blocking with the head). The Rulebook doesn’t go into much more detail than that, but the Casebook outlines different situations and what the outcomes are for different types of actions.

The third contact section explains how unexpected blocking from an opponent is dangerous and penalizable. You shouldn’t expect to be hit from someone moving clockwise, while you’re out of bounds, or while down. Furthermore, you wouldn’t be anticipating a hit from someone who picked up momentum from out of bounds. Referring to the Casebook for this section, it also holds assisting your teammate in these conditions to the same metric, “[Assists] cannot come from a place where one’s opponent would not expect an assist to happen, such as out of bounds, while down, or while stopped”.

Out of play penalties are framed under the idea that taking on or staying in a position in which you can’t be blocked is illegal and one of the recent changes aligns itself more within this concept. Previously you could remain standing out of bounds, so long as you aren’t required in bounds to form a pack. Now, just like if you are out of the engagement zone you are required to return, if you are out of bounds and may legally re-enter without skating clockwise, you are required to do so.

All contact sections emphasize that penalties are based on the impact on the opposing skater; does it cause them to lose balance, alter their speed or trajectory, or make them lose position? The rest of the penalties focus on how the action affects the game with an emphasis on fair, respectful play that doesn’t interrupt the game or give a team an unfair advantage. The rules also state that both the skaters and Officials must make every effort to keep the game flowing smoothly. It enables the officials to be more proactive on warning skaters about certain things before they become a problem, such as failing to report for a penalty, false start, or too many skaters on the track.

While the general Rulebook has been narrowed down considerably, it does also come with the Casebook. Also required reading, the Casebook takes certain sections of the rules a step further and outlines specific scenarios to explain what should happen and why. Without following up with this, one would miss the amended cut track rule in which skaters may cede their position. The Rulebook states that it’s illegal to use the out-of-bounds area to gain position on someone (4.2.2), but the Casebook goes on to explain that a skater may avoid a penalty if they immediately remove themselves from the track and re-enter legally (C4.37).

Some of the general changes from 2015 to 2017 are more explicitly written in the rules, such as when a penalty occurs mid-jam and it isn’t clear who it should go to, the Official now assesses it to the nearest Blocker from the offending team, when previously it went to that team’s pivot. One of the less obvious changes is the removal of the point of no return at the penalty box, allowing skaters to skate either direction to the box. Previously it specified the direction in which a skater must enter the penalty box, now it just says that the skater must “immediately leave the track”.

For those who don’t really want to have their nose glued to a computer screen for hours on end, the Casebook supplies you with situations that teams could play out on the track to get a more visual display and explanation of the rules. Outside of learning while playing the game – the way most people ultimately get the rules figured out – working through these outlined situations could really benefit skaters and officials alike. While for those who like all their information in the same place, this new format may result in a lot of cross-referencing and searching through multiple documents to find what you’re looking for.

Since there is a range of changes that are going into effect in 2017, it helps to review WFTDA’s Changes to Gameplay and Changes to Game Structure charts beforehand, so you can look for those situations as you make your way through the new rules.

Next week we will take a closer look at what those changes are and where you can find them in the new material. In the meantime, if you want a sort of “day calendar” of rules, Roller Derby Rule of the Day has been posting sections from the updated Rulebook and Casebook, and is currently emphasizing the new changes to the 2017 set.

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