At one point in the Nightmare on 95 East Regionals roller derby championship game on Sunday, I watched the eventually victorious Gotham Girls forcing the Philly Roller Girls to essentially spend around a minute — which felt like hours — trying to figure out how to move a starting pack that was standing around preventing the jammers from getting anywhere. Some fans got up and started booing, and Philly finally broke out of it to grab lead jam, but the prevalence of the stalemate start pervaded the oft-exciting, oft-frustrating tournament.
I found myself in the middle of a Twitter conversation on the tactic, an ongoing discussion that often invokes the disgust of skaters, refs and fans alike. To see two talented teams stand around behind the start line for a minute is good strategy for the team that’s ahead and in control of the bout — but it’s not very fan friendly.
I haven’t really had an issue with teams taking knees or making other tactical maneuvers to frustrate the opposing jammer and force the other team to counter because, in large part, they lead to a no-pack situation that allows the jammer an opportunity to break through and the game moves on. Strategies that lead to long bouts of non-action are less welcome.
With the success of the Gotham, other leagues will follow suit bringing the sport to a crawl … unless the ruling body Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association does something about it. Skater/ref Hannah Grenade observed that she has seen games with the LA Derby Dolls where the jammers are just sent anyway. And as the Wreckin Roller Rebels of Denver noted, the sport of roller derby is still so new that teams are finding ways around the current rules, so those running the sport will also learn to adapt.
Maybe so. But while teams like Gotham can win bouts with this tactic, the more important reaction was not how Philly countered, but the fans’ response. If we create a sport that bores fans, causes them to boo stall tactics and makes them not want to return to roller derby events, that means more than anything else. Sure, teams can win with a strategy that takes the excitement out of a sport … but if we alienate fans in the process, we all lose.
UPDATE: Both Oz coach Flyin Phil (in the comments) and Ithaca’s SufferJets (via Twitter) noted that WindyMan has an outstanding, detailed blog entry on this that includes a potential solution. Well worth reading!