“…Rules Committee has seen to it that no one who understood the game the year before should understand it this year. The motto of the Rules Committee seems to have been: ‘New rules and new [fans] each year.’ …They changed rules every season as if they were trying to work up a new game…and make it into something they didn’t quite know about. They made illegal all the old plays that used to be the essence of the game and sat up nights trying to think up new things to put in their places. It has got so now that the Rules Committee itself is about the only body of [people] who know enough about the game to play it, and they haven’t anybody to play it with.”
This quote sums up the sentiment I get from many people each time WFTDA comes out with a revised rule set (almost unfailingly longer than the previous set) or clarification essays on the current rule set. I can appreciate the frustration. Teams need to change their strategies. Referees need to retrain their crews. These are not trivial tasks. Fans puzzle over why teams take unexpected tactics or why their favorite jammer got sent to the box. Their inability to understand the changing game can affect how much they enjoy being a spectator.
The evolving of the rule set is just a necessary part of the evolution of roller derby. As our sport becomes more mature, we need more robust rules. As teams push the limits of the rules, holes are found that need to be corrected to avoid unfair advantages. As more referees are needed, clear, detailed rules need to be written down to ensure accurate and consistent enforcement. Thoughtful consideration and revision of the rule set will eventually lead to better play by teams and more enjoyment by fans–even if it’s painful for everyone in the short term.
The quote at the beginning of this post was taken from an essay written by humorist Robert Benchley around 1930 about another sport that was in its early years of gaining popularity. The title is, “Football Rules or Whatever They Are.” I think football managed to survive its growing pains of rule revisions and so can roller derby. Maybe one day we’ll have mega pop stars having wardrobe malfunctions during the half-time show of our national championships! I’m willing to suffer through a lot more rule changes for that!