After months of speculation – not least as to when it would actually be released – the new WFTDA ruleset was made available this week (and the PDF has already been updated once to fix errors in the original release…). The result has been a veritable feeding frenzy in the officiating community.
I’m planning to run through a few of the major changes and what I think the impact will be on the sport. Before I do so I would like to just make one thing absolutely clear; these are only my initial thoughts and my own personal opinions. As the rules are picked over by refs and skaters over the coming weeks I have no doubt that a whole host of new implications will be noticed and explored so my opinions may change. For now, here’s my thinking.
This is the big one. I have, in the past voiced the opinion that the loss of minor penalties will lead to scrappy play in the pack. After all, why not just have a little dig with the elbow? If she doesn’t go down you won’t get a penalty.
The trouble with this thinking is that if the referees perceive a skater to be wilfully (the rulebook likes the word “egregious”), recklessly or negligently making illegal contact this is grounds to expel that skater, regardless of impact. While this has always been the case my current thinking is that the use of minor penalties, rather than penalising dangerous play may actually have been permitting it. Now that we can no longer dismiss a blatant but ineffective elbow/forearm/whatever as only having minor impact I wonder if we will see more expulsions issued for this type of play.
Obviously I don’t actually wish to see skaters expelled, though equally I don’t wish to see skaters with cracked ribs. As such I will be very interested to see how this aspect of the new rules pans out.
One Whistle Starts and Downed Skaters
Jammers and blockers now start on the same whistle. While it is still technically legal for skaters to start the jam on their knees and so create a no-pack there is much less incentive to do so.
Edit – There’s been either a change to the wording of the rules or a mix-up on my part at some point prior to writing this post, probably the latter in all honesty. Either way, the previously stated change to the definition of a downed skater was overstated – the definition has been changed to include a skater with both (and only both) hands on the ground as well as a skater with one or both knees on the ground. Apologies for any confusion but I felt it best to clear this up. While I’m on this it’s worth noting that the rules PDF has been changed a coupel of times without notification before or after. These are small changes, but worth noting. If, like me, you work off of a saved copy it’s probably worth refreshing it.
For avoidance of doubt, a skater who has a single knee down is not a legal target and may not be engaged until fully upright.
Perhaps surprisingly, no minors seems set to also have a profound effect on how the pack is maintained. One thing I’ve noted is that sometimes where there is no pack teams can be pretty sluggish about reforming. The penalty for failure to reform was a minor, which would then be followed by a major in the event of sustained failure. In practice I rarely saw the major given. Now, any failure to immediately make an effort to reform the pack will see that team lose a skater to the penalty box and if they caused the no pack situation in the first place they will already be at least one short from the resulting penalty for destruction of pack. An interesting note on effort – the definition of this may also be about to become more stringent – senior WFTDA officials have indicated in discussion about the new rules that they are looking for a concerted effort to reform, rather than a token nod to the rules which has tended to be seen as acceptable in the past.
Again, this isn’t about seeing more penalties issued but rather about ensuring that the game takes place as it is supposed to. Which is with a tight pack of blockers, which the jammers must work hard to get through.
I think what the WFTDA have tried to do in this ruleset is to streamline the game. Undoubtedly part of this is to broaden the appeal of the sport, but importantly it seems they’ve been successful in avoiding the “dumbing down” that many were worried about. The overall effect is, hopefully, to have fewer situations where a spectator might say “What’s going on here?” or “What was that penalty for?” without changing the fundamental nature of the sport we all love.
The WFTDA are currently looking for feedback from anyone and everyone regarding these new rules. The idea being that if anything has been altered in an unforeseen manner the new rules can be revised before much of next season has elapsed. Personally I feel this quite a refreshing approach and look forward to the results of the first bouts to be played under the new ruleset.
What certainly hasn’t changed is that the skaters will be skating fast, hitting hard and turning left.