Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Managing Penalties - Part 2

While Part 2 of this multi-part blog (Part 1 can be found here) will primarily discuss jammers, it should be noted that the rules applying for those that wear the star, also apply to blockers and pivots.

The happenstances which will be discussed happen to jammers a lot, and it may be easier to envision these occurrences happening to a jammer.

Where as Part 1 dealt with keeping control and managing your team's penalties both as a player and as bench support staff, Part 2 will focus entirely on the track play and requires the astute attention of your players.

Cutting the pack penalties (and to some degree the Illegal Procedure plays in regards to players exiting the penalty box) are contingent upon the offending player's relative position to and within the pack.

In order to commit a Cut a player must step out of bounds and gain illegal advantage on one or more skaters.

There is no significance on which team member she passes. An offending player will obtain the same penalty whether she cuts and opposing player or one of her own.

The key definition for a Cut penalty is relative position within the pack, which means two things:
1.) The Cutting infraction is NOT  relative to your exit point on the track (unless upon re-entering at that point you've still ceded any and all advantage to the other players).
2.) The Cutting infraction is relative to the pack and only incurs upon an offending player who gains an illegal advantage on in-pack skaters. Thusly, if there is no pack or skaters are not in-play (within 20 feet of the engagement zone, upright and moving, and on the track -- there should not be a Cut penalty called.

That's not to say that in the heat of the moment the referees are not entirely sure of the pack structure, and possibly give a skater a penalty. It will happen, as pack restructuring is happening faster and faster as the strategies evolve, but also the higher levels of players are able to reform a pack on a dime.

Legal passes
Legal passes won't concern a blocker, but jammers live and die by legal passes. 

I should also point out that even if you wouldn't earn a  penalty for passing someone who is out of play while you're out of bounds, it is still not considered a legal pass. 

Legal passes on the first lap of the pack determine lead jammer status, as a player who incurs an illegal pass (or a non-legal pass -- which there is a difference) will not earn lead jammer unless she cedes advantage and tries to repass legally.

Legal passes on the second lap and subsequent laps are relative to individual points. Illegal passes or a non-legal pass, which is defined as the No Pass, No Penalty hand signal, are not scored, however any illegal passes will be reported as penalties.

This becomes the tricky part. On the first pass, it's in a jammer and her team's best interest to earn Lead Jammer and to maintain Lead Jammer status as long as possible. You are more likely to see a jammer cede an illegal pass or a No Pass, No Penalty in order to repass legally so that she may earn Lead Jammer status. On subsequent passes, that same jammer my happily take a No Pass, No Penalty -- forfeiting the point -- to not lose position within the pack particularly if the opposing jammer is close by.

Leave the cannoli, take the gun
That little play on a famous movie quote is intentional. In this instance the cannoli is the point you forfeit so you don't lose position in the pack.

In Part 1 I talked about watching your's and the opposing player's feet when you travel out of bounds. As long as you don't gain advantage on other players in doing so, once your opponent steps out she becomes out-of-play and you can step back on the track without incurring a Cut penalty.

By waiting for your opponent to move forward or to actively re-enter legally, a skater may lose valuable pack position, dropping back two, three or more spots - which can be crucial in key games. 

You see many high-level skaters (I'm looking at you, Suzy Hotrod!) make that kind of decision in a matter of milli-seconds.

Sometimes those one or two points can be the big difference in close games, but in less crucial situations, it is almost always beneficial to forfeit the one point and get back in as soon as possible.

Where's the pack?!
You can usually here me along the benches yelling "Call the pack!." I'll do this reffing, too. "Call the pack!" should be a staple in any referee's vocabulary. Defining the pack is key for so many other penalties, and sometimes in the heat of the moment you don't want to look away to see where the pack is located (Like if you're jam reffing). "Call the pack!" is a cue for someone to either say "Pack is here" or "No pack."

I'm a bigger fan of "Pack is here," "Pack is up," "Pack is back," "No pack" or "All in." (Thank you, Pork Chop!) These cues give you a much better idea of where the pack is without taking your eyes off gameplay.

As a coach I'm not usually one to scream that someone is out of play (OK, I lied). Recently, I've tried to get in the habit of yelling "Call the pack" because the pack definition determines Out Of Play and Cutting penalties. It asks a lot of the referees, but from the standpoints of being a referee, (pseduo) player and a coach, I recognize that 90 percent of roller derby game play relies on pack definition.

A good player will have an eye on the pack definition (and a really good player will use that to her advantage).

By passing a player (while you yourself are Out of Bounds) who is not considered in play because he or she is outside the engagement zone will not earn you a penalty, and will in face be a No Pass, No Penalty.  

Here's an example from Uproar on the Lakeshore, the WFTDA 2010 championships: http://vimeo.com/16595182

At 0:44 during the Gotham-Texas footage. Belle Star, the Texas blocker in white, manages to force Gotham jammer Suzy Hotrod out of bounds. Suzy keeps an eye on Belle, watching for one of her feet to come out of bounds. Instead, Belle loses her balance and falls, becoming Out of Play, at which point Suzy jumps back on the the track.

Jammers passing players who are Out of Play to the rear of the pack should attempt to do so legally to earn a legal pass or a point for each said player. By earning points on the rear-most opposing blocker, the jammer also earns points for players in the box. This may be the one example where it is a bad idea for a jammer to forfeit the point for pack position. If the opposing blocker(s) is out of play, she should be able to pass them without much effort. (If I'm the opposing players who just got passed, I hustle to the pack to re-engage the jammer again.

Jammers at the top of the pack, stuck behind an Out of Play opposing blocker, can pass her out of bounds without incurring a Cut penalty, but must be sure that in doing so that that player remains out of play. Cutting the foremost blocker will result in a major. It is highly recommend that passing an Out of Play blocker by skating out of bounds should be the last option, after all other options are extinguished.

The same standard holds true when there is a No Pack situation defined. A player should not incur cutting penalties when there is a No Pack situation, since Cutting requires gaining advantage on in-play skaters.