Let me pose this question first. How many refs should we need to have to run a full bout? If our goal as an emerging sport is to grow and spread the good word of flat track then that number must be low.
The reason we are flat landers and not skating on a slant is money. We all know in our hearts that there is something really sexy about banked track roller derby but we also know that with sex appeal comes too much responsibility.
We skate on flat tracks because they are easy and simple and cheap and if roller derby can survive and grow into a full sport in which high schools and colleges have roller derby teams they will be skating on flat tracks and not banked because it’s cheap and also possible to have a pick up flat track game in the parking lot of the mall provided you pay off the fuzz but it’s much harder to have a pick up banked track bout.
So I start to get to my point. We’ve got way to many refs to ever be considered a sustainable sport. By my math, which is usually wrong, you have about 15 refs and NSOs that have to be involved to have a WFTDA sanctioned roller derby bout. Consider now that we’ve got 10 girls on the track skating at any moment which gives us a 1.5:1 ref:girl ratio which is ridiculous. Why don’t we just start skating man on man coverage. We could assign a ref to a girl and just have that ref stick with her the whole time and already have less refs involved.
While we are all volunteers now we’ve got to be looking to the future and finding 15 ref volunteers to help out reffing a bout will soon not be an option as the demands for well trained referees grow and as that demand grows I fear we will start to see leagues beginning to pay their reffing staff to make sure they have a large enough ref crew for a legal bout.
I’m not all doom and gloom and I’ve come prepared with solutions. If we want to see roller derby continue to grow as a sport we must take the following steps to improve the sport and to make the sport much more accessible to those who want to play.
1. We’ve got to get rid of minor penalties. It’s a paperwork and logistical nightmare and adds more refs to the staff. Minors are already non-penalties. I can do something 4 times before it matters. We had something like that in high school for unexcused absences. On your 4th unexcused absence you went from an ‘A’ to a ‘B’. To us students that meant we got 3 FREE unexcused absences and we always did our best to take advantage of those three free ones by ditching school and driving around with our friends.
2. Outside pack refs need to go. There, I said it. They block the fans view. They are ineffective. They get in the way of the skaters. They add 5 whole staff members to the ref crew. The worst offense of outside pack refs though is the potential for a double call. It’s very possible for a skater to be called for a penalty on the inside of the track and also on the outside of the track and for the crew to not catch that it was called by two different refs for the same infraction. Calls will go and should go missed from time to time but NEVER should there be a situation in which a skater in penalized from something twice. Yes, having refs on the outside may stop skaters from using that outside elbow as much but I argue that the potential for failure is far greater then any good they may provide.
I’ve said my peace and I expect the hate mail to start pouring in but what I do I do for the love of the derby.