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Simply Put, Boyfriend/Refs in Tournaments are Bad for Derby

For those of you that haven’t been paying attention to the bottom half of the comment thread on the “Rocky Mountain Rollergirls Take It All” article on DNN, the Cliff’s Notes version is that referee Tootie Tinwhistle and Rocky Mountain Rollergirl Amanda Jamitinya are in a relationship. No big deal. However, Tootie was a ref in the championship game between Rocky Mountain and Oly. Now, it’s an issue. Despite the size this has become, I have not seen anyone call into question the results of the game or accused anyone of cheating. This is simply a matter of people addressing a problem and trying to get it changed. But, somehow, there is pushback from those saying it’s not a problem, which is evidenced in this week’s Derby Deeds podcast. If you aren’t listening to Derby Deeds then you are pretty much a failure as a derby fan (I kid, but seriously). In it, Megatron and Hurt Reynolds (two people whose opinions I respect but are completely and totally wrong about this issue) argued on the side that there are no problems with the current way that referee crews are being handled.

I don’t even need to address the relationship issue, the fact that refs are calling games for their home leagues or leagues they ref for on a somewhat regular basis in the playoffs represents a clear conflict of interest. That does not necessarily mean biased calls are made. It means that the refs are too familiar with the players on the track to have the ability to call a perfectly even game. Lemmy Hearya put it perfectly on DNN:
How many decisions must a ref make in the course of a bout? Hundreds, easily. From the first whistle to the last, a ref is constantly evaluating where various actions and situations fall---was something incidental, or intentional? Insignificant, or meriting a penalty? Major penalty, or minor penalty? A number of those determinations are going to be borderline situations, and must be decided quickly. With the best will in the world, I don't see how any human being could not, subconsciously at least, give some benefit of the doubt in a borderline situation to someone he knows and respects (much less loves, if it comes to that). And, how many things must a ref keep track of during a jam? More than anybody really can. When deciding who and what to watch (again, possibly subconsciously), it's only to be expected that somebody would focus more on the people out there they don't know and trust.

That’s just the issue of wanting the most fair game possible. The other aspect is the perception of the sport as a whole. Why are there no longer fake fights and players getting spanked at halftime after a spin on the penalty wheel? It’s not because there weren’t enough fans who cared enough to complain. It’s not because those fans didn’t like it. It’s because it called into question the seriousness and legitimacy of the sport. This ref issue does the exact same thing except on a much bigger scale: the championship game of the sport, not a random home game with 800 in attendance. Even if a ref can be perfectly unbiased, it looks bad, just as a row of dudes lined up to spank a skater looks bad.

During this week’s Derby Deeds episode, it was brought up that people are surprised about the existence of relationships between refs and skaters. I don’t think anyone has said anything even close to this. Nobody is trying to say that this is a problem through all of derby that needs to be addressed even down to the intraleague level. Everyone seems to be pretty realistic that, yes, this is still a DIY sport, yes, no one is getting paid. Everyone gets that. However, on the playoffs level, on the championship level, on the championship game level, the DIY all-volunteer aspect of the sport is not an issue whatsoever. There are at least two to three full crews of refs at each region and championship. That is more than enough people to successfully ref, at the very least, the two games on the Sunday of championships without conflicts of interest.

The surprise people are showing comes from this happening in the most important game of the year. Those dismissing this issue aren’t taking the scale and resources of the WFTDA championship into account. Nobody is saying that boyfriends shouldn’t be calling intraleague games. That’s a question of resources. There aren’t enough refs to call most of those games otherwise. But, we’re talking about the championship and playoffs. That is a completely different level of the sport. It’s even a completely different level than a regular season WFTDA sanctioned game. Since it’s on a different level, trying to use the DIY all-volunteer canned response to any criticism of the WFTDA is no longer valid. There were thousands of people there paying good money to be a part of it. They didn’t contribute to a charity for a write off on their taxes. They paid money to watch a legitimate sport's championship being played just as they would if they went to a college basketball or pro football game. They don’t care if no one is getting paid, the money out of their pocket is just the same. I know that many don’t like the comparison to pro sports but it’s a fact of life. You don’t need to change everything to “fit in”. You don’t need to use real names. You don’t need to have more consistent less-revealing uniforms. Those aren’t an issue with the sport. This is an issue of the sport.

And, since it’s an issue of the sport, I think we can all agree that we want the most fair game possible. The argument was made that boyfriend refs are many times more harsh on their girlfriend’s team. This is not an argument for continuing to use boyfriends in these games, it’s an argument against it. If the consensus is that boyfriends are taking it extra hard on their girlfriend and their girlfriend’s team, how is that a fair evenly called game? How is that fair for the girlfriend and her team? On the same hand, if refs are more familiar with skaters and more familiar with the penalties that skaters are prone to, then how is that fair and evenly called? The refs chosen for playoff games should be as neutral as possible. Again, we know that people have friends in leagues all over the country. Nobody is saying that refs need to live in a closed-off bubble but an attempt should be made to make the game fair.

It’s being said that ref crews need to work with each other for an entire weekend in order to gain trust and camaraderie with one another, otherwise, games won’t be reffed as well. You can’t argue on one hand that refs are mindless robots that would never let their relationship with skaters even subconsciously affect the game they’re calling while at the same time arguing that a team of refs need to be together for an entire weekend to be able to handle a game well. Either they’re mindless robots that don’t let any outside influences affect their calls or they’re human. If we’re arguing that refs need to know each other and be comfortable with each other then why aren’t these crews reffing with each other for the entire season? They aren’t comfortable with each other the first game, or even second game, of each playoff weekend. Nobody has made the case that the quarterfinal reffing was even slightly worse than the reffing in the finals. If that’s the case, then this idea that crews need to stick together is completely without merit.

Of course, we all want the best crews calling the biggest games and having familiarity with other refs on their crew is helpful but it isn’t the only variable at play. Having associations with a team in the game automatically makes that ref and that crew not the best for that particular game. That means that WFTDA should either use a different crew or substitute in a different ref. This is not a difficult issue to solve.

As roller derby continues to gain popularity, more and more issues will surface that may have been acceptable in the past that are no longer acceptable with the current level of fan support. Simply dismissing any of these new issues that come up as just a conversation among superfans is something that will stunt further growth of the sport. Calling these issues “derby drama” is only a way of writing off the seriousness of the issue. Obviously, not every little thing that comes up is going to need to change or even can be changed, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a legitimate concern. Every sports fan I’ve talked to about this has made the exact same arguments I’ve made here and some have gone even further saying that the results of the game should be called into question. Sports fans should not be ignored, they are the future fans of roller derby. They will not accept anything less than at least the level of fairness that they can get at a high school football game.

The reason that people are wrong about this is because every argument that has been made thus far has been an argument for why it was done in the past. This isn’t an argument about the past, it’s an argument about the future. There is absolutely nothing to gain from continuing this practice. Nothing. We can only expect negative results or, at best, the same. There are enough refs to cover every playoff game without a conflict. This should be a bigger priority than keeping a ref crew together. With what we know now, why would anyone want to continue this practice? We know that fans will freak out and have a big problem with this every time they find out about it. If we keep adding more and more fans every year, it's going to become a bigger and bigger issue every year and what if a ref actually does cheat and is caught? How about we just stop it now before it becomes a large enough issue to become a major embarrassment for the sport.


Making WFTDA more like NCAA Basketball

Back in October, I wrote about how the current playoffs system is just as fair as any other playoffs system in the world. I still believe that to be the case but I also believe the roller derby season has problems. Mainly, there's isn't a structured regular season. I wrote about a possible solution to this last year, but that post was short-sighted as it did not account for the rapid growth of the WFTDA membership as well as the growing competitive divide between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom. Also, with the recent expansion of South Central and the addition of Europe to the East, some regions are becoming GIGANTIC and really are no longer regions since they're bigger than some continents. The split to four regions was done to limit travel costs and allow for better rankings. I'm pretty sure travel to Europe is somewhat expensive. I'm also somewhat confident a WFTDA voter in New Mexico is going to have trouble seeing a team from Florida play before regionals.

With the addition of more and more teams to the WFTDA, the landscape is much different now than it was when four regions were put into place. That doesn't necessarily mean anything needs to change but what's the harm in exploring other options? My plan originally was to adapt a number of examples from different sports' seasons and playoff structures for roller derby. I quickly realized, though, that roller derby is so unique, most sports' structures would make no sense when applied to roller derby. The one sport that stuck out, though, was college basketball.

Many people like to compare roller derby to pro sports but that just isn't logical. Roller derby has much more in common with college sports than pro sports. There is a large number of teams in both derby and college (American pro sports leagues have around 30), neither derby nor college pays players, and both derby and college are working on limited travel budgets. With those things in common, it makes a lot of sense to look at the college basketball season and see how it could be applied to the WFTDA.

NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball consists of 346 teams divided among 32 conferences. The champion of each conference receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The "Big Dance" is a 68-team tournament made up of conference champions and at-large selections chosen by a committee who also seeds the teams and places them into regions. Two rounds are played each weekend for three weeks.

So, how do we morph this for use with roller derby? Abolish the regions and form 20-25 small divisions with a minimum of 5 teams with each team playing every other team in their division at least once. The champion of each division would then get an automatic bid into the WFTDA Tournament. Teams should be selected for each division based on their competitiveness and their willingness to travel. Top-tier teams should be playing top-tier teams and bottom-tier teams should be playing bottom-tier teams. This creates 5 "power divisions" in which the most competitive teams in the WFTDA will play each other as well as a bunch of regional divisions that contain teams that are closely located.

Seeing as how this plan wouldn't possibly go into place for a couple years, I put together examples of these divisions with the inclusion of WFTDA Apprentice leagues as well as San Diego (who the WFTDA would be stupid to continue to keep out) and Glasgow (who you could replace with any European league) to bring Europe's numbers up to five.

West Coast Division
  • Bay Area
  • Jet City
  • Oly
  • Rat City
  • Rose City
  • San Diego^ 
Mid-States Division
  • Arch Rival
  • Denver
  • Kansas City
  • No Coast
  • Omaha
  • Rocky Mountain 
Great Lakes Division
  • Brewcity
  • Burning River
  • Chicago
  • Cincinnati
  • Detroit
  • Madison
  • Minnesota
  • North Star
  • Windy City
Southern Division
  • Atlanta
  • Carolina
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Nashville 
  • Tampa Bay 
  • Texas
Northeastern Division
  • Boston
  • Charm City
  • Gotham
  • Montreal
  • Philly
  • Steel City
European Division
  • London
  • Auld Reekie*
  • Bear City*
  • Paris*
  • Glasgow^
New England Division
  • Connecticut
  • Green Mountain
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Providence
  • Hudson Valley*
Lake Ontario Division
  • Central New York
  • Hammer City
  • Queen City
  • Tri City*
  • Toronto*
New York-New Jersey Division
  • Garden State
  • Long Island
  • Suburbia
  • Diamond State*
  • Jersey Shore*
Amish Country? Division
  • DC
  • Dutchland
  • Lehigh Valley
  • Harrisburg Area
  • Mason-Dixon*
Virginia-Carolina Division
  • Dominion
  • River City
  • Blue Ridge*
  • Cape Fear*
  • Charlotte*
  • NRV*
  • Rocktown*
Alabama-Tennessee Division
  • Dixie
  • Hard Knox
  • Memphis
  • Chattanooga*
  • Little City*
  • Tragic City*
Swamp Division
  • Big Easy
  • Tallahassee
  • Cajun*
  • Gold Coast*
  • Hub City*
  • Jacksonville*
  • Red Stick*
Lone Star Division
  • Assassination City
  • Alamo City
  • West Texas
  • Route 66*
  • Spindletop*
Conference of the Ozarks
  • Green Country
  • ICT
  • Northwest Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • CoMo*
  • OKC*
  • Springfield*
Indituckio Division
  • Bleeding Heartland
  • Demolition City
  • Derby City
  • Gem City
  • Naptown
  • Ohio
  • Southern Indiana
  • Black-n-Bluegrass*
  • Lafayette*
  • Twin City*
Michiganish Division
  • Fort Wayne
  • Grand Raggidy
  • Killamazoo 
  • NEO
  • Glass City*
  • Mid Michigan*
  • Rubber City*
Northerner Division
  • Fox Cityz
  • Paper Valley
  • Rockford
  • Sioux Falls
  • Babe City*
  • Des Moines*
  • Mid Iowa*
  • Mississippi Valley*
  • Old Capitol City*
Rocky Division
  • FoCo
  • Pikes Peak
  • Pueblo
  • Slaughterhouse
  • Castle Rock*
  • Choice City*
Desert Division
  • Angel City
  • Arizona
  • Central Coast
  • Duke City
  • Sin City
  • Tucson
  • Bakersfield*
Near No One Division
  • Pacific
  • Salt City
  • Wasatch
  • Fairbanks*
  • Junction City*
  • Lilac City*
  • Rage City*
  • Treasure Valley*
Pacific Northwest Division
  • Bellingham
  • Emerald City
  • Lava City
  • Slaughter County
  • Cherry City*
  • Dockyard*
  • Sick Town*
  • Terminal City*
Wine Country Division
  • Sacred City
  • Santa Cruz
  • Silicon Valley
  • Battle Born*
  • Humboldt*
  • Sonoma County*
*WFTDA Apprentice League
^Non-WFTDA member

These divisions can expand and shrink easily based on the change in membership levels that there certainly will continue to be as well as individual leagues becoming more or less competitive and wanting to change divisions. The size and competitiveness of each division is not a major issue like it is for regions since there is only one automatic bid from each division and there are so many at-larges.

The next step is to apply the NCAA Tournament for the postseason. If there are this many teams competing in the WFTDA then a 64-team field is a perfectly reasonable size. The method of playing these games would definitely need to be changed, though, as the travel budgets for WFTDA teams are much lower than those of NCAA basketball teams. I would propose eight 8-team tournaments for the first four rounds with the championship tournament being made up of the eight teams still remaining.

I used the four 2010 regional locations and four other locations based on an even spread geographically throughout the country. I also determined seeds based on the 2nd quarter WFTDA rankings and the DNN and Derbytron rankings at that time. Teams were then put into a region based on proximity. This is what the tournament would like if this would have been put into place this year.

Green Bay, WI
  1. Bay Area^
  2. Windy City
  3. Brewcity
  4. Minnesota
  5. DC*
  6. Grand Raggidy
  7. Fort Wayne
  8. Tallahassee*
White Plains, NY
  1. Gotham
  2. Boston
  3. Montreal
  4. Carolina
  5. Providence
  6. Maine
  7. Dominion
  8. Suburbia 
Sacramento, CA
  1. Oly
  2. Steel City^
  3. Jet City
  4. Naptown^
  5. Sacred City
  6. Angel City
  7. Lava City
  8. Central Coast
Lincoln, NE
  1. Rocky Mountain
  2. Detroit
  3. Kansas City
  4. No Coast
  5. Omaha
  6. Connecticut^
  7. Sioux Falls
  8. Bellingham^
Tucson, AZ
  1. Rose City
  2. Atlanta*
  3. Nashville*
  4. Duke City
  5. Tucson
  6. Arizona
  7. Bleeding Heartland
  8. Emerald City
Dallas, TX
  1. Denver
  2. Texas
  3. Dallas
  4. Houston
  5. Hard Knox
  6. Memphis
  7. Green Country
  8. West Texas
Cleveland, OH
  1. Philly
  2. Charm City
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Arch Rival
  5. Dutchland
  6. Burning River
  7. Ohio
  8. Dixie
Salt Lake City, UT
  1. Rat City
  2. Madison^
  3. North Star^
  4. Tampa Bay^
  5. Pikes Peak
  6. Slaughter County
  7. Northwest Arkansas*
  8. Salt City
*Traveling slightly further than a currently possible regional site
^Traveling significantly further than a currently possible regional site

Many people propose separate divisions as a solution to the WFTDA season problem. They say that putting the top 24ish teams in the top division, the next 24ish teams in the middle division, and the rest in the bottom division would create better competition and a structured regular season. They're conveniently ignoring the travel costs, exclusion of deserving teams from the title hunt, and the excitement of watching teams no one knows about upset a top team. They're also conveniently leaving out that Rocky Mountain, Oly, and Denver probably would have been left out of the playoffs the last two years. Seriously, that would be a travesty.

This solution would increase competition and creates a structured regular season without leaving anyone out.

This also might open up Australia and more European leagues because they’d be able to compete for a division championship and play a number of WFTDA sanctioned games each year. Also, they could work together to pool money to send their champion to the States for the playoffs each year. Whereas, the way it works now, each team would become a full WFTDA member individually like London and wouldn’t be able to convince anyone to come play them and thus wouldn’t even qualify to play in the playoffs because they can't play enough games. They’d also might be able to convince a couple US or Canadian teams to come play them because they could get 3-4 sanctioned games in in a weekend.

What would we miss from the current format if the WFTDA changed to something like this? I think the main thing would be losing the region championship but it would be replaced with a lot more division championships so that might be a push. The WFTDA Championship would be 8 teams instead of 12 so that would turn Saturday into just two semifinals instead of the epic 6 games it currently is but it would mean that each team would only play one game each day which is more fair and I think makes for better games since skaters wouldn't have dead legs. Another question is if the WFTDA has the resources to put on 2 major events in a weekend and 9 major events in the span of a couple months.

What would we add with something like this? A structured regular season. An inclusive postseason. More teams and more games in the postseason. Faster international expansion.

Again, I don't post this as my perfect plan to solve all of WFTDA's woes but more of an idea that I think is logical that we should discuss further. Please post any comments or questions you have in the comments section.


2010 Final Rankings - November 8

Team Rating 2010 Record Base Rating SOS Games Used 2010 Games
1 Gotham 0.782 12-1 0.739 0.585 18 13
2 Rocky Mountain 0.750 14-1 0.723 0.601 24 15
3 Oly +1 0.714 15-2 0.728 0.602 23 17
4 Texas -1 0.678 7-8 0.610 0.593 21 15
5 Denver +1 0.676 9-3 0.664 0.554 19 12
6 Philly -1 0.665 14-6 0.662 0.603 25 20
7 Charm City +1 0.662 9-8 0.552 0.593 22 17
8 Chicago +1 0.638 1-1 0.535 0.470 2 2
9 Rat City -2 0.638 9-6 0.571 0.595 20 15
10 Steel City 0.633 12-4 0.623 0.497 20 16
11 Bay Area +2 0.627 7-7 0.532 0.570 19 14
12 Rose City 0.624 9-6 0.568 0.585 20 15
13 Detroit -2 0.622 9-3 0.627 0.557 18 12
14 Kansas City +1 0.609 8-5 0.596 0.546 18 13
15 Windy City -1 0.601 7-6 0.564 0.598 18 13
16 Boston 0.582 5-9 0.526 0.577 20 14
17 Madison 0.573 3-9 0.482 0.594 17 12
18 Atlanta 0.569 12-4 0.597 0.496 22 16
19 Jet City +2 0.538 6-4 0.545 0.501 11 10
20 Cincinnati 0.536 9-4 0.568 0.516 18 13
21 Minnesota -2 0.532 7-3 0.526 0.480 16 10
22 Brewcity 0.527 8-5 0.565 0.483 18 13
23 Omaha 0.524 7-4 0.545 0.471 12 11
24 Montreal +1 0.524 11-5 0.578 0.447 20 16
25 Naptown +1 0.520 11-5 0.534 0.462 19 16
26 Nashville -2 0.519 11-5 0.564 0.490 22 16
27 Maine 0.515 3-3 0.552 0.441 7 6
28 Tampa Bay 0.506 7-11 0.460 0.494 24 18
29 Dallas 0.504 13-10 0.544 0.497 27 23
30 Carolina 0.503 6-9 0.459 0.522 21 15
31 North Star 0.486 6-5 0.490 0.492 16 11
32 Arch Rival 0.484 4-12 0.430 0.524 21 16
33 Houston 0.482 5-9 0.472 0.506 19 14
34 No Coast 0.476 8-3 0.543 0.451 16 11
35 Pikes Peak 0.464 6-6 0.428 0.404 16 12
36 Tucson 0.457 6-6 0.461 0.523 16 12
37 Duke City +1 0.443 4-7 0.457 0.536 16 11
38 Grand Raggidy +2 0.435 4-3 0.424 0.450 12 7
39 Sacred City -2 0.433 4-5 0.448 0.509 11 9
40 Ohio +1 0.427 4-5 0.420 0.441 11 9
41 DC +1 0.425 5-10 0.407 0.479 19 15
42 Providence -3 0.422 4-9 0.440 0.523 18 13
43 Fort Wayne 0.417 4-4 0.465 0.397 10 8
44 Salt City 0.403 3-3 0.439 0.332 7 6
45 Connecticut 0.395 2-5 0.397 0.426 12 7
46 Dutchland +2 0.393 7-7 0.445 0.411 16 14
47 Slaughter County -1 0.391 1-2 0.413 0.491 3 3
48 Lava City -1 0.384 1-3 0.412 0.452 5 4
49 Emerald City 0.368 2-1 0.407 0.401 3 3
50 Arizona 0.366 5-3 0.448 0.367 8 8
51 Bleeding Heartland 0.365 2-5 0.353 0.430 9 7
52 Hard Knox 0.364 7-6 0.424 0.423 18 13
53 Bellingham 0.362 0-3 0.432 0.562 3 3
54 Memphis 0.353 4-8 0.407 0.432 18 12
55 Northwest Arkansas 0.349 2-3 0.391 0.451 7 5
56 Dominion 0.348 2-3 0.399 0.456 10 5
57 Angel City 0.345 0-3 0.349 0.539 8 3
58 Tallahassee 0.338 1-4 0.332 0.481 6 5
59 Green Country 0.333 4-3 0.475 0.361 9 7
60 Sioux Falls 0.331 0-6 0.383 0.515 8 6
61 Assassination City 0.319 2-7 0.311 0.381 10 9
62 Big Easy 0.313 2-4 0.356 0.357 7 6
63 Central Coast 0.306 2-2 0.411 0.351 4 4
64 Oklahoma 0.284 1-3 0.308 0.378 6 4
65 Burning River 0.282 0-3 0.357 0.494 8 3
66 Dixie +2 0.265 2-7 0.296 0.402 12 9
67 Pacific 0.250 1-5 0.271 0.427 7 6
68 Suburbia -2 0.248 2-5 0.346 0.395 8 7
69 Long Island 0.197 0-1 0.280 0.289 2 1
70 Sin City 0.184 0-5 0.216 0.376 5 5
71 River City 0.177 1-4 0.251 0.396 6 5
72 FoCo +1 0.167 0-3 0.265 0.498 3 3
73 Hammer City -1 0.167 0-7 0.225 0.449 9 7
74 West Texas 0.124 0-2 0.221 0.450 5 2
75 Alamo City 0.109 0-2 0.170 0.391 3 2
76 Derby City 0.094 0-4 0.229 0.463 4 4
77 Harrisburg Area 0.081 0-5 0.199 0.416 5 5
78 Gem City 0.060 0-3 0.181 0.283 4 3
*Unofficial Team