For those who were not following the events of Spokarnage 2014, there has been a fair deal of discussion across social media this weekend in regards to the Sockit Wenches forfeiting the championship game against Outrageous Pussy Power (OPP). Having just played two full length games back against Antagonist Roller Derby and the Pile O’ Bones Derby Club, winning both games but losing two skaters to big injuries, a behind the scenes meeting took place
between the final three teams and the decision was made to call the tournament without a championship bout. In the end, OPP was awarded 1st Place, the Sockit Wenches took 2nd Place and Pile O’ Bones Derby finished in third. Reactions to the decision have been mixed with some respecting the call while others have expressed frustration over a hard fought event ending without a final game.
While some may not feel this is even worth talking about, I personally feel that it is extremely valuable for the community to hold discussion on these incidents as it could lead to better planning, scheduling and protocols for future events.
Now, forfeits are an interesting thing in Roller Derby because they actually happen more often than you might think and for many different reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and more widely reported reasons for bout forfeiture:
1. Exhaustion, Fatigue, Injuries and General Skater Safety
Spokarnage wasn’t the first tournament to have a championship game forfeiture, and it certainly won’t be the last for events with very large tournament structures. Flat Track Fever 2012 experienced the same thing with the final scheduled game being forfeited as a result of fatigue and injuries for overplayed skaters. The Belladonnas defeated E-Ville Roller Derby 146 – 61 but due to the event’s double elimination structure a second final was forced. However, rather than play a 2nd final against the Belladonnas, E-Ville opted to forfeit their last match and accept 2nd place in the Women’s Competition portion of the event.
Exhaustion and skater safety is also said to be the reason for the forfeit from the Sockit Wenches at Spokarnage 2014 this weekend. Elwood Bruise summed up the overall competition very well in his blog post from yesterday and shared some very thoughtful ideas for how future tournaments can potentially avoid similar outcomes. One of the biggest issues he discusses is the length of major competitions such as Spokarnage 2014, which featured 24 teams engaging in 34 half-bouts and nearly 10 full-length bouts:
I’ve been to enough double-elimination tournaments to know that, as the time goes on during the weekend, the tournament itself turns into more of a contest of attrition rather than a contest of skill and strategy. And I think that kind of proved itself today when the Sockit Wenches decided (quite wisely, in my opinion) to forfeit the championship bout to OPP […]
[…] Overall, the Wenches played 330 minutes worth of roller derby over three days. And that includes 240 minutes worth over a period of about 16 hours. And in order to win the championship, they would have had to play 120 more minutes worth of roller derby. Which would have given them a grand total of a whopping 450 minutes worth of roller derby over a 72 hour period had they played it all out.
For the Sockit Wenches or anyone else, that’s way too much. And I mean WAYYYYY too much.
– Elwood Bruise, Spokarnage 2014; some of Elwood’s takes
Personally, I completely agree with Bruise’s take on the play time for some teams at Spokarnage being way too much. I also like some of his suggestions for healthy changes that can be made to Spokarnage’s tournament structure, however, I would like to add that I think even just extending the event by another day would make for a BIG difference. There was a ridiculous amount of half-bouts and full-bouts packed into that 72 hour period. Having another day to spread those out would allow for much more rest time for not only the competing teams, but also for the officials, some of whom I am sure were out on the track for even longer than many of the athletes. Alternatively, cut back on the amount of teams involved. More teams doesn’t always mean better roller derby, especially once everyone is feeling exhausted from all of the intense play. Even just going down to 20 competing teams makes a huge difference. The difference between a 20 team double elimination tournament and a 24 team double elimination tournament is quite noticeable when you compare this:
2. Too Few Skaters
One of the biggest stories of the 2014 Men’s Roller Derby World Cup was Team Argentina. Despite playing their roster consisted of only eight skaters and despite a tremendous effort, they were forced to forfeit their quarter-finals match up against Team France when 5 players fouled out, leaving only 3 skaters left to compete.
Interesting to note though is that neither the Men’s Roller Derby Association‘s (MRDA) rule set nor the Women’s Roller Derby Association‘s (WFTDA) rule set explicitly states that a team cannot compete with 5 skaters or less. In fact, all it says is that “1.1.1 – At most, 14 skaters may be on the roster for a specific game” and that a Head Referee may call a forfeit if “18.104.22.168.1 – A team has five or fewer skaters still eligible to participate in the game.” Key word there being MAY. That being said, rule 22.214.171.124 states that “Referee discretion is intended only to allow referees to keep the game safe, fair, and consistent in the event that an unexpected situation arises.” As such, it could certainly be determined that skating with 5 or less players would not be safe or fair to the team with a depleted roster so a decision from the Head Referee to call a forfeit would be justifiable in my opinion. Ain’t nothing safe or fair about 14 vs 3 in an intense, full-contact world championship competition!
3. Travel Conditions
Dangerous road conditions, plane delays, car accidents, blizzards, hail storms, tornado warnings, etc. many teams have had to cancel or forfeit bouts, be they sanctioned or not, throughout the history of the sport simply because they could not make it to a venue. While we may love derby, our lives and good health definitely take precedence over playing a bout and if there is serious cause for concern in travel conditions I personally wouldn’t be too upset if a team chose to turn around or not leave at all. Not dying in a brutal snow storm > maybe getting to a bout.
Shaken up by the devastating injury of their team mate, Desmond Deck-Her, Toronto Roller Derby’s Gore-Gore Rollergirls forfeited their quarter-finals bout against Smoke City Betties at Beast of the East 2009 and removed themselves from the tournament. When a very serious incident occurs, the effects of having witnessed it can certainly lead to a team feeling unable to continue emotionally and/or psychologically.
5. Internal Disputes
Some may recall that last year’s Alberta Iron Woman Tournament in Crossfield, AB, ended prematurely with the Red Deer Roller Derby Association’s Belladonnas being named champions of the event after the Iron Women All-Stars forfeited over a roster dispute. Official word from the Rocky View Roller Derby Association, hosts of the event, was that:
“The championship game between the Iron Woman all-star team and the Red Deer Belladonnas was not held as planned due to a roster concern with the Iron Woman squad, as there was a disagreement over whether or not an additional player could be added to the squad.
As a result, the Iron Woman team forfeited the game, handing the title to the Belladonnas.”
Like with most forfeits due to behind-the-scene issues, there is likely more to this story but the fact remains that bouts have, and continue to, forfeit as a result of internal disagreements. Be it a roster dispute, off-track conflict, contract breach or the past history of quarreling between competing teams rising up, it does sometimes happen.
Official Stances on Forfeiture
So, we briefly looked at the MRDA’s and WFTDA’s rules on forfeiture back in point 2 listed above, but that’s it. That’s all there is from either organization on the matter, which is a rather surprising considering the extremely controversial, and now infamous, forfeit made by Dutchland during the 2011 East Region Playoffs. Dutchland was scheduled to play Gotham Girls Roller Derby in their second game of the tournament but instead made a “strategic” decision to not play Gotham at all in the hopes that they would perform better in their remaining tournament games. They released the following statement on their official page:
When news broke on Derby News Network thousands flocked to the site to express their disappointment and outrage with a few defending the decision. When conversation shifted to to the question of whether or not there were protocols and procedures in place, Bloody Mary of the WFTDA responded directly with the following comment:
The mentioned policy has still not made its way into the public in any way, shape or form. In late 2012, a poster inquired about the policy directly on the WFTDA’s Facebook page and once again the organization vaguely commented about the existence of the document but did not provide any concrete information about it or allude to when the derby community might expect to see it:
A year and a half has now passed since that brief conversation occurred in relative silence and there has still not been any official policy released. Of course, I have not heard of any subsequent forfeitures at major WFTDA tournaments since the Dutchland incident but they have since still happened at the odd sanctioned bout on occasion.
USA Roller Sports (USARS), on the other hand, met in 2013 and approved a Roller Derby Forfeiture and Disqualification Policy.
27. 2013 USA ROLLER SPORTS ROLLER DERBY FORFEITURE AND DISQUALIFICATION POLICY:
[…] Tournament Participation – If a team plays in a USARS Regional Qualifier and qualifies for the USARS National Championship, but then fails to participate, for any reason, in the USARS National Championship, they will automatically forfeit their prize money.
If a team does not submit a valid application to participate in the USARS National Championship after qualifying at a USARS Regional Qualifier, then they forfeit their participation. USARS will then invite other teams who participated in the USARS Regional Qualifier, in the order they placed, to apply as a replacement for the forfeiting team.
Intentional Forfeit – If a team elects to not play during a scheduled game, the team captain must submit a signed Forfeit Agreement at least two (2) hours before the scheduled time of a game.
Failure to Start Forfeit – If a team has not intentionally forfeited and the team does not have the minimum number of players (according to the current USARS Rule Book) able to play at the time of the equipment check for their scheduled competition, the game must be declared a forfeit. USARS reserves the right to declare a forfeit intentional if a team failed to start a game but was considered able to do so or if a team intentionally failed to start the game.
Failure to Continue Forfeit – If a team successfully starts a game but during the course of the game is unable to maintain the minimum number of players (according to the current USARS Rule Book) present and able to play due to injuries, expulsions, foul outs or any other situation, the game must be declared a forfeit.
Additionally, if a team is considered unfit to continue playing a game in a manner that is safe for them and the other team, the game may be declared a forfeit at the discretion of the game Head Referee or any other authorized individual, as described in this document.
Consequences of a Forfeit
Elimination – A team that receives a forfeit is not eliminated from the tournament and may continue to play in any subsequent scheduled games, unless the forfeit is intentional or is declared intentional.
A team that forfeits twice during a tournament or that records an intentional forfeit from a single game is automatically eliminated from the tournament and will not be allowed to participate in subsequent scheduled games.
Additionally, the official USARS roller derby rules also enforces that teams MUST have a minimum of eight skaters in order to compete. It reads: “If a game roster is reduced to less than eight (8) players during game play for any reason (such as injuries, foul outs or expulsions), the Head Referee must declare a forfeit in the interest of player safety.”
Some Parting Thoughts
So, there are a few things that I feel are worth consideration when it comes to tournaments. For starters, I feel that event organizers could really benefit from discussing a protocol and procedure that will be utilized in the event of a forfeiture. Decide what will and will not be tolerated as a reason for forfeiture and make sure that all competing teams are made aware of it, then agree to it by signing an official document. Will the forfeiting team be removed from the competition entirely? Will they be allowed to continue playing after forfeiting a game? Will they lose their position in the tournament and be moved to last place? If the forfeiture happens in the finals, will another team (perhaps one of the top 4 or 5) be given the option to play instead? Think it through!
Furthermore, consider the length and scheduling of the tournament well in advance. If it’s going to consist of more than 15 competing teams then research the different formats and speak with other leagues for advice on what works best in terms both the format and the amount of days it will require to play out smoothly. Keep player safety in mind and also consider the mental and physical well being of your skating and non-skating officials. Tournament crews can get extremely dragged out from working 8+ bouts in quick succession with limited rest times between and often do not have the luxury of a full nights rest given the need to complete bout paperwork, prepare for the next day and deal with official meetings. Is the start time of each day reasonable considering the end time of the previous day? How many crews will you need to not burn out your officials? Are teams going to potentially have to play too many games in a row? Prepare for it!
Of course, I feel that competing teams also have to be accountable for their involvement in a tournament. As a team you should make sure that you keep on top of watching for event announcements and check back with the organizers regularly. Look at all the possibilities that may occur. Would you be willing to play in two or more full-length bouts in a row? Are you prepared to be potentially competing in four or more hours of intense derby over the course of two or three days? In the event that injuries or foul outs occur, is your roster large enough to account for those losses in skaters? If not, are you willing to play with a very short bench if need be?
If you are signing up with only eight to ten skaters then it is certainly a possibility and I feel teams are JUST as responsible for considering their OWN safety as any of the officials or event organizers are. Make sure that everyone on the roster is well aware of how exhausting, tiring, stressful and challenging it is going to be for everyone and that they only commit if they are genuinely up for it. If you all agree to play, despite there only being eight of you, stick to it! You’ve all agreed to the event and committed yourselves to compete. Be the Team Argentina of your tournament and go as far as you possibly can. Or, consider not signing up in the first place. As much as a tournament would be a lot of fun, maybe now is not the time to push your small team into a potentially unsafe playing environment. It’s okay to not be ready.
Share your thoughts in the comments below!