Last night I watched my first game of USARS or USA Roller Sports roller derby. USARS is a governing body for any and all types of roller sport, from inline hockey and roller derby through to artistic figure skating.
Every person I know was introduced to roller derby through an organization or league that is either a WFTDA member league or utilizes their rule set. However, alternatives to WFTDA exist and USARS is one of them. They have their own policies and membership requirements as well as their own rules for roller derby. This is comparable to the difference between Rugby League and Union, fundamentally the sport is the same but significant differences exist. I had a little bit of knowledge of USARS and how the game play differs dynamically from a WFTDA bout; after watching a game of USARS the significance of the rules variations became clear. I watched the USARS 2013 Men’s Finals between the Oly Rollers and Your Mum Roller Derby, who interestingly participate in both USARS and MRDA competition.
BIG Rules Differences (summary)
- Pivots MUST line up between two lines in front of the blockers.
- After team A’s jammer exits the pack and establishes “lead active scorer” status, team B’s PIVOT may exit the pack, establish “active scorer” status and be eligible to score points on opposing blockers.
- Lead active scorer can call the jam, however lead status can CHANGE, it is always awarded to the active scorer furthest along the track.
- Pack definition goes to foremost group of skaters in place of a no pack situation.
How does this affect strategy and gameplay?
First and foremost USARS requires teams to play defense in order to effectively play offense. For example, if team A’s jammer exits the pack and establishes lead active scorer status and their blockers are not preventing team B’s pivot from exiting the pack, that pivot can easily skate out of the pack, establish active scorer status and chase team A’s jammer. This usually results in the jam being called without any points being scored as both active scorers have equal opportunity to score. With no failure to reform penalties, it is entirely acceptable for an entire team of blockers to skate as fast as they like around the track for as long as they like, even if the other team can’t catch up with them. It it very important to play defense on opposition blockers at all times to prevent them from simply skating away from your active scorer. When a team fails to play defense and this situation occurs, the jam turns into a speed skate and often the active scorer fails to catch up with the opposing team and no points will be awarded.
In addition there is no passive offense or power jams (at least not as we know them). If a jammer is sent to the penalty box, that team still has their pivot to potentially gain active scorer status. Even if that pivot is also awarded a penalty, it is still necessary for the team with a jammer on the track to play active defense on the opposing team. If they do not, that team can again skate away as fast as they like and prevent the jammer from catching up with them and scoring points. One team still has a power jam because they are the only team with a jammer and/or pivot on the track BUT the opposing team still has power to deny points by getting to the front of the pack and skating away.
The USARS rules are more detailed than outlined above, but these two examples demonstrate how a team must work consistently in offense and defense at all times. The most noticeable way a game of USARS varies from WFTDA is the speed of play. Teams do not want to let the other team in front because that is a powerful position, both teams end up skating quickly to maintain control of the pack. There are no stand still jams or skating backwards to recycle players knocked out of bounds as this would require forfeiting favorable position at the front of the pack. Scores are often much lower than what we see in WFTDA games and power jams do not tend to yield large points like a WFTDA game.
I really enjoyed watching this USARS bout and intend to watch some more. I’m not sure I would wish to play under USARS rules as it certainly misses some of the finesse of WFTDA rules, but I do find it more entertaining to watch. There is more action and both teams are required to be responding at all times, it creates a more fluid experience similar to mainstream sports such as basketball.