There’s a lot of partisanship and animosity about different roller derby rules systems, but few non-agenda-based factual comparisons. At least not that I’ve been able to find.
Windyman’s seminar video about the history and rules of eleventy billion types of derby is a must-watch if you’re interested in the topic, but it’s also an hour long and has an agenda. I don’t disagree with it, necessarily, but it’s got one.
So, I decided to do an easy to read, side by side comparison of the rules of the three most popular flat track roller derby flavors. This is written with the assumption that most of my audience is intimately familiar with WFTDA derby but doesn’t know much about the other two.
Almost all this information is from the primary rules document on each organization’s web site on 7/15/14. Anything left blank means I couldn’t find a rule specifically relevant to that question. If I’ve made a mistake or missed something important please let me know, with a link to documentation of the correct information.
I don’t have any practical experience with USARS or MADE and I’m not advocating for anything other than knowledge being intrinsically a good thing to have.
Before the differences, let’s go over what all three have in common:
5 on 5 play. Blockers, Pivots and Jammers. Skating around an oval track on quads. The same mandatory safety gear. Blockers skate in a pack. No blocking to the head or below the knee. No fighting or unsafe behavior. No blocking from out of bounds. Points are scored by sending one player out to lap opposing players. Most points wins. You go to the penalty box when you do something wrong. Pivot can become the scoring player. 30 seconds between jams. Lead jammer taps their hips to call off the jam.
And now the differences…
WFTDA & USARS - 30 seconds
MADE - 60 or 120 seconds depending on the penalty
WFTDA - 120 seconds
USARS & MADE- 90 seconds
Lead Jammer and Calling Off the Jam
WFTDA - The first jammer through the pack cleanly is lead jammer for the remainder of the jam, or until they get sent to the penalty box. Lead jammer can call off the jam when down or out of bounds.
USARS - The first jammer to complete their initial pass is lead, after that whichever jammer is physically ahead is lead, unless they get a penalty. Lead can only call off the jam when they’re in bounds, upright and have passed at least one opposing player.
MADE - Lead jammer is whichever jammer is physically ahead and in bounds. Lead can call off the jam only if the are in play. If both jammers go to the box before completing their initial pass the jam is over.
WFTDA - The largest group of upright, in bounds blockers within 10ft of each other that includes at least one skater from each team. If there are two equal groups then there is no pack.
USARS - The largest group of players within 10ft of each other. Skaters can be down or out of bounds and still be in the pack. If there are two equal groups, then the most forward group is the pack. If the pack is all one team and they lap the other team the first blocker that gets reabsorbed into the pack from behind gets a penalty.
MADE - At least 3 people from one team and 2 from the other, all skating within 20 feet of each other.
Stopping and Skating Clockwise…
WFTDA - …is encouraged.
USARS & MADE - …is prohibited. Players must maintain forward motion other than during momentary stops or spins.
WFTDA - Cut and you go to the box. No opportunity to yield. Lots of clockwise skating in order to attempt to draw cuts and make jammers unable to score.
USARS - Players get a warning and the opportunity to yield advantage in order to avoid getting a penalty. Mandated forward motion means no recycling.
MADE - During the initial pass jammers who go out of bounds must re-enter track behind the pack. Mandated forward motion means no recycling. After the initial pass jammers can yield to blockers they’ve cut and re-pass to score. Or they can choose to not yield after a cut and not get point(s) for player(s) they pass that way. If the lead jammer passes all opponents out of bounds they can’t call the jam off until they score again.
What Do Pivots Do?
WFTDA - Occasionally start 1 inch ahead of other blockers. Can be assessed a penalty when no other player can be singled out as responsible for illegal actions. Jammer can transfer scoring ability to the pivot at any time after the start whistle by physically transferring the jammer helmet cover. Pivot-turned-Jammer can not ever become lead. Star passes are generally regarded as a move of last resort, due to the potential to drop the helmet cover and the time required to complete the transfer, during which they can not score.
USARS - Always start ahead of blockers. Can become the scoring player by breaking from the pack after the opposing team’s jammer has passed the pack by 10 feet. No transfer of helmet cover.
MADE - Can start an inch in front of other blockers. Can become active jammer after the opposing jammer has passed the pack by 20 feet. No transfer of helmet cover.
How many periods in a 60 minute bout?
WFTDA - 2
USARS - 2 or 3 or 4 (8 in an Old School bout, see below)
MADE - however many the league wants
Not having 5 players on the track or having too many jammers or pivots at jam start.
WFTDA - As long as there is at least one jammer on the track and one blocker from each team the jam is on. Extra players or extra helmet covers are told to leave the track by refs. Not a penalty.
MADE- Too many players or helmet covers and the jam is whistled dead. That team has to pick one player to serve a 2 minute penalty. Immediate re-line up & re-start. If one team fields fewer than 5 players the opposing team gets an extra point at the start of the jam for every player the other team hasn’t fielded.
How many players on a bout roster?
WFTDA & MADE- 14
USARS - 15 plus up to 5 alternates that can be substituted onto the bout roster before equipment check
Co-ed and mens play?
WFTDA – No (MRDA uses WFTDA rules but is a separate organization)
USARS – Women’s, men’s and co-ed bouts allowed. Also Old School bouts consisting of eight 10 minute periods starting with women and alternating genders after that.
MADE - Women’s, men’s and co-ed allowed. No more than 2 men per jam on each team. Teams can’t field men as both jammer and pivot in the same jam. Teams can mutually agree to ignore these gender rules on a per-bout basis.
WFTDA - Can require you to prove your gender with documentation of hormone levels from a doctor.
USARS - You play as whatever your driver’s license says you are.
MADE - You play as whatever you consider yourself to be.
Time Outs Per Game
WFTDA - Three (60 seconds each)
USARS - Three (90 seconds each)
MADE - Four
WFTDA - One minute break then a two minute jam. Jammers begin scoring immediately on initial pass. There is no Lead Jammer. Repeat as necessary until a jam ends with the score not tied.
USARS - One minute break then 5 minutes of overtime played under normal rules. Each team gets 1 extra time out. If the score is still tied at the end of 5 minutes there is a 90 second “post overtime” jam with no lead and immediate scoring during the initial pass. Pivot cannot become scorer during post overtime. Repeat as necessary until the jam ends with the score not tied.
MADE - Sudden death jam. First point scored wins. Normal rules. Repeat as necessary until someone scores.
WFTDA - There’s a box for pivots and blockers. Pivots can touch the forward edge of the box if they want. Jammers start anywhere on the track outside that box. Players can start on one knee.
USARS - Pivots start in their own box ahead of blockers. A 10 foot no-man’s-land separates blockers from jammers. All players must be upright at the start except jammers who can have one hand down.
MADE - Pivots start on their own line, blockers behind them. Jammers line up behind blockers but not more than 20 feet back.
WFTDA - 108 x 75 feet inclusive of a 10 foot ref lane, skating lane varies from 13 to 15ft wide
USARS - 108 x 75 feet inclusive of a 10 foot ref lane, skating lane varies from 13 to 15ft wide
MADE - 108 x 69 feet inclusive of a 5 ft ref lane, skating lane is 15 ft wide
WFTDA - False starting player gets a warning and has the opportunity to yield advantage gained in order to avoid a penalty.
USARS - Jammer false start causes the jam to be whistled dead. That jammer moves back 10 feet, new jam starts with same players.
MADE - 60 second penalty.
Out of Bounds
WFTDA - One hand may touch past the boundary line without the player being out of bounds. Brief touches by wheels allowed under some circumstances.
USARS & MADE- No contact with the floor past the boundary line.
WFTDA - Anything more than one hand and/or skates touching the floor makes you down.
USARS & MADE- Anything other than skates touching the floor makes you down.
WFTDA & USARS - Distance between players’ hips.
MADE - Distance between players’ skates.
Dropped Helmet Covers
WFTDA - Complex rules about who can touch them and how to return them.
MADE - If you drop your helmet cover a ref will return it to you.
What happens if a jam stops because of your injury?
WFTDA - You sit out 3 jams.
USARS - You sit out for 10 minutes of period clock.
MADE - You sit out until the next period or EMT approval, whichever comes first.
Substitutions for Injured Players
WFTDA - If the injured player has not served all their penalty time another player will take their place in the box. Otherwise, the team skates down a player until the next jam.
MADE - Mid-jam substitutions for injured players are allowed with ref approval, new player enters the pack from the rear.
WFTDA- Grabbing with a closed fist or interlocking elbows or crossing limbs in such a way that bones would have to be broken in order for someone to pass between players is illegal.
USARS - Links and grabbing are prohibited.
MADE - No holding or interlocking allowed.
Target Zones and Blocking Zones
WFTDA & USARS - Essentially the same.
MADE - Similar. The back, excluding the spine, is a legal target. Jammers are not allowed to shoulder block to opposing blockers’ shoulder blades after completing their initial pass.
WFTDA - Dealing with issues not specifically addressed in the rules in order to keep the game fair, safe, and consistent.
USARS - Head ref can penalize anything not specifically allowed that is unfair or unsafe.
MADE - Refs are not supposed to take intent into consideration, only actions.
WFTDA & USARS - Seven penalties (3.5 minutes of assessed penalty time)
MADE - Five minutes of penalty time.
Non-Penalized People Entering Penalty Box
WFTDA - Allowed as long as they don’t communicate with penalized skaters.
USARS - Not allowed.
Calling a Time Out From the Penalty Box
WFTDA - Not allowed. Penalized skaters can not leave the box during a time out or official review.
USARS - Allowed. A penalized captain can leave the box to talk to the HR during a time out.
WFTDA - Box must be near the track. There can be separate boxes for each team if necessary. A maximum of two blockers from each team can be seated at one time. When a blocker stands during the last 10 seconds of their penalty time a queued blocker can take their seat. There are multiple rules about what happens when opposing jammers get overlapping penalties. Generally speaking the 1st jammer is released when the 2nd jammer sits down.
USARS - Box must be near the track. 3 players maximum from a team in the box at one time. A 4th penalized skater will stand outside the box waiting until a chair opens up unless they’re the team’s last blocker, in which case they continue play. If both scoring players are in the box at the same time the jam is whistled dead.
MADE - Box is located in the infield. Skaters return to the track in front of the box after serving their penalty and enter at the rear of the pack. Skaters yield to refs when exiting the box. Two skaters from each team maximum in the box at one time. Additional penalized skaters queue on the track and keep playing until a seat opens up.
Jammer or Pivot in the Penalty Box at the End of a Jam
WFTDA - Penalized skaters play the same position in the next jam.
USARS - Penalized players remove their helmet covers and play the next jam as blockers. Their team fields a new jammer or pivot in the next jam.
MADE - A penalized jammer removes their helmet cover, plays in the next jam as a blocker. Team fields a new jammer in the next jam.
WFTDA - Up to four alphanumeric characters, at least one of which must be a numeral.
USARS - Up to four numerals in 2014, changing to a maximum of two numerals in 2015.
WFTDA - No. A 200+ point difference at the end of a bout is not uncommon. 600+ to <10 point bouts have happened.
USARS - No. Average score differentials are <100 points.
MADE - Yes. If one team is ahead by 50 points with 5 minutes remaining in the 3rd period the trailing team can choose not to play the 4th quarter. There is no record of this rule ever being used. A 30 point differential is considered a blowout.
WFTDA - This is the derby system you play. You know how it works. And when it doesn’t. There are approximately 800 rules.
USARS - A more compact ruleset written in easier to understand language. Much faster play. There are approximately 150 rules.
MADE - Seems to be more obviously reactionary to issues people have historically had with WFTDA than USARS is, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Easily understood rules. Seems flexible, logical, faster. There are approximately 160 rules.
Things I like about USARS and MADE:
-Yielding advantage after a cut. Cutting shouldn’t be a bigger deal than false starting.
-Pivots breaking from the pack helps keep score differentials low and prevents boring 4-on-1’s. The point of having a pivot is that they can switch from defense to offense as needed.
-Lead jammer not being able to call off the jam when they’ve been blocked down or out of bounds just makes more sense to me.
-Lead jammer being the one physically in front means jams aren’t a foregone conclusion as soon as the initial pass is completed.
-Differences in pack definition make it more in teams’ best interest to maintain a pack. This creates a more logical game that is more easily understood by spectators and is easier to officiate.
Up next in CKDC long reads (when I finish writing it): Comparing WFTDA and FIFA.