Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Late-Game Clock Management

With how much roller derby has advanced in regards to skating skills and the strategy of the game itself, it's somewhat shocking that you still regularly see high profile bouts between mid- or top-tier teams where the clock management late in the game is seemingly not thought out at all.  Clock management is not something you should be trying to figure out on the fly.  That's how comeback attempts fall short or leads that could be held are lost.

You need to have a clock management strategy in mind before you find your team in a situation where how you manage the clock could be the difference between wining and losing.  This post strives to establish some basic strategies around late-game clock management.  It's not an exact blueprint to follow, but hopefully it will get you thinking about managing the clock and help you formulate a mental strategy.

The Basics.  First off, we should probably touch on why clock management is important.

When the outcome is in question into the final 15 minutes (i.e., the "4th quarter" of play), the clock can become your friend or your enemy, depending on whether you're ahead or behind.  Actually, there are really 3 positions that a team could be in: leading significantly, trailing significantly, or neck-and-neck with the opponent.  Each should have it's separate strategy planned out that you should play to.

I generally define the "neck-and-neck" position as a bout where the lead could change in any jam.  You might be ahead or behind by a small margin, but that doesn't really change your strategy until the last 2-3 minutes.  If the game is really close and there are still 2+ jams to play, the strategy should be the same whether you're leading or trailing.

For games neck-and-neck into the closing minutes, the strategy is pretty simple:  Set up the final few jams, and try to have the lead last.  This generally means staying out of the penalty box and trying to win every jam as you normally would. However, it's also a good idea to put your team in a position to have the strongest possible lines over the last few jams, when winning a single jam can have the highest impact.  —Think about how baseball teams set up their bullpens: They build in strength leading to a dominant closer.  Obviously, how you do this will vary greatly from team to team.  Maybe you want to rest your top blockers a bit so you can lean on them harder at the very end.  Maybe you want to change your jammer rotation for the final few jams...  You're not managing the clock so much as you're adjusting your lines based on the time remaining.  I'll let you figure out how your team should set up the endgame of a close bout.  Just keep in mind that you likely want to have a "closing" plan in place to steal victory at the end of a neck-and-neck bout.

Your strategy should shift, however, if you have a reasonably large lead to protect or deficit to overcome.  When you have a significant lead, your strategy should be to shorten the game.  The fewer jams your opponent has to mount a comeback, the better.  When you are the team trying to come back, you will want to extend the game for as many jams as possible.  Essentially: The more jams remaining = the higher the chances the trailing team will get the really big jam they need to win the game.

Defining a Significant Lead.  So how do you know when you should be trying to shorten or extend the game?  In basketball or football, you will hear announcers talk a lot about the number of "possessions" that separate the teams' scores.  In basketball it's 3 points per possession, and in football it's 8 points per possession.  Basically, the idea is that if the leading team can keep the differential greater than the maximum number of points that one team can score in one possession while burning the clock, then that team is assured victory.  The trailing team's focus becomes trying to get the game to within a possession so they then have a chance to take the lead away at the end.

Roller derby doesn't have "possessions" because both teams are always playing both offense and defense, but the basic concept still applies.  It's just a question of when a game is within one big jam of a lead change.

Even with the passive offense strategy leading to massive power jams, making up more than 25 or 30 points in one jam is rare.  So that's a good starting point.  If the game is within 25 points, you're probably going to be in the neck-and-neck mindset and not focusing as much on manipulating the clock.  The exception to this would be potential final jams where the leading team is focusing on actually ending the game, but we'll get into that later.  For now, we're talking about more than 2 minutes remaining.

As I stated, 25 points is just a starting point.  That figure can, and should, be adjusted based on the flow of the game.  In a really tight, low scoring game where getting a 4-0 jam win seems huge, then 20 points might feel like the most that could be overcome in one jam.  In a game filled with power jams and sparse packs, 30-35 points might feel like a more appropriate "significant lead."

This also varies depending on the time left on the clock.  A 40-point lead with 12 minutes remaining is not the same thing as a 40-point lead with 5 minutes remaining.  I like to use this formula as a starting point:  Significant lead = 5 × (the number of minutes remaining) -or- 25 points, whichever is greater.  If you're within your figure, then you should be managing the game based on your neck-and-neck plan.  If the score gap is greater than your figure, then you need to switch your focus to burning the clock or mounting a comeback.

Burning the Clock to Protect a Lead.  So your team is up by 50 points with 9 minutes to play.  What do you do?

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a team in a position like this take a quick 1-0 jam win or call it off after a 15-second scoreless jam.  It makes me want to pull my hair out.  For the team with a commanding lead, every jam represents an opportunity to kill 2 minutes without the opponent being able to use a timeout.  Your goal should be to end the game in as few jams as possible.  Your opponent is looking for opportunities to get the big jam they need to close the gap.  Calling off a jam quickly just gives your opponent a chance to reset and try again.  You don't want to do that.

I've heard some people argue that calling off the jam helps the team in the lead because it immediately burns 30 seconds between jams.  In my opinion, this argument is very short-sighted.  Yes, there's 30 seconds of game clock time that runs off between jams.  However, your opponent likely has timeouts to counter that.  If you call off a jam quickly, your opponent calls a timeout, and the game clock immediately stops ticking.  Even if your opponent can't or won't use their timeouts, that 30 seconds is in the bank anyway.  It's waiting for whenever the jam ends, so why not delay that as well?  If you can waste an extra 90 seconds of game time during a jam before the 30 seconds in between jams, then you've killed 120 seconds as opposed to 30.  That's essentially one jam at the end of the bout that was just eliminated.

The only exception to the "don't call it off" strategy is if you happen to find yourself on a power jam.  In that case, you generally want to call off the jam early to trap the opposing jammer in the box and give your team the opportunity to get an uncontested lead in the following jam.  That way you can potentially burn another 2 minutes off the clock in the next jam as well.

If the team in front gets lead jammer, the primary goal should be to waste game time so long as that safe lead isn't threatened.  If your lead jammer gets stuck on the second pass and starts hemorrhaging points, call off the jam.  But if you can trade a 4-point jam loss for 2 minutes of game clock erased, let the jam play out.  Just be sure to have your jammer skate conservatively, or better yet, field your cleaner jammers more often when protecting a lead.  High penalty/high scoring jammers are great when you're trying to mount a comeback, but they're less useful when you're protecting a lead. You don't care much about scoring a lot of points in this position, and the last thing you want to do is give up a power jam.  Thus high risk/high reward jammers become high risk/low reward when you're trying to burn the clock.

Your main goal in all of this is to get the bout into a final jam situation as quickly as possible.  If you can do so without letting your lead shrink to less than 25 points, or whatever your "safe lead" amount is, then you've already won.  If there's 1:50 remaining and you're up by 35 points, then you only have to get lead jammer and the bout is over.  This is ideal.  Just get lead, have your jammer disengage, and call off the jam when the game clock hits 0:00.  The end.  You win.

Extending the Game to Mount a Comeback.  Ok, let's flip the script now.  You're trailing by 50 with 9 minutes remaining.  What do you do?

Well, things are definitely much tougher for the team that's trying to catch up.  However, you almost certainly have timeouts and possibly an official challenge that you can use to stop the clock between jams.  How and when you use them will be key.  You need one or more big jams, so you want as many chances to make that happen as you can get.  The more jams you can squeeze out of this game, the better.  If you get lead and the opposing jammer also escapes the pack quickly, call off the jam and move on to the next.  You can't afford to trade points; you need to be lapping the opposing jammer.  Keep rolling the dice, and hopefully you'll hit a 20.

Now when it comes to using your timeouts, you need to keep one thing in mind:  They do you no good when they clock hits 0:00.  Use them.  Granted, you don't want to use them before you really have to, but when you're getting down to desperation time, spend your timeouts.  You should keep your challenge for the end in case something happens that you need to have reviewed, but don't let it go to waste either.  Every timeout or challenge that you don't use is essentially another jam that could have been.  When you've lost by 25 points with timeouts left unused, I bet you would trade one for another jam.

So how do you avoid not using your timeouts when you had a chance?  Well, it's pretty simple.  The decision to call a timeout should be made immediately when a jam ends, when it can save you the maximum of 25-30 seconds of game clock.

If you only have 1 timeout or challenge remaining, and a jam ends with less than 2:30 remaining, call your last timeout.  If you don't, the next jam will start with less than 2 minutes left.  In that situation, if your opponent gets lead the game is lost.  You want to delay that do-or-die jam as long as possible.  If you call a timeout now, you guarantee yourself an opportunity at another jam.  Beyond that, just add 2 minutes for every additional timeout you have:

• If you have all 3 timeouts + your challenge, call a timeout if a jam ends with 8:30 or less remaining.
• If you have only 3 timeouts -or- 2 timeouts + your challenge, call a timeout if a jam ends with 6:30 or less remaining.
• If you have only 2 timeouts -or- 1 timeout + your challenge, call a timeout if a jam ends with 4:30 or less remaining.
• If you have only 1 timeout -or- just your challenge, call a timeout if a jam ends with 2:30 or less remaining.

If a jam ends with more than 8:30 remaining, you don't have to worry about spending your timeouts yet because you'll be guaranteed opportunities to use them all later.

But what if you're out of timeouts and have already used your challenge?  In that scenario, you need to call off any jam where you won't take the lead with more than 30 seconds remaining to ensure another jam. Also, know that you need a jam to end with more than 3:00 remaining to be guaranteed 2 more jams.  —This is because of both 30-second run-offs before and after the next jam.

Again, the whole point of extending the game is give your team additional opportunities to get a power jam or get the opposing jammer stuck in the pack while your jammer is racking up points.  You need one or more big jams.  Generally, you should call off jams when the opposing jammer escapes the pack.  —The only exception to this is situations where your opponent might field an especially penalty-prone jammer.  In that case, it might be better to keep that jammer skating and hope you get a power jam out of it.

If are able to get that big jam you need and find yourself in a neck-and-neck scenario again, you can readdress your strategy based on the changed game situation at that time.  Hopefully that happens, but if it doesn't, at least you gave yourself every opportunity that you could.

Closing.  Hopefully, you have a good idea of how to approach late-game scenarios with regards of clock management.  The suggestions I have put forth aren't written in stone or anything.  You may well have a few different ideas of how you would handle each situation.  That's fine.  It doesn't really matter what your exact strategy is so much as it matters that you have one.  Just make sure you have a plan and execute it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Patient Offense and the Spirit of the Rules

There's a lot of talk going on about rules changes and "stroller derby."  People are throwing out all sorts of radical ideas for new rules that would massively alter the game of flat track roller derby.  I usually ignore the gnashing of teeth.  I happen to think the rule set that WFTDA plays under is, for the most part, pretty damn good.  It's led to explosive growth for the sport, and I think drastically changing the rules by removing power jams or something extreme like that would be fixing what isn’t broken.  Still, the current WFTDA rule set is not perfect.  It’s definitely a work in progress.  People just need to realize that it needs to be honed, not rebuilt.

“Slow derby sucks!” is a familiar battle cry.  —But different people define different strategies as slow derby.  For me, slow derby used to always refer to the no/slow starts where the pack would just hang out behind the pivot line and the jammers would never be released.  That issue has largely been solved by counter-strategies like knee starting.  Other people hear “slow derby” and think of scrum starts.  I personally love scrum starts because I love seeing blockers engaging the jammer and working together.  Scrums are, by definition, engaging roller derby.  They just start off with slow-moving engagement.

When I think of slow derby today, I’m thinking about the patient offense/pace line strategy.  I hate, hate, hate this kind of roller derby.  I understand that it’s effective.  I understand that teams who want to win feel like they have to use this tactic in order to win important bouts.  They train really hard all year long to try and win, so why wouldn’t they do everything they can to win even if it means boos and alienating fans?  I get that.  It’s just a terrible abuse of the rules, and it's bad for the sport as a whole.

Let’s break this strategy down for a second and look at how the patient offense is taking advantage of a loophole.  The Springfield Isotopes jammer is sent to the penalty box giving the Shelbyville Maulers a power jam.  The Maulers choose to skate as slowly as possible on the outside line to try and convert the power jam into as many points as possible.  The rules do not say the pack has to maintain any specific speed.  All they say is that once the pack is in motion, the pace is set.  The blockers must stay within the bounds of the pack at whatever pace it is moving.

A pack that is moving at a quarter of a mile per hour is set at that pace and perfectly legal.  Once the pace of the pack is set at 0.25 mph, there is almost nothing that the Isotopes can do to speed it up.  The Maulers jammer engages the pack, and the Isotopes block her until there is a 10-foot gap between the teams, resulting in no pack and 5 points for the Maulers.  The rules require that both teams reform the pack, but once the teams are back within 10 feet of each other, the Maulers can just maintain a 9-foot gap (skating backwards if necessary), and thus force another quick no-pack and get another 5 points without doing much of anything.  Rinse and repeat.  Over and over.

The problem with this strategy is that it’s a tactic employed intentionally to destroy the pack.  Let me repeat that.  Pace line derby is intentional destruction of the pack.  I don't think anyone can argue this.  It may not be an active act of destroying the pack, but it is definitely a passive act of destroying the pack.

Let’s look at what the current WFTDA rules have to say about maintaining a pack:

4.1.2 - When two or more groups of Blockers equal in number are on the track; are more than 10 feet from one another; and no single group meets the pack definition, no pack can be defined. Skaters will be issued a penalty for intentionally creating a no pack situation i.e. destroying the pack (see Section 6.10.2). Both teams are responsible for maintaining a legally defined pack. A skater or group of skaters is always responsible for the consequences of their actions. If their actions create a no pack situation (except those covered in Section, they should be penalized as directed in Sections 6.10.9–6.10.24.

There’s the problem.  The rules state that both reams are responsible for maintaining a pack, but they only penalize “actions” that result in a no pack situation.  They do not say anything about inaction that results in a no pack situation.  Inaction which results in destruction of the pack may not be against the letter of the rules, but it is most definitely against the spirit of the rules.

So how is the patient offense any different than stopping altogether or just dropping to a knee?  It's not.  The patient offense is minimal movement which results in destruction of the pack.  It’s just that the current rules surrounding destroying the pack do not include instances where a team maintains an extremely slow pace to intentionally force a no pack situation.  There's a loophole allowing teams to intentionally destroy the pack without being penalized for it.

A lot of people want to overhaul the rules and define the pack as the group of blockers in the front... or include jammers as part of the pack... or something game-changing like that.  I would prefer WFTDA not use a sledgehammer and instead use a scalpel.  The simplest solution is to just close the loophole and define pace line derby as illegal destruction of the pack.  It’s the responsibility of both teams to maintain the pack, right?  Why not enforce that?  Referees already require skaters reform the pack when no pack exists.  Would it not also make sense to have referees require skaters to make an effort to maintain the pack?  I think that's perfectly reasonable, and it wouldn't really change the way roller derby is played.

Now let’s take a look at the current WFTDA rules regarding destruction of the pack: - Examples of illegally destroying the pack, or creating a “no pack” situation, may include but are not limited to: a skater, skaters or team running away, braking or coasting to drop back more than ten (10) feet behind the opposing team, taking a knee, intentionally falling, or intentionally skating out of bounds in such a manner that the legally defined pack is destroyed. - The rules do not define pack speed. Illegally destroying the pack penalties shall not be given for gradually deviating from the speed of the pack as established through game play, unless said deviation is sudden, rapid and marked, leaving the opposing team no opportunity to adjust and maintain a pack.

I highlighted the part about leaving no opportunity for the opposing team to maintain the pack here because that’s exactly what pace line derby does.  If the Isotopes blockers try to skate backwards to close the 9-foot gap and allow themselves a chance to engage the jammer while maintaining the pack, the Maulers will just skate backwards as well in order to maintain the 9-foot gap.  The idea is to basically keep the Isotopes on the edge of a cliff so that if they try to block the jammer, they end up destroying the pack and have to let her go anyway.  The pace line tactic is successful in that it leaves the opposing team no opportunity to both engage the jammer (play roller derby) and maintain the pack.  They have to choose one and not the other, which leaves the Isotopes blockers helpless and results in the Maulers racking up grand slams with little-to-no effort.

Section could simply be amended to include something like “inaction such as minimal movement which causes the natural continuation of play to result in a no pack situation” as an example of illegally destroying the pack.  It seems pretty simple to me.  If the rules included something like this, the Maulers would be compelled to engage the pack and try to trap an Isotopes blocker.

Regardless of how it’s worded, I really hope that this kind of rule change is enacted.  I know this isn’t a perfect solution, there may be no perfect solution, but I think it’s very important that WFTDA does something to incent teams to actively play roller derby.  Most of the time, I’m fine with letting counter-strategies develop to progress the sport.  I just happen to think that there are no real counter-strategies that can be developed to correct this quirk in the rules.  The patient offense is a great example of loophole exploitation, and in my opinion, the loophole just needs to be closed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jams Fielded Per Penalty Turn

Any educated fan can tell you that penalties are huge in roller derby.  If you read my stats study earlier this year on Queen of the Rink, then you have a pretty good idea of just how big they can be.  —And it seems like the effect that penalties have on the game is getting larger.  As teams begin to get closer in skill level and strategies continue to advance, losing skaters to the penalty box becomes more and more hindering.

Because of this, there is also an increased need for good penalty management tools.  I had experimented with some penalty frequency statistics like "minors per jam" [(majors × 4 + minors) / jams], but I was never satisfied with the usefulness of something like that.  I've seen other statistics like fractional penalty minutes that attempt to factor in the impact of minors to scale with majors, but again, those kinds of statistics are not very useful because of the difficulty in comprehending them.  In my opinion, a stat is only as useful as it is understandable.

One of the big problems is measuring penalty frequency by jams skated.  Jams skated is a good divisor in basic roller derby stats like points per jam or lead jam percentage.  It can give you useful averages for a lot of things, but not for penalty frequency.  The reason for this is because with penalty frequency statistics, serving a penalty turn can actually help a player's rating.

To illustrate what I'm talking about, let's look at 2 skaters who commit the same penalty.  Fannie Flash goes into the penalty box at the beginning of a jam and exits later in the same jam.  She skates in 1 jam and gets 1 major penalty.  That's a 1:1 ratio of penalties:jams skated.  In the next jam Rascal Rae goes to the penalty box for committing the same penalty, but the jam is called off shortly after she sits down.  Another jam passes, and then Rascal Rae exits the penalty box in a third jam.  In this case, the ratio of penalties:jams skated would be 1:3.  The problem is that Fannie and Rascal commit penalties at the same frequency.  Fannie had no control over the jam continuing and Rascal had no control over being in 2 more jams.  Using jams skated for penalty frequency statistics is unreliable.

The real question at hand is: "How often do skaters go to the penalty box when you send them into the game?"  The number of jams a skater is actually in is irrelevant.  If you subtract the number of times a skater begins the jam in the penalty box, from the number of jams she was in, you'll get the actual number times she was sent onto the track.  —Something I like to call Jams Fielded.  Hopefully, your lineup trackers are recording when skters enter and exit the penalty box.  If they do, this should be an easy stat to calculate.

Using Jams Fielded can really highlight how often skaters are actually sent onto the track and how often skaters just end up in the penalty box, stuck in the game for another jam.  Once you divide the jams fielded by the number of penalty turns a skater has incurred, you'll get the average number of times a skater is fielded before she goes to the penalty box.  This is the Jams Fielded Per Penalty Turn.  I love this stat because it's very simple to read.  A score of 6.25 means that every 6.25 times a skater has been sent into a jam, that skater has gone to the penalty box.  It's simple; the higher the score, the better.

So, how is this useful?  Well, obviously it's very useful to know how penalty prone every skater has been.  Keep in mind, though that you also have to take into account how active the skater is in the pack.  A skater who is an actively hitting blocker (doing the heavy lifting in the pack) is simply going to garner more penalties than a skater who usually just positionally blocks.  Still, it can be really helpful to know when you only have 2 blockers on the track because in that situation, you're need to get your team out of the penalty box carousel of doom.  Maybe in stead of putting in you 2 strongest blockers, you might want to put out a couple of clean blockers for a jam to try and get back to a 3-pack or a 4-pack for the following jam.  Sure they might not be as strong as other blockers, but sometimes losing a jam or two can be worth it if you are stronger in the pack for several jams afterwards.

Also, I highly recommend splitting this stat between jammer and blocker statistics (keep in mind that any poodling jammer is going to have a bad blocker score).  Obviously, it's far more important to have a clean jammer than a clean blocker.  One or two power jams is often the difference in winning or losing a bout.  If you can put together a clean jamming rotation, it can be a huge advantage.

In the end, this is all about managing penalties.  Your average 60-minute bout is going to be approximately 40-42 jams.  You can use Jams Fielded Per Penalty Turn to get an idea of how many penalties to expect from blockers team based on your lines.  You can use it to help predict the number of power jams you are likely to surrender based on your jamming rotation.  Sometimes just knowing what to expect ahead of time can help a team keep their heads and avoid compoinding penalties.  There are a lot of ways you can apply Jams Fielded Per Penalty Turn to help manage the game and give your team the best chance at winning.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ichiro Suzuki Traded to the Oly Rollers

PHOENIX, AZ — 2012 has been a year of unfulfilled expectations for Arizona Roller Derby.  The season began with such promise and a level of excitement that AZRD fans had not experienced before, but ultimately the product on the field turned out more mediocre than spectacular.  Despite being more competitive than in years past, today the team officially ended the Ichiro Suzuki era.

"We know it's difficult for our fans to see," said general manager Jack Zduriencik.  "We all want to put a winning product out there to get everybody excited, but sometimes you have to know when to fold 'em and look to the future of your team."

The American League WFTDA West Division has been tougher than Arizona expected this season.  "The Rangers are still the Rangers...  The Angels got Pujols, and that Mike Trout fucker came out of nowhere," Zduriencik said.  "-And the A's!  No one thought the Athletics would be this good either.  The deck was stacked against us.  What else can we do?  We need to focus on rebuilding."

When reached for comment, Ichiro had this to say:  "I think it help me.  I always admire the Oly Rollers and how they committed to winning above all else no matter how much they hated.  I'm excited to play for a winner.  I want a ring just like everybody else."

"We're excited to have him," said Brian Cashman, general manager of the Oly Rollers.  "We think he'll look really good in Oly pinstripes."  But what does Cashman think about the imbalance in competition that has plagued baseball roller derby?  "We know we always win.  Of course we know that.  We exploit our position at the top to keep adding talent and stay at the top.  It's no secret."  Cashman then cackled maniacally.

Obviously, the Arizona fans have a different perspective.  To them, this scenario is all too familiar.  This fanbase once endured 4-year period that saw the departures of Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez in succession.  "We know our fans aren't happy to see this happen again.  I'm not happy.  Hell, Eric Wedge is furious," Zduriencik opined.  "But at the end of the day this is the reality of our sport.  All we can do is make the best of a bad situation and move forward."

Friday, February 24, 2012

In Defense of Power Jams

One of the most compelling parts of being involved in modern roller derby for me is the fact that the sport is still in its infancy. The future is unknown and full of possibilities. I get to experiment with things like roller derby stats because no one has ever done it before. The book has yet to be written on a lot of things, and I get a chance to play some small part in writing it.

As a result, there's a lot of debate going on about everything derby-related. I guess it comes with the territory. Being new and malleable, the sport is open to experimentation in a way that other sports simply aren't. There's going to be trial and error and adjustments to be made. Mix that with a lot of varying opinions, and you've got a good recipe for criticism.

When it comes to the sport itself, the most obvious adjustments come in the form of rules changes. It seems like everyone has an opinion on how to "fix" slow derby. Everyone seems to hate it when teams choose not to skate past the pivot line to bleed the clock or get an extra blocker back from the penalty box. There has also been a lot of discussion surrounding the idea that WFTDA might abolish minor penalties with the next rules update. Plenty of derby folk on the interwebs are more than happy to express their desire for WFTDA to adopt a "no minors" rules set. In fact, WFTDA actually beta tested that idea last year.

Both the "no minors" and "forced play" ideas have gained some traction. You can read various blogs about them elsewhere, so I'm not going to retread those debates here. In stead, I want to chime in on another common complaint about the current WFTDA rules set I've been seeing lately: The idea that power jams are somehow bad for roller derby.

The main criticism is essentially: "Power jams are too impactful on the game." No one can argue that power jams don't matter. Everyone has seen a 20-point swing result from a jammer penalty and completely change the complexion of a bout. The ever-present threat of this is undeniable. What is debatable is whether or not this is a bad thing.

Opponents of the current rules would say that it's bad for the sport that a critical power jam can change the outcome of a bout. I've seen several blog posts and internet comments that have put forth this argument. I could not disagree more.

Big plays are a part of a lot of different sports. They add excitement. In football, a deep pass to the end zone or a sudden interception return for a touchdown can be heart-stoppingly awesome. In baseball, a 3-run homer run can completely change a game. Hell, the simple threat of a big play making the difference helps keep a game interesting. Any bout within 20 or so points going into the last jam is not out of reach. It can make for some extremely dramatic finishes. Anyone who watched the end of the 2010 WFTDA championship bout knows what I'm talking about. Should we really want to change that?

I've also seen an argument that power jams usually only help the team in the lead. Jerry Seltzer wrote: "The concept that power jams will allow teams to come back from a big deficit rarely works; often they just allow the team that is leading to increase its lead."

Well, the fact is that when one team is winning by 100+ points, power jams are not to blame. One team is just a lot better than their opposition. Eliminating power jams is not going to make blowouts more interesting. The only thing that can fix that is the evolution of the sport. As the sport evolves, competition will become tighter, and match-ups will feature more similarly-skilled teams. In that setting, power jams will allow for more exciting bouts because more bouts will still be "within reach" in the final jam.

Another common criticism of the power jam is that it forces the officiating to affect the game to a larger degree. I won't argue with this, but I will point out that this is true of every team sport that uses a penalty system. In football, receivers are constantly trying to draw a big pass inference penalty. Basketball has been built around trying to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line. —And soccer... ESPN actually ran a commercial making fun of how soccer players fake injuries to draw penalties.

It's an inherent part of having a penalty system. There are always going to be strategies employed to try and force penalties to gain the advantage through the refs. It's unavoidable. I say we should embrace it. In my opinion, it's pretty awesome when that last blocker forces a track cut on the jammer and gives her team a big power jam. If you lessen the effect by shortening jammer penalties or eliminating them altogether, you just end up cheapening the value of good blockers.

The power jam rules debate really boils down to an argument between consistency and excitement. Do you want teams to win by playing a solid game throughout a bout, or do you want inconsistent teams to have a puncher's chance at the end? Obviously, there's a happy medium between those two aspects in any sport, but I would argue that the medium we currently have is pretty happy already.

I've been working on a a rather comprehensive stats study (the results of which you'll be seeing shortly) which includes the previously mentioned Points off Power Jams statistic. What I've found indicates that the average power jam doesn't have as much of an impact on a bout as many people assume. The words "power jam" automatically bring to mind an image of one team racking up numerous grand slams and completely taking over the bout.

The reality is that power jams like that are not very common in competitive bouts (and they simply don't matter at all in non-competitive bouts). Would you believe that in high-level, similarly-skilled match-ups, the average impact of a power jam is only about 10-12 points? Yes, there are some 20-point gougers, but there are just as many 5-point penalty kills. Just like with power plays in hockey, how well a team capitalizes on a power jam or kills a penalty can add another level of intrigue to the sport.

If you truly examine them, you'll find that power jams simply aren't the sport-destoying monsters that some people believe them to be. In fact, I would argue that they are part of what makes roller derby as awesome as it is.