Rules of The Game: Rollerball

January 12th, 2017
by JP Trostle

Here they are at last: THE official rules for the sport of Rollerball, as seen in the 1975 movie. These were transcribed — typos and all — directly from a 13-page press release in the movie’s original press kit from United Artists.

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ROLLERBALL: Fact Sheet & Rules of the Game

TRACK DESIGN:

Productions Designer — John Box

Track Architect — Herbert Schurmann (Olympic Track Architect for Rome, Mexico and Munich)

Skating Consultant for Track Design — Peter Hicks

 

TRACK SPECIFICATIONS (CIRCULAR TRACK):

Top circular dimensions — banked area:

Circumference — 547 feet (167.863 metres)

Diameter — 175 feet (53.426 metres)

 

Lower circular dimensions — banked area:

Circumference — 312 feet (96.113 metres)

 

Banked Surface — track area:

Width — 40 feet (12.30 metres)

 

Flat surface — track area:

Width — 19 feet 8 inches (6 metres)

 

Infield area:

Circumference — 190 feet (58.434 metres)

 

Top of bank from flat floor level:

Height — 12 feet 2 inches (3.71 metres)

 

Degree of banked track:

18°

 

Two doors — built into banked area of track:

Outside dimensions of doors when closed

–Length: 22 feet (7 metres)

–Width at top: 7 feet (2.20 mtres)

–Width at bottom: 6 feet (1.90 metres)

 

Size of opening when doors are open

–Height: 6 feet 6 inches (2 metres)

–Width: 6 feet 0 inches (1.90 metres)

 

Pneumatically operated. (Open to let players and game personnel in — closed during game).

The track area — both the flat and banked portion — have a smooth wood surface.

Surround the top of the track there is a 3-foot-high 6 inches thick steel barrier. Attached to the barier [sic ] is a 2-inch steel hand-rail covered with rubber.

Surrounding the track on the top of this steel barrier is a 4 feet 4 inches high steel mesh fence.

Surrounding the bottom of the track there is a 3 feet high 6 inches thick steel barier [sic ] with 3 feet wide player entrances at opposite ends of the Infield.

A 6-inch gutter surrounds the bottom of the track. If the ball goes into the gutter, it is a ‘dead’ ball.

 

THE TEAMS:

Each team comprises seven (7) Skaters, plus three (3) Motor-cyclists. There are eight (8) Substitutes on each team. These Substitutes, players and motor-cyclists, are positioned in the Infield area during play until called into action.

Players — each team:

Skaters — 5 players (Combination Offensive & Defensive)

Skaters — 2 ball catchers

Motor-cyclists — 3

[total ] — 10

 

Skaters — 5 Substitutes

Motor-cyclists — 3 Substitutes

[total ] — 18

 

Infield — each team:

Team Executive — 1

Team Coach — 1

Team Trainer — 1

First aid men — 2

Motor-cycle mechanics — 2

 

Uniform & equipment:

1. Studded motor-cycle helmet with face guard

2. Cotton jerseys with team numbers

3. Ice hockey shoulder pads

4. Leather pants

5. Adapted baseball catcher shin guards

6. Motor-cycle boots for Motor-cycle drivers

7. Skate boots for skaters

8. Spiked leather gloves

9. Ball Catchers used adapted ice hockey goal-keepers glove.

10. Various protection pads: elbow, back, knee, etc.

 

Motor-cycles:

Each team has three motor-cycles in play and three substitutute [sic ] motor-cycles. The motor-cycles used are Honda CB 125’s, which have been specially adapted by the addition of steel protection pads on the front and sides, plus a steel towing-bar at the back, which the skaters hold when being towed.

The cycles travel counter-clockwise when in play. They are capable of very high speeds and during a game can reach a speed of up to 50 miles per hour.

 

THE CANNON AND BALL — SPECIFICATIONS:

Cannon:

Pneumatic powered (compressed air)

P.S.I. (Pounds per square inch) available — 600

Maximum power ever used — 400 P.S.I.

Firing velocity — 0 to 135 miles per hour

Cannon fired by computer from Controller’s Bubble

 

Ball:

3 ½” Diameter

Weight — 21 lbs.

Made of solid resin core with an outer steel skin.

The ball is fired from the cannon clockwise around the track.

 

Method of Firing — cannon and ball:

The cannon is positioned on top of banked area of track, which opens up mechanically to fire, then closes. The firing of the cannon has been worked out by a computer which has been programmed. Only the computer and the Controller know when the cannon will fire. Only one ball is in play at a time. If it is not picked up and reaches the gutter around the inner barrier (Infield), the ball is ‘dead’ and a blue light flashes signaling the fact. If a player drops the ball and it rolls down into the gutter or reaches the gutter for any reason whatsoever, the ball is also ‘dead’, or out of play.

 

OFFICIALS:

(1) Game Controller:
The Game Controller is stationed high in the centre of the Infield, in a glass-enclosed revolving bubble, from which he can see the whole game laid out before him. He is seated in a mechanically-swivelled chair within the bubble; a small computer console built into the chair arms shows the speed and velocity at which the cannon will fire the ball. The Controller operates the signal light tower which hangs from the arena roof over the bubble in full view of the spectators and players.

Yellow flashing lights indicate — Cannon has fired, ball in play.

Blue flashing lights indicate — ‘Dead’ ball

Red flashing lights indicate — Goal scored

Green flashing lights indicate — A penalty has been called

 

(2) Game Referees:

Inside the Infield are two Game Referees, each with his own elevated station, from which he supervises one-half of the track. The Game Referees are audio-connected to the main Controller, and their chief function is to call penalties and enforce the rules of the game.

 

(3) Team Executive:

The Team Executive is the General Manager of the team, and is responsible for all the operations of the team on and off the track.

 

(4) Team Coach:

The Team Coach is second-in-command to the Team Executive and assists him in all team operations.

 

(5) Team Trainer:

The Team Trainer is responsible for the physical fitness of the team players and the maintenance of the team equipment.

 

(6) Team First Aid:

First aid personnel are positioned in the Infield area. They are equipped with portable first aid equipment and stretchers. They deal with the injured, getting them as quickly as possible off the track. Those players seriously injured are placed in the elevators (lefts) which take them below the stadium for expert medical attention.

 

(7) Motor Cycle Mechanics:

These are similar to the First Aid teams. They deal with motor-cycles in the same way as the First Aid personnel deal with the players.

 

THE GOALS:

The two magnetic goals are positioned on top of the banked track area above the steel barrier. The goals are mounted into a glass back board 8 feet 4 inches wide and 4 feet 10 inches high. The goal is a cone-shaped opening in the back-board, 21 inches in diameter.

SCORE BOARD:

There are two large score boards positioned above the spectators behind each goal. The score boards contains the following information:

      Team Names

      Players’ Numbers

      Goal Score

      Period of Play

      Time Clock

 

MULTIVISION CONTROL-BOOTH:

This is an Information Centre located in a glass booth high above the spectators in the Stadium. The game is completely recorded on Multivision screens from remote Multivision cameras positioned in the stadium, and simultaneously transmitted to the Multivision sets throughout the world. The Multivision Broadcasters watch and describe the game from here.

 

SCORING:

The game is formulated on the basic fact that the team picking up the ball has to get round [sic ] the track with the ball and put it in the opposing team’s goal within three laps of the track.

A team gets one point for every goal scored. When a goal is scored, the red lights flash, a klaxon sounds, and the score board registers the point.

 

SCORING AREA:

Behind each goal on the banked track is a 6-foot-wide red area in which a player must be in order to make a try at scoring a goal. If the ball carries attempts to score from outside this area, it is disallowed and a ‘dead’ ball is called.

 

“ROLLERBALL”:  BASIC RULES AND PENALTIES:

(1) Play time — three (3) periods, each of twenty (20) minutes.
After each period, there is a two-minute rest period. If the score is tied after three periods, an overtime period is called and played until a team scores.

(2) The skaters and bikers can only move counter-clockwise around the track.
If a skater or biker is seen moving clockwise by the referee, a two-minute penalty is called against the offender. The player is sent off the track and cannot be replaced during the penalty period.

(3) After gaining possession of the ball, the offensive team cannot try for a score until the ball has traveled one revolution of the track. This revolution starts from the point of pick-up by the ball catcher.

(4) In the event that the offensive team ball carriers have been unable to try for a score within three revolutions of the track, the ball is considered ‘dead’ and must be guttered. A new ball is then fired from the cannon.

(5) The ball carrier is not allowed to deliberately hide the ball from the defensive team. The penalty for doing so is for the team to forfeit possession of the ball (the ball must be guttered).

(6) No more than ten (10) players per side can be on the track at any one time. Of the ten players on each team, only five are allowed to score goals. The three motor-cyclists cannot handle the ball. The two ball-catchers can only field the ball after it is fired and pass it to one of the five skaters, who can pass it to one another and attempt to score.

(7) No permanent goalie or goal defender is allowed in the scoring area. Defensive and offensive players can only be in the 6-foot-wide red scoring area when an offensive ball carrier is making a try for a goal.

If the ball carrier passes the red scoring area, the defensive players who are in the red scoring area must go after the ball carrier.

(8) The motor-cyclists are not allowed in the top half of the red scoring area. If a biker is seen in this area by the referee, a three-minute penalty is called against the offender.

(9) A motor-cyclist must not deliberately injure a skater. If he does so and is seen by the referee, a five-minute penalty is called against the offender.

(10) A skater must not deliberately injure a motor-cyclist. If he does so and is seen by the referee, a five minute penalty is called against the offender.

(11) The ball must not be used as an offensive weapon. Penalty: three minutes.

(12) The Infield personnel of each team are required to remove from the track as soon as possible injured players and damaged equipment.

(13) A defensive player is allowed to intercept a ball being passes, or pick up the ball that has been knocked out of the offensive ball carrier’s glove and can try to pass or score with the ball — providing the ball is on the track and has not reached the gutter.

(14) Each team may substitute players as long as there are not more than seven skaters and three motor-cyclists on the track at one time. This, however, does not apply to players removed from the track for penalties (there is no substitution allowed.)

 

HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED:

The teams in formation on the track: the Controller fires the ball by acting on instructions from the Game Computer. The teams are spread out in order that the two catchers of each team can cover as much of the track as possible, while still being protected by the other skaters and bikers.

Once the ball is fired by the cannon, the teams pick up speed to be in a good fielding position when the ball comes off the rail. Any of the two catchers on either team can field the ball and move forward as fast as possible in order to pass the ball to one of the offensive players; once the ball is held by an offensive player, the balance of the team forms in order to allow the offensive carrier to move once around the track (360¡), then to try for a for a score in the opponents’ goal.

The carrier has as choice of trying to score or make another circuit of the track, in which case the opposing defense must brake and make another circuit also.

The players on defense move around the track circling with and against the offensive team, trying to get possession of the ball. As the skaters move around the track, they alternate positions in defending the goal. The motor-cyclists assist in defending by towing skaters as on offensive play, and using their speed to move between the patterns of the offensive team.

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Notes & observations:

This was everything in the press release. I declined to edit or correct the transcript in the interest of completeness, even if some paragraphs were confusing and contradictory.

Clearly there are a few items “missing”, at least as far as explaining certain events seen in the film. For example, do the series of small, white lights next to a player’s number on the scoreboard mean anything? I always imagined that — like in basketball — a player could only have so many penalties before “fouling out” of the game, and that these lights kept track of the number of infractions. No explanation is given for the lights (other than the dramatic effect they have in noting players who are disabled and killed), and their in-game purpose is still a mystery.

Also, early in the movie, the Madrid team is upset when a referee does not see Moonpie strike a player who is obviously stunned and just getting to his feet. It seems clear by the actions of the characters that there is some rule against attacking players who are down (think late hits in football) yet this restriction does not appear in the above list.

Finally, if you read my article “The Rules of The Game: The Evolution of Rollerball,” you will discover that, yes, they really did make up the game as they went along. Given the chaos of the shoot, and the number of people involved in creating and marketing this movie, it is highly unlikely that a complete and comprehensive set of rules were ever written down. The above is as close as we will ever get.


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