In this post we look at the Stepping Back Rule in Article 7 and answer frequently-asked questions about it.
As we discuss the rule, we need to remember the context. The FIPJP rules are designed for FIPJP-sanctioned competitions where games are played on rectangular lanes 4m x 15m. On these lanes, games are played back-and-forth, first in one direction and then in the other direction. Because of the limited length of the lanes, after placing the circle around the former location of the jack, players sometimes find that they can’t throw the jack to the maximum permitted distance (10m)… this is because the circle is too close to one of the lane’s end boundary lines, which are dead-ball lines. That is the kind of situation which the Stepping Back Rule is designed to deal with.
Suppose that at the start of the first mene, the circle is placed close to the west end of the lane and the jack is thrown so that it lands exactly in the center of the lane (diagram 1).
Team A wins the first mene, so it starts the second mene by placing the circle around the former location of the jack. The jack was in the exact center of the lane, so now the circle is in the exact center of the lane (diagram 2).
The circle is half a meter in diameter, so the western edge of the circle is 7.25 meters from the western boundary of the lane, and the eastern edge of the circle is 7.25 meters from the eastern boundary of the lane. In this situation, team A might like to throw the jack to 10 meters, but they cannot. Both the western and eastern ends of the lane are too close. This is where the Stepping Back Rule comes in. Article 7 (which I’ve slightly reformatted) says—
If [and only if] there is no direction in which the jack can be thrown to the maximum distance… the player may step back, in line with the previous mene’s line of play, but without going beyond the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack.
Note the “if and only if” clause. The Stepping Back Rule can be applied only if there is no direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m. If there is any direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m, the Stepping Back Rule cannot be used.
Like most FIPJP rules, this rule assumes that the game is being played in a competition on a rectangular lane. It assumes that the player is stepping backward along “the line of play”— an imaginary line drawn through the circle’s location in the previous mene and the circle’s default location in the current mene. As the player is stepping backward, he is looking at point Q: the place where the line of play intersects the dead-ball line behind the circle’s previous location. As he backs away, he is keeping track of the distance between himself and Q.
At any point he can stop or he can keep backing up, but if he reaches a point where he is eleven meters from Q, he is not allowed to back up any farther; he must stop and place the circle on the ground. Why eleven meters? That’s because a thrown jack must be at least one meter from any dead-ball line. One meter, plus 10 meters (“the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack”), gives a distance of 11 meters from Q and the dead-ball line.
If the Stepping Back Rule was written more clearly, it would say something like this.
If and only if there is no direction in which the jack can be thrown to 10 meters, the player may step back, along the previous mene’s line of play, but without going more than 11 meters from the place where the previous mene’s line of play intersects the dead-ball line.
Note that invoking the Stepping Back Rule is completely optional. A team doesn’t have to step back with the circle if they don’t want to. They can also move the circle only part of the maximum-allowed distance— they don’t have to move the circle back all of the permitted distance.
(Q1) If “the previous mene’s line of play” crosses the lane at a steep angle, could a player stepping back along the line of play be forced across the lane’s side boundary?
NO. Obviously, you can’t place the circle outside of the lane. When “stepping back”, a player should back directly away from the circle’s former location (along path A in diagram 5) as long as it is possible to do so without crossing the lane boundary. Then, in order to continue to back away, the player should back away along the inside of the lane boundary line (along path B).
Remember that the direction in which the player backs away is determined by the circle’s former location. But the maximum distance to which he can back away is determined by the lane boundaries and the farthest dead-ball line (in our diagram, the dead-ball line at the west end of the lane).
(Q2) We’re playing on a big playing area. There are one or two directions in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters, but we don’t like any of them. We’d prefer to play back in the direction we just came from. But in that direction there is not enough room to throw the jack to 10 meters. Can we play back in that direction, and invoke the Stepping Back Rule to move the circle back?
NO. The Stepping Back Rule can be used only if there is no direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters. You may not like any of the available directions, but you must pick one of them.
(Q3) Team A’s throw of the jack is not successful, so it turns the jack over to team B. Can Team B move the circle before placing the jack by hand? Does it make any difference whether or not team A moved the circle before attempting to throw the jack?
YES, team B can move the circle before placing the jack. NO, it doesn’t make any difference. Team B can move the circle whether or not team A had previously moved the circle.
(Q4) If team A moves the circle, can team B put the circle back to where it was before it was “stepped back” by team A? Or at least move the circle closer to where it was before it was “stepped back” by team A?
NO. (1) That wouldn’t be “stepping back”. (2) There are practical reasons for forbidding the circle to be moved closer to its former location. As noted in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (November 2015, Question 15), part of the purpose of the Stepping Back Rule is “to expedite play by increasing the chance that a valid jack might be thrown”. Allowing a team to move the circle CLOSER to its original location would have exactly the opposite of the desired effect— it would decrease the chance that a valid jack is thrown.
In the following set of questions, team A is placing the circle at the start of the second mene. The initial location of the circle is in the center of the lane, as in diagram 2.
(Q5) Can team A leave the circle where it is, and continue to play in the same direction, toward the east?
YES and NO. It is legal to continue playing in the same direction. But usually, for all practical purposes, there simply isn’t enough room. In this case the circle is 7.25 meters from the eastern boundary of the lane. To continue playing toward the east, team A must throw the jack to a distance of between 6 and 6.25 meters (maybe a little more if they play toward a corner). That’s practically impossible to do. But on a longer lane, or an open terrain, there might be more room and it might be a practical possibility to continue playing in the same direction.
(Q6) Can team A move the circle away from the east dead-ball line, and then continue throwing the jack toward the east?
NO. That would not count as “backing away along the line of play”. Remember— When moving the circle, you must be looking toward the circle’s former location and backing away from it.
Here is a diagram to help in understanding the next two questions.
A game is being played on an odd-shaped playing area— when the playing area was built, the edges of the area had to be routed around a group of trees. It’s an open terrain, not divided into lanes.
During the last mene, the circle was at location X. A freak hit knocked the jack back, very close to X. To start the next mene, John has placed the circle in its default location, but he sees that he can’t throw the jack to 10 meters in any direction. So, looking toward X, he is preparing to step back with the circle.
(Q7) Article 7 says: “If you can’t throw the jack to 10m, you can step back until you can.” As John steps back away from X, in a few steps he will get to location B. From location B, it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters (toward the center of the terrain). Does that mean that John must put the circle down at B?
A: That’s not what Article 7 says. And NO, John isn’t required to put the circle down at location B. “If you can’t throw the jack to 10m, you can step back until you can,” is a handy paraphrase of Article 7, but it doesn’t really say what Article 7 says. Article 7 says that a player may step back along the line of play, without going beyond a certain distance from the dead-ball line. It says nothing about stopping when he reaches a place from which he can throw the jack to 10 meters.
(Q8) John steps back away from X in order to gain enough distance to throw the jack to 10 meters. If John places the circle in location A, is he then required to throw the jack back in the direction of X? Or can he throw the jack in some other direction, e.g. toward the center of the terrain?
A: Article 7 tells us when and how a team may step back with the circle, but it says nothing about what that team must or must not do after moving the circle. Once John has moved the circle, there is no requirement about the direction in which he must throw the jack. He can throw the jack anywhere that he wishes.
(Q9) Team A throws the jack unsuccessfully. Now it is Team B’s turn to place the jack by hand. Before placing the jack, Team B (legally) steps the circle back so that it is 11m from the dead-ball line. Then they place the jack, but… they place the jack only 8m from the circle! Is that allowed? Can Team B step back with the circle so that it is possible to place the jack 10m from the circle, but then not place the jack 10m from the circle?
A: Yes, that is perfectly legal. As we noted in answer to the previous question: Article 7 tells us when and how a team may step back with the circle, but it says nothing about what that team must or must not do after moving the circle. Once Team B has moved the circle, there is no requirement about where it must place the jack. They can place the jack anywhere that they wish.
Note that the rules implicitly require a player to step back with the circle if he can’t throw the jack to 6 meters. If, say, the lane is only 12m long and the default location of the circle is exactly in the center of the lane, there is no direction in which the jack can be thrown to the minimum distance of 6 meters. In such a case, the player must apply the Stepping Back Rule.