Controversy Surrounds PRCA Rule Change in Tie-Down Roping

Rumored rule change would disqualify ropers breaking jerk-down rule

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RENAULT Phillipe/hemis.fr/Gety Images

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the biggest governing body of the sport of rodeo, announced in a press release on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 that tie-down roping rules were discussed at a recent Board of Directors meeting. The release states that actions were taken to formalize future discussions and concludes that all sides of the rodeo industry, including the contestants, will be included in the process.

This press release comes in response to widespread outrage among contestants and fans after the Calgary Sun published a news story on Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 stating that the PRCA has adopted a rule that tie-down ropers breaking the jerk-down rule would receive a no-time. Legendary ropers Fred Whitfield and Tuf Cooper were quoted in opposition to the rule change.

To clarify the issue, the current jerk-down rule fines a tie-down roper $150 to $300 if he ropes his calf in such a way that he flips it over its back and jerks it to the ground. To keep tie-down roping as fair as possible and to give the calves a sporting chance, any calf not on its feet when the cowboy reaches it after roping must be allowed to get back to its feet before it can be flanked and tied, whether it was flipped or simply fell.

Tie-down roping has been under close scrutiny for years: originally known as calf roping, the name was changed to place less emphasis on the calf and the implications of roping a young animal.

The original jerk-down rule with the associated fines was put in place to protect the animals after tie-down roping and rodeo in general came under fire for animal abuse issues. Statistically, very few calves are injured in tie-down roping and rodeo stock as a whole enjoys excellent care.

Critics of the rumored rule change argue that the PRCA is folding to pressure from the media and animal rights activists.

Cooper has been one of the most adamant opponents to the rule change, arguing that the ones who will suffer the most will be the tie-down ropers themselves. Some life-long rodeo professionals agree with the penalties to cowboys in violation of the jerk-down rule, while others believe it's putting unfair expectations on contestants especially when working with a large or fresh calf. Some rodeos, including the Calgary Stampede, already enforce their own jerk-down disqualification rule. 

One of the big fears of rodeo contestants and fans is that further regulation of tie-down roping may lead the event down the same road as steer roping. Because of the perception of cruelty to the steer, this event has been greatly downplayed by the PRCA: steer roping is offered at very few regular rodeos and it has its own national finals held at a different location some weeks prior to the NFR. It's even been outlawed completely in the state of Rhode Island--as has tie-down roping. Many fans and contestants are concerned that tie-down roping is headed in the same direction.

Unfortunately this issue doesn't seem to have an easy solution: while rodeo will continue to attract fans who understand the sport's roots in the tasks of working ranch cowboys, it must also reach out to new fans in a world increasingly sensitive to perceptions of animal cruelty.

Further legislating tie-down roping will alienate fans and contestants of rodeo's most classic event. However, ignoring the concerns from fans and rodeo critics will do little to further rodeo's growth in a changing world.

Ultimately, the final decision will be made in a meeting on March 2nd, 2015. The PRCA promises to include contestants in the decision-making process.