This is Part V in a series of Six Articles on the History of the Rules of Ultimate Frisbee
The Ultimate Players Association (UPA/USAU) has spent approximately $1,000,000 so far in the form of paying Dr. Tom Crawford's salary, expenses, etc., ostensibly to get Ultimate Frisbee into the Olympics. Why? To what end? Theoretically, the inclusion of Ultimate into the Olympics would grant something to the community that has eluded the world of Ultimate Frisbee for decades, and that is respect.
But with organizations, as well as individuals, respect needs to be earned and you can't even begin to think about earning respect from others unless you have an adequate self-respect yourself.
In society, we typically see people with low self-esteem or low self-respect go out and buy a big house, a nice car, marry a trophy-wife, etc. all in an effort to feel better about themselves and gain respect from society. This attempt at gaining respect via elevated social status is not dissimilar to what the UPA has done organizationally in trying to get into the Olympics. However, self-respect can only come from one place.
Rather than looking within at why Ultimate isn't being respected, the UPA looked externally and spent a fortune to do so. Instead of hiring a sports guru as a CEO for a total of almost $1M over the past 7 years, a sports psychologist and games theorist could have easily been hired for $50,000 to analyze the game and help the community come to terms with the fact that gaining respect would only happen by fixing the sport from the inside out.
Any legitimate games theorist who looks at the data, looks at the rules, looked at the history (including Irv's interview) and read this series of articles would come to the same conclusions. It's not that Ultimate doesn't get respect because it's not in the Olympics, it doesn't get respect because the rules are not conducive for fair and meaningful competition. If you want respect, perhaps you should start by having a game based on firm, consistent, non-arbitrary boundaries. All of this can be done while still maintaining the unique culture that is Ultimate. These two things are not mutually exclusive.
Out of all the dogmatic beliefs held in Ultimate Frisbee, between the authoritative tenets presented in the rules and the implicit beliefs embedded into the popular culture, perhaps the most damning of all has been the implicit idea that conventional sports are evil and therefore, Ultimate being unconventional (non-win at all cost) is good. This concept arises straight out of the New Games Movement, of which Ultimate Frisbee is undeniably a part of.
Almost every time over the past forty years that anyone has brought up change or reform in the game, the automatic retort from the community is a quick reference to the down side of other sports, such as concussions and injuries, flopping soccer players, parents yelling at & threatening referees, players cheating while the referee is looking the other way, over-bearing coaches, win-at-all-costs attitudes, aberrant behavior, etc. It is exactly this dogmatic thought system built into the culture that has prevented any change from happening. The argument has nothing to do with the proposition.
For example, what does making momentum out of bounds a change of possession have to do with people cheating to win? What does making uncontested traveling violations resulting in a turnover do with avoiding a win-at-all-costs culture? Absolutely nothing. It's a non-sequitur to suggest that the process of reforming the rules means all the ills of conventional sports will come along with it. This is a belief, it's been held by the community for decades, its not true and that's what makes it dogma.
It is this intrinsically judgmental and small-minded mentality built into the fabric of the players that itself has prevented Ultimate Frisbee from getting any respect.
I was chatting recently with a teenager named Sullivan Wilkes up here in Boone, NC about the AUDL and MLU, and something he said gave me hope that Ultimate can eventually change after all.
There was a Charlotte Express player there and I was ridiculing the notion of “professional” Ultimate and how lame I thought the whole scene is.
As I was lining up to play another point, I said something to Sullivan like
"I refuse to go pro until they overhaul the rules."
And he said,
"Why, because of the offensive bias?"
Wow. Out of the mouths of babes....what an insightful question.
If a 17 year old kid recognizes the significant bias towards the offense in the rules, then maybe there is hope the game can someday evolve. Since the game is based on dogma and an ill-conceived hybridization of two distinctly different and somewhat contradictory gaming models, it has created a set of rules that not only gives the offense an enormous advantage, it also has made a sport that is highly addictive and very difficult to change.
In other words, because the game is inherently unbalanced in favor of the offense, there are a great many false positives in the game. A false positive is a case where a player experiences success when in fact he or she should have failed and as a result, naturally organic learning doesn’t happen. This is very simple, a risk needs to be accompanied by both a corresponding gain for success and a corresponding loss for failure. If you put your hand on a hot stove, it hurts and you learn really quickly not to do it again.
This is the most basic tenet to the design of any game. Ultimate's lack of respect doesn't come from a lack of recognition, it comes from a lack of penalties and a lack of commonsense rules.
Ultimate Nation needs to understand the historical implications of Irv Kalb's initial mindset and assess whether or not it was an appropriate starting point for a sport. Far too many people who've looked at Irv's interview and these subsequent articles have stated that the information is completely irrelevant by now and that the game has evolved. Nothing could be further from the truth. The game is still 100% based on Irv's original model and practically nothing of any substance has changed (and in many instances attempts to address the game's shortcomings have taken the sport in the wrong direction).
If the community wants respect from the outside sporting world, it is incumbent on the respective rules committees to raise the bar much higher on what success and failure looks like on offense. The leaders in the sport should think in terms of taking the game from the bunny slopes it is today, to the double black diamond slopes it can be tomorrow.
The implementation should begin with smaller end-zones, stiffer penalties, more challenging boundary conditions, etc. This will be a good thing for everyone from a 10 year old in the park to a 30 year old playing at Nationals.If you went through the rules of the game and gutted them, removing any of the ideological nuances that resulted from Irv’s touch football days and made Ultimate strictly a possession based game, the rules could possibly look something like this:
- Pivoting/momentum OB would result in a loss of possession
- Pivoting and momentum into the endzone should also be a loss of possession (At a minimum, momentum into the endzone should require a pass back out of the endzone instead of players walking around the field resetting their pivot.)
- "All Ball' hand blocks and footblocks would result in a change of possession.
- Hitting the disc out of the throwers hand would result in a change of possession.
- Offensive fouls would be a loss of possession.
- Bringing the disc into play along the sidelines no longer require you to put a foot on the line.
- Actual [basketball style] picks would still be considered illegal and a loss of possession.
- The current pick rule as it stands rewritten to only define basketball style picks.
- Traveling violations would be a loss of possession.
- Standing up after a lay out catch on offense would be considered traveling (and a loss of possession).
- Any more than 3 steps would considered traveling (and result in a loss of possession).
- Ten yard Deep End-zones
- Jump passes legalized (like they were originally meant to be).
- Double Teaming the thrower legalized (AUDL having vetted this and proven this isn’t an issue)
The misguided notion that UItimate is a non-contact sport needs to be rectified and there needs to be a way to remediate both the quantity and severity of contact. Fouls are an inherent part of the game now and the rules need to reflect this and accommodate them in one form or another. Some ideas on how to deal with fouls (not in any particular order and some of these could be combined)
- Mandatory substitution for fouls
- A point awarded to fouled team
- Some sort of ‘free throw’ or ‘penalty kick’
- Yellow/Red cards
- “Power Play” scenarios like hockey where the offending team plays a man down.
- Shaming the player on Social Media
It may be challenging for the majority of players to digest these rules changes, but try to remember that each and every one of the original rules came from the mind of a scrawny, 19 year old, unathletic boy names Irv Kalb, who had intended the game to be more or less reflective of the game of touch football that he’d been so influenced by at the time.
Frank Huguenard holds a degree in science from Purdue University and has spent decades in product development in Silicon Valley prior to embarking on a career in documentary film production specializing in films bridging the gap between Science & Spirituality. He draws on his research in the fields of combination of psychology, physics, wisdom traditions, sociology and history. You can see his films at www.beyondmefilms.com.