Monday, June 09, 2008

(Editor's note: This is a guest editorial written by Colin "JV" Gottlieb, captain of Johnny Bravo '06–'07 and assistant coach of '08 Mamabird)

The UPA College Championship is dead. Long live the UPA College Championship.

The College Championship no longer holds the same significance it did even 5 years ago. The very essence of the tournament as a measure of who is the best at playing Ultimate is obsolete. I submit the following as evidence: as a coach of a college team there is simply no doubt that in the coming season I will have to spend practice time teaching my players how to deal with intentionally poor calls and fouling to gain an advantage in all phases of the game. After coaching my team in the 2008 College Championships, it’s clear it would be a disservice to my team to leave them unprepared to deal with these factors at the highest levels of competition. We will have to practice our offense with multiple stoppages in flow (to mimic the above mentioned intentionally poor calls). We will have to practice being willing to call fouls (thus stopping our own offensive flow) on every single mark. I will have to secretly instruct one of the teams in our scrimmages to try and get into the heads of their teammates with such bad calls and intentional fouling.

How top teams spend their practice time would seem to be an accurate assessment of the state of the game. That I see no other way to prepare my team for College Nationals 2009 other than to spend practice time on learning how to play against poor calls and intentional stoppages of play tells me the game is becoming less about the competition between two players and two teams. It is now becoming a competition between both teams and the rules. Rather than young talented players on the field competing against the athleticism and skills of opposing players, they are battling their own composure and their knowledge of the exact wording of the rules.

The rules are designed to rely on the respect of individual players for the game, if not for each other. There will always be aspects of our game, as a self-officiated competition, that can be taken abused. It is a harder and thus more worthy goal to win the college championship while making calls that respect the nature of player vs. player competition. To make poor, unspirited calls and to so blatantly exploit weaknesses in the rules is to cheapen whatever finish your season ultimately produces.

For those riding the short bus: you will always be able to call travel on any throw of significance and due to the normal motion of a thrower’s body, be technically correct at least 20% of the time. Similarly, as the disc begins moving quickly through the offense, one can always convince themselves that they saw someone’s pivot foot move on a give and go and stop play with a travel call. Doing so is a tremendous advantage for the defense; the offense’s flow is disrupted and the defense can plan a strategy during the stoppage to recover and stop the movement. However, if you were not going to point-block the throw and more importantly, if you did not conclusively witness the travel, then making the call is tantamount to forfeiting the competitive respect between teams and literally changing the game into a competition between both teams over knowledge of weaknesses in the rules.

Where will the game go if it dissolves into a glorified on-field litigation process over the intent of the rules and their exact meaning? The NBA has just announced that they will impose fines for flopping in the 2008–2009 season. How far away is ultimate from needing to institute similar corrective measures? And how sad is that question?

The challenge of our sport is unique. The responsibility of maintaining the integrity of every other sport is left to referees and judges. In our game, the rules have been created to give that responsibility to the players. Make bad calls and you may win, but you will forfeit the most fundamental essence of sports. If you start making calls every time you think you might lose a game, what’s the point of putting on different jerseys and finding out who’s better?

Congratulations to the University of Wisconsin. You were, without question, the deepest and most talented team in 2008. You didn’t need to make bad calls to win. You didn’t need to get booed in the finals. You were better than that.


Paul P said...

I hope coaches spend more time teaching their teams how to call a game properly and honorably.

The alternative, as is so eloquently expressed in this post, sucks. A race to the bottom is in no one's interest.

Anonymous said...

Your critique rings somewhat hollow in relation to your "performance" in the championship game v. Brown in 2004, unless you have matured with age as a sportsman (I haven't seen you play since)

sometallskinnykid said...

This just seems to be a retread of a very common post on rsd whether it be for club open or college open.

Some years are better than others. Not, if true, it should be defended. But this argument/point has been around for years. I highly doubt that 2008 was any worse than any of the past 15 or 20 years.


Garret said...

Unfortunately, I think it is worse. I was there this year, and it was far worse than anything I remember as a player or have seen in the past couple years.

Breathing said...

Whether it is worse or not, it is still a concern that is constantly voiced. The conversation is alive.

I think this is a very well worded critique of the nature of a problem for the Ultimate community. Many of us know it well.

I tend to think and hope to believe that the respect Colin Gottlieb mentioned for the game and for opponents is passed down through a grass-roots culture where everyone is responsible for the future of the game.

If this is the case and--for the time being--I assess that it is, then the game will constantly change based on the way that the game is thought about and practiced by each Ultimate player out there.

It will change consequent to the way it is taught to neophytes and it will change in each exploitation of the softness of our rules; I see it as softness rather than Mr. Gottlieb's "weakness."

I am glad for the softness in the rules. It makes for more fun. Fun might understate the importance of flow for our game. Most Ultimate players I know love flow. I have met very few who don't. If teams are willing to win at the cost of flow, then I don't know what to say.

Sounds like a deal with the devil to me.

Those usually turn out well.

Anonymous said...

Were there really so many questionable calls in semis to warrant a essay form attack on the Hodags?

The reality of the booing in finals likely stemmed from Muffin's choice of cornrows, sunglasses, and a glove than any calls made during nationals.

Anonymous said...

Where are the observers in all of this? Isn't there recourse if the observer feels that a team is making calls simply to gain and advantage, without warrant?

That said, everyone wants the other team to be lenient when it will benefit them, however, are they willing to return the favor? If a violation occurs, it should be called. If there is a problem with the rules, then it should be addressed -- but yes, coaching a team is much more than offense, defense, and fundamentals.

It's about mental game, it's about diet, it's about every detail of your players lives on and off the field, including, how to make and deal with calls.

All of the things you've mentioned adding to your training regimen are a great idea. Never rely on the other team to be a good sportsman. Be better. Get the d. Push yourself to be so good that no flurry of bad calls can stop you, and then go get some.

Drew said...

I didn't take the essay as an attack on the Hodags at all. I mean, he actually gives us props in the end, right?

I guess I would echo the frustrations after watching coverage of finals yesterday evening, though. There were so many overruled calls made by (mostly) Florida. It really slowed the game down, and, in my opinion, made it significantly less fun to watch. I can only imagine how in might annoy the layman.

Finally, as a graduating 5th year, I would say it is tough to deal with as a teammate who strives for fair play. How can you vocalize your discontent with a call when you're not 99% sure that it was a bad one? The best answer I've found is to lead by example.

Jon "rb" Bauman said...

Speaking as an observer, if a team shows a pattern of bad calls, there will be TMF or PMF repercussions. This was very effective in cleaning up the Florida/CUT semi that got off to a disastrous start.

Furthermore, in most players' opinions a bad call is almost any call against their team. Travels called on successful hucks universally draw groans, but they're often valid calls.

In comparing this year's final with the previous few, I actually thought there were many fewer calls and that it was actually a pretty watchable game.

Finally, if coaches would spend some time ensuring that their players actually knew the rules, it might improve the situation. Many of the bad calls and heated arguments I see stem from rules ignorance. We are a self-officiated sport and the rules really aren't very long or complex. There's no good excuse for not knowing them well if you want to play at the elite level.

Muffin said...

"You didn’t need to make bad calls to win. You didn’t need to get booed in the finals. You were better than that."

What? Who is taking credit for those boo's?
That is some bullshit! Those groaning heckles and boo's were meant only for the Morfin and no amount of complaining and tantamounting can change that.

What stops flow? Players who don't know the rules for violations like fast count or disc space.

Maybe you should start teaching the rules to your athletic rookies - because they hack on the mark, suck at ultimate, and have no mental game.

Madison West Love
Suck it Colin

JV said...

If I may, I realize in hindsight that I should have made my final point more clearly. From my perspective, Florida (as a team) did seem to be the worst abuser of the rules. My point in the final paragraph was intended to highlight that in my estimation the Hodags would have won without calling so many irrelevant travels, repeating fast counts etc. They were the best team at Nationals and in contrast to Florida, didn't need their calls to win.

The central point of my post was not to attack Wisconsin as a program, but more to highlight that to me the sport has always been about player vs. player. If a player beats you by getting a huck off because your weight was wrong on the mark, or because he made a nice give and go to get wide open, then he beat you. Unless the travel was the difference between you affecting the play and not, you can call it, but he still beat you. And that in my mind is the gap between the contest of ultimate as a player vs. player competition and whatever it has become. It is the gap between occasionally accepting defeat like an honest competitor or trying to weasel out of it with a call.

Again, I want to stress: Wisconsin was not the worst call making team at nationals, they were just the ones that needed their calls the least, and still made them at times. For my last words on this post, a big bunch of respect for the national champions I have personally watched since 2000 that won without making unnecessary calls:

Carleton 2001, Stanford 2002 (best college team I've ever seen), Hodags 2003, Florida 2006, Wisconsin 2007. I didn't mention Colorado 2004 for fear of bias, but I don't think we made very many calls. Talk amongst yourselves...


Anonymous said...

Quote from an observer in 2003 after Wisconsin contested a fast count/stall call -- "you were eggregiously fast".

Wisconsin 2003 may not have made many calls, but they sure pushed the limits of the rules (and their opponents' unwillingness to call every violation) with their physical play.

That team was very good and was undoubtably the best team in the country that year.

Anonymous said...

what a great post/thread! sounds like a cry for refs to me.

as for original post - Yea, this aint nuthin new. Steve moons coined the phrase uglimate in 1986 after windy spiked their nationals trophy.

seems like you should direct more of your frustration towards the rules that ENABLE such behavior. Dont blame "knowledge" either. Everyone knows what the discspace rule is.....they just know they can break(disreguard) it with out any real immediate and tangible consequence(kind of like a spoiled/undiciplined child).

How far is ultimate from needing.....refs, you say? well sense you cant go back in time i'd say you have arived at that point.

How sad is that, you add. not sad at all. its just the reality of human nature. the sooner you accept that the better off you will be.

paul p: why do refs arbitrating suck, never experienced it i'd say.

anony: pot calling ketle black....ouch(yet another dynamic of ultimate that is age old)

breath: softness, weakness, same thing. you like the softness???? dont you realize (from this thread) that its a double edged sword that will cut you every time you use it. Softness enables manipulation and there is nothing a D line up hates more than "flow"......thats why they are out there stop and prevent flow. And why bring the devil into this. Why does it always have to revert back to some spiritual quest in which you equate sportsmanship to godliness.

anomy: where are the observers, you say? in a boat with out a paddle.

Drew: sees how watching ulrimate could/DOES annoy the layman. Of course he can, its as plain as the nose on your face. The question is....why dosent EVERYBODY se this?

rb: t and pmf's might have helped the semis but dint do much for the finals. If any call against "your" team is automatically a bad one then why enable a provision to argue it......we all know what the outcome will be. Dont be so naive to think that players dont "know" the rules.....they just "know" that they are easy to break with little to no recourse.

muf: you too really believe that the the marker rule is THAT complicated????? c'mon you guys, dont be so naive. its not the rule its the enforcement.

JV: I too agree that wisc is the coolege version of ole school NYNY(and thats a pretty fuckin HUGE complement). Ya cant weasle out (or initiate) a bad calls in reffed sports......kinda why they use em.

anony: said the most intelligent thing that points to the heart of the inconsistancies in player initated rule enforcement and indirectly creates an unlevel playing field.................................."to push the limits of the rules (and their opponents unwillingness to call every violation)with their psyical play". THIS is where refs surpass observers by far in their effectiveness. As for efficiency......there is no contest there.