Monday, June 09, 2008
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 The very essence of the tournament as a measure of who is the best at playing Ultimate is obsolete.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.