Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Colin probably understates the number when he says, "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." I think the number is at least 50%, from all the college ultimate I watched this year.

Then he says making the call if you weren't going to point-block the throw is the same as "forfeiting the competitive respect between teams." Is it? Since when is calling a travel when it's a travel bad? Why not put the onus on the throwers to be more controlled?

Thing is, a lot of people equate making calls with bad spirit. There are certainly bad calls out there, I saw plenty of 'em this year with no spirit in'em. But I think the problem is not so much in the calls themselves, but the inconsistencies in call-making as a game gets tighter and the outcome dicier.

A great aspect of self-officiation is that both teams, at the start of games, feel themselves out to see how tightly the game will be called. Elite Club has for the last several years adopted more of a 'let's play' mentality; we play physical and aggressive D and allow it on ourselves, despite the fact D like that would be instant fouls in summer league or college ultimate. I've had times when I get heavy body as I make a dump cut; there's a moment of contact where I think to myself "ok, let's play it this heavy." I'll even talk about it occasionally during a stoppage of play with my defender, and we nod our heads.

If a team makes close calls early, the other will follow suit. If a team lets play, the other does likewise. A tacit agreement is reached between them, unspoken.

It only feels like 'cheating' when one, usually toward the end of close games, begins calling fouls and travels that both had previously 'played-on'. Were those plays still fouls or travels at the beginning of the game? Sure, by the letter of the rule. But the level of play was established early on and had been played as such until one team started fearing losing and altered the game. In the 11th edition rules I.C. it says:

Captain’s Clause: A game may be played under any variation of the rules agreed upon by the captains of the teams involved. In tournament play, variations are subject to approval by the event organizer.
All players, captains included, set the tone early for what the game will be like by how aggressively they play and call. The second sentence above, regarding variations being approved during tourneys, might be construed against my point until you notice that the one thing players have full, unopposed control over is foul calling.

Changing the way you make calls towards the end of games, and suddenly calling everything you see, breaks this pact, and feels like cheating to the other team. Calls now seem to be made specifically to alter the course of the game, because the team allegedly committing the violations feels as if it hasn't changed anything about their throwing or game play, but calls against them have dramatically increased. Their minds leads them to the obvious conclusion: the other squad is cheating to win. They broke the pact; it feels like betrayal.

I have no problem with anally correct calls, calling every tick-tacky foul, as long as the team is being consistent. They tire of it soon enough, because teams adjust and because it sucks, for both teams, to constantly interrupt a game. I do however take offense to those who begin to call every violation they see towards the ends of games as a tool to win. If it's not cheating, it's inconsistency and it hurts the trust between teams, crucial for self-officiation to work. Anyone who has suddenly found themselves in a callfest knows too well the slope is slippery.

But before we start writing revisionist history let's remember that the Hodags had as many calls reversed by the observer as Mamabird in this year's semifinal, and less than Florida in finals. Also remember the callfest finals '05 against Brown, that for being a double-game point championship game was unbearably boring for its last 5-7 points. That game before calls increased? Incredibly memorable. Towards the end? It felt like watching litigation on C-SPAN.

I coach my philosophy: consistency and fairness. I devote the time you'd spend teaching them to play in shitty callfests to helping them learn and play with the rules. I tell them, "before making a soft call ask yourself if you'd be livid having that called on you. Chances are if you make the call it will. " Seems pretty simple to me: know the rules and call 'em straight. Do that and you've got a pretty fun, fair, and competitive game on your hands. Isn't that better than winning and feeling cheap any day?


Flo said...

Great post, Hector. I could not agree more. Make sure to call the game in the beginning exactly the way you would call it in the end, so your opponent has a chance to adjust his playing and calling.

Some caveats, though.
1. Sometimes, it needs some time watching from the sideline to recognize the ways your opponent is breaking the rules... . This observation greatly enhances your chance to recognize an infraction certain enough to call it. So, as a direct consequence some things will stay uncalled til later in the game. But, staying with your philosophy, make sure to make these calls as early as possible if you want to "use" them in the end.
2. There are times a team changes defensive strategy leading to way more calls without it being inconsistent. One great example for this:
2003 masters finals, Florida versus Colorado. Right before half, Colorado was up a few and Florida changed to zone and started a big come back. Suddenly, Florida had a guy (dump defender in 4-man-cup) in perfect position to call travels, and he did so plenty. Before, in man defense, no travels were called (how you even see a travel when on the mark is a mystery to me in many situations). Colorado had the feeling that Florida called their way back into the game and questioned several travel calls, but all were upheld by the observer (me), since they hardly ever held their pivot on a throw.

So, not always when a team changes the standard on when they call an infraction, this is to gain a late advantage. Sometimes it is just a result of another tactical adjustment

Match said...

I think with College you're never going to get the utopia you speak of unless you move to refs. For starters, the propensity to make a call changes from player to player, and increases as the player is more experienced and at the college level, experience is so incredibly inconsistent between players.

Secondly, there is a lot more riding on college games than club. With youth and eligibility to consider, players are either too inexperienced to separate wanting to win from playing fairly, or they are dealing with "senior mentality" meaning that their is little or no prospect of "next year" and your career comes down to "this" game.

I think the more we discuss the inconsistency between calls and the way calls are made, the more we are going to have to realize that objective officiating is the only way to go. As every player develops experience they will realize that their perspective on the game and the way they play it changes. Like you said Hector, at the elite level, consistency in calling is possible, but you are never going to see that in college because these kids haven't developed that gentleman's approach yet.

I also believe that in looking at the organization of ultimate, uniformity across the entire sport should be the aim, not just at the elite level. maybe at Club Nationals all players get the jist of being consistent, but empirically we know that it's just at Club nationals, if at all. Maybe some teams play more fairly than others at college nationals, but there is still obvious inconsistencies. Likewise with the use of observers. As the game gets more important the prevalence of observers increases. This is a poor approach because it is reactive rather than pro-active. We put observers there because we realize the game's importance and we understand that calls will be made with the outcome of the game in mind. This is what frustrates me the most about ultimate. A game between two teams should be the same whether it is at Nationals or sectionals or some BS tournament, as far as calls go. However, with varying levels of focus, players will have a smaller/larger propensity to make calls, that is just the nature of competition, especially amongst inexperienced players.

As I mentioned before, it goes back to refs. The only way to truly be consistent is to be objective. Forget the stakes, forget the outcome, forget emotion and just make a call where a call should be made. This is IMPOSSIBLE with self-officiating because people are imperfect. maybe the Joe Kershner's out there never make bad calls but for everyone of those players, there is a hot head that let's his/her emotions take over. trying to distill players to always be fair is never going to happen in a "true sport" because competition is about winning, not enjoying the game. if you want to just enjoy the game, why have a score?

This is the biggest problem with ultimate, is it a sport or is it just an activity? I suppose I am a black and white person and I feel it has to be one or the other, but this purest mentality of no refs is getting to become quite bothersome to me because as more and more people pay attention to the game and more and more people work hard at it, andinconsistencies begin to become more and more prominent. These inconsistencies probably existed 10 years ago but the only people that cared enough about the game to fly all over the country to play it understood the utility of fair play or at least some did. Now you have 80 college teams filled with pre-drinkers flying to Vegas. The game matters more to more people now and the only way to improve it is to take away responsibility from players and allow them to just focus on the game. A perfect analogy could be money. If you don't make much, you don't have much responsibility. However, if suddenly you become a millionaire because of some talent or skill, you probably let an accountant handle the cash because odds are you just don't know how to manage it. Which is fine, focus on your talent, let someone else deal with the money. Same with ultimate, as it matters more to more people, the level of competition increases and so does the responsibility to play fair. However, rather than put that pressure on players, the best way to handle this situation is to put the responsibility into the hands of an objective party, ie a ref.

I suppose in the end, my biggest problem with ultimate is the fact that decisions are made from the perspective of the best players/teams which has worked in the past because they have cared the most. However, now with more and more players caring about ultimate, your commitment to the game and your actual abilities are unrelated. The best decision making comes from the most objective, consistent, and intelligent bodies and with more minds working on the problem, your ability to play means very little. However, the power of decision making as it stands now belongs to the most elite, or people with the most elite in mind which I think is wrong. I will probably never understand what it means to play on Saturday/Sunday in Sarasota but Sarasota should not be the template. Your average contest between two teams at Yale Cup or Cal States or some random tournament should be. I have seen ultimate at every level and in every region and I have seen this inconsistency with my own eyes and I can say that the only way things will change is with refs. trying to teach fair play and consistency is like trying to teach any other part of the game, some players will pick it up better than others.

Bottom line, every major team sport has refs and so should ultimate (if it is to become a "true sport"), but I believe the powers that be don't want ultimate to be a "true sport", they just want to build on a "spirit of the game" infrastructure that gets archaic as more and more people pay attention. I don't mean to criticize anyone but like any evolving organization, you have to approach things objectively and this is a huge weakness of our sport. Like any outdated system (be it ultimate, or an operating system, telecommunications, transportation, industry, government, etc...), you can't always improve it, sometimes you just need to cut your losses, make some objective choices and take a progressive step forward.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Handy said...

Great post, Hector.

Match, I think a step in the right direction would be if all college players knew the rules because I'm not sure that they all do, even at the highest level. Before refs happen all the players need to know the rules in any circumstance.

Refs aside, say what you will about importance of each game, but it was a heck of a lot easier to make it to college practice stumbling hungover a few yards away from your dorm midday than it is to drive miles away after a full time job to a club team. The commitment level there is much higher because it has to be. I'm not buying the fact that someone who flies around the country all summer, busts their ass on the track and in the gym and takes a weekend in Sarasota for Nationals is less likely to feel a sense of urgency than a college player, even in one of their 5much years of eligibility. That's too easy of an out for college players.


Kyle Weisbrod said...

Match, I can't address all of the ill-considered points in your comment in the time that I have but I will point out the two that stuck out the most:

You wrote:

"I also believe that in looking at the organization of ultimate, uniformity across the entire sport should be the aim, not just at the elite level."

By your logic, not only do we need refs, but we need refs at all levels (so it is consistent throughout). Have you considered the expense of doing such and what that would mean in terms of opportunity costs for the sport?

You wrote:

"I suppose in the end, my biggest problem with ultimate is the fact that decisions are made from the perspective of the best players/teams which has worked in the past because they have cared the most. However, now with more and more players caring about ultimate, your commitment to the game and your actual abilities are unrelated. The best decision making comes from the most objective, consistent, and intelligent bodies and with more minds working on the problem, your ability to play means very little. However, the power of decision making as it stands now belongs to the most elite, or people with the most elite in mind which I think is wrong."

First, the power in the decision making structure for Ultimate and the UPA is with the players. Your issue is that what makes Ultimate most fun to play is not what makes it most fun to watch. You think that your "fun" as a spectator should trump that of the players involved.

Second, in the recent UPA strategic planning survey's it indicated that more elite players want refs than non-elite players (no demographic was near having a majority that wanted refs).

Finally, don't think that you're "objective" just because you aren't playing in the games that you think should be reffed. You just have a different subjective perspective.

There is nothing stopping the players from electing pro-ref UPA board members nor hosting refereed tournaments on their own. Saying that the power is with the "elite" belies a terrible ignorance of how this sport works.

When it comes down to it, the reason that there are not refs has nothing to do with elite players or UPA spirit worshipping ulticrats - it's just a simple cost/benefit analysis: the cost of refs is not worth whatever perceived benefits refs would bring.

What seems most ridiculous about your post is that you talk about the huge growth over the past 10 years and then claim that not having refs is limiting the sport. What evidence is there for that? The huge growth that you pointed out?

Hector, very good post. I appreciated Junior's perspective as well.

Match said...

First, yes, we should have refs at all levels. baseball, football, basketball, and soccer do, why can't we? Shooting down an opinion because it is immediately fiscally challenging is not an argument. It is short sighted and limits the scope of what ultimate could be. For starters, how about handing observers a whistle?

Second, I will concede that I have NO idea what I am talking about when it comes to the UPA's organization and I think thats sad. For someone that pays as much attention to everything I can get online about ultimate, to be ignorant is pretty inexcusable. I'm glad everyone else has a firm grasp of what the UPA does and why they make the decisions they do.

As for change in the last 10 years. Well 10 years ago there was no score reporter, no rob, and no cultimate, arguably the 3 most objective and influential bodies in ultimate today (or at least college).

Where ultimate could go? Being able to tell a stranger that I play ultimate and 1) he/she will know what it is and 2) not get ridiculed. Not to say that I care about getting made fun of, cuz lord knows I get shit ALL THE TIME, but respect outside our sport would be nice/useful.

As for being objective, I think I am objective because I have no emotional investment in who wins or loses. I just want ultimate packaged well. I suppose that makes me a lobbyist for the fans and I guess that makes me subjective in that regard. However, i do know a good thing when I see it and when I see every other sport with refs and ours without them, I guess I can't help but think they could be a good idea.

Lastly, people are lazy. Very few people are actually motivated to change things. What Rob or Skip or Rodney or myself have done for the game was simply because we as individuals wanted to make a difference. We did nothing special, we didn't survey people, we weren't amazing players (well, skip is), we just knew we had a good idea and we were brave enough to put in the work to see it through. Being satisfied with the status quo is what most people do and things will change when an alternative is presented.

Hh said...



You keep using that word. I do not think that word means what you think it means.
see 3a.

Or read my response that I'll publish as a new post tonight.

Anonymous said... are the man! way to give em the straight dope.

hh said, "why not put the onus on the throwers to be more contrled". I see you are swinging that double edged sword around too. In short you are in a sports utopian fantasy dream world with that koo koo talk of yours. And before you go touting the honor level of the clubbers go watch steve dugans "confession" on the old condor doc.

but to answer your question.....because those obligated to call it cant be trusted anymore that those obligated to follow it. Give the call to the refs, include an extra ground contact for the throwers(on the run), make it a turn when violated and watch your sport improve.

in conclusion,,,,,cheap and lazy.....been screamin it for years.

Hh said...

Yeah Toad, just don't scream it here.

I will make you a deal, because you do have some ideas that should be heard, and because you are absolutely god-awful at getting them across. Write something legible, coherent, and relevant about refs, or whatever you want to be heard about, and I'll give it its own post here. I will edit it for readability and content, but won't post it until you've given it a thumbs up. Can you handle sitting with the adults, Toad, or are you going to fling food all over yourself trying?

Anonymous said...

eh.....i got my own blog, its called rsd. Its nice to see you guys getting into some relevent stuff over here on wtut finally though.

i am interested in how you(or should i say JV...dont know your take) intend to enforce said "onus".

The merrits of refs are obvious. what i like to bark about are the inequities that are both directly and indirectly the cause of that exclusion in ultimate and the stigmatisms of those caught in the issue.