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USA Ultimate College Championships – Too Many Calls Being Made

As the title alludes to, there was too many calls being made during the USA Ultimate College Open Championships between Florida and Carleton (which Florida won fyi). In typical college ultimate fashion, there was a lot of hucks, a lot of d’s and a lot of calls.

Which leads me to the topic of this post – the calls.

The game had 4 observers, who were making active calls like line, down disc and stall count violations. However, they were also stepping in when they felt that the the play was going to get out of hand. Which I think is cool. Don’t want the game to escalate and have fights happen.

However, the amount of calls that Florida was making during the few points I watched was gross. The smallest travel calls that meant nothing since the guy with the disc didn’t have an advantage. Little pushes here and there. And there’s a reason Florida received 2 TMF (Team Misconduct Fouls).
– correction: Florida and Carleton both had 3 TMF (thanks @Zach Johnston on Facebook)

I don’t want to see high level ultimate run the same course as high level soccer with people diving and being pussies. Seriously. I think a lot of this exists in ultimate because people are soft. Especially a lot of the kids playing sports nowadays. They’ve grown up expecting things to be given to them, expecting to be congratulated even when they finish last in a tournament simply for “playing”. I think we are way too easy on the next generation of athletes and I wish someone would coach these teams with a sense of toughness and grittiness instead of letting the college players (and consequently a lot of club players) get away with such weak calls. Yes it’s a non-contact sport, but contact does still happen.

What are you thoughts on where ultimate (and for that matter, sports in general) is heading? Do you see the same issues I do, that we’re being too soft on our kids? I’m not the only one saying this. Bill Beswick ( a highly respected sports psychologist who has worked with some of the best athletes/teams in the world talks about this in his seminars.

I think it has to start at the younger levels of ultimate (and sport) but it’s not too late to implement it now. Get some toughness back and let’s all stop playing like such wusses. We can still play spirited and respect our opponents. In fact, I think playing soft and calling everything is even less spirited than is playing a bit aggressive.

Just my 2 cents.

27 thoughts on “USA Ultimate College Championships – Too Many Calls Being Made”

  1. I find this post interesting because in the last 6 years I've changed in the amount of contact in ultimate that I will call.

    It seems the two reasons ppl make foul calls are either because they actually feel that there is an inappropriate amount of contact or they use it purely as an advantage (reset the count, reset the play, etc) and the first usually leads to an advantage anyway.

    It also seems that how people learn to make the foul calls has to do with how their are coached. Some players teach that you should do it when it's a dangerous play and against the rules and some will emphasize always taking the advantage.

    Your toughness comment seems to be refering to the first case. I always find that a hard one to clarify to new players because the sports backgrounds can so different. Somebody who has played rugby and soccer and basketball will have a totally different reference point than someone who ran track, played badminton and swam. I don't want to take someone out of their comfort zone by telling them to allow more contact than they are ok with, which kinda negates the whole spirit of the game for them.

    It's usually not a prob in lower tiers but when you get the two different types of players in a very competitive game, it's sometimes really hard to get them on the same page for a foul call. And who can say either is wrong?

  2. I watched the webcast. I thought both teams were being poor-spirited with their foul calls, although Florida was worse.

  3. I don't know if it has so much to do with being a wuss as much as of a sense "strategy". A team, especially on defense calls a travel, foul, etc as a way to control the other teams offensive flow. If you might get beaten for a point, someone could just call a travel to slow things down . I also think too many people think no-contact means NO contact, people have to learn what constitutes safe contact such as positioning for a disc and dangerous play such as going for a layout d and bowling someone over on a disc you had no chance of catching. Thats some of my many cents worth.

  4. I was surprised to see 4 observers…I thought the standard was 2 but maybe they knew it would be a tightly contested game?

  5. Agreed Steve, having field awareness is a big part of the game, especially in coed…some of it is strategy but to a certain point…then they're just crossing the line to what's justified.

  6. I think if a team poses a substantial physical risk to its players, and its opponent's players, then USA ultimate should disqualify them and allow runners up to compete in their place. There is an inherent risk that the USA Ultimate organization takes when they allow such dangerous teams to compete. Yes, ultimate has lots of contact when it is supposed to be a noncontact sport, but when teams start clearing the bench to get physical, there should be lines drawn. I saw a great example of this in 2008 after we placed fifth at UPA Easterns when Penn State and Ohio State played. I'd never seen such poor spirit. More to the point you're trying to make: there are ways to use the rule book against your opponents to get the upper hand (such as calling offsides more often, check feet, travel, etc.), but as you said, there is a point where it starts becoming ridiculous, and it is then that I have seen poor sportsmanship. (Take Bentley and Colgate for some prime examples). I learned in college that you really have to work hard to win, but there's one thing that most colleges don't have that youth and high school ultimate always has had, and that is a coach. No captain or teammate is going to even try and force their team to run, and no captain of a team, even with outstanding seniority, has the experience to teach the team what it really needs to know. Five or at most six years of college ultimate is not enough to teach the ropes to the rookies. (And I say this from experience).If we want people to take ultimate seriously and for players to be taught the right way, then every team at every level needs a coach. The second step is to implement referees or umpires of some sort so we can become an NCAA competitive sport. Rumor has it that ultimate may be in the olympics, which is great, but should be requiring the least of our concentration. If we want to see ultimate have better values than sports such as football, baseball, soccer, etc, then we need ultimate to be on the same page… eventually, down the road, we need to have a 30 team Ultimate Association with 14 man rosters, a coach, home stadiums/fields, farm systems (club teams, perhaps?), with a substantial salary with a salary cap.

  7. It does seem that with growing esteem and popularity comes increasing competition. This sport will eventually need, not just observers, but referees if it keeps going the way it's going just as with the Florida/Carleton. If you take everything into account, spirit was non-existent in that game. This is my opinion but even the way players spike the disc nowadays is in poor spirit. I love pick up games.

  8. Could you clarify what you mean by 'weak' calls? What would qualify:
    – calls on violations that didn't happen
    – calls on violations that were minimal (e.g. travel where a thrower rolled onto their toe but didn't drag their foot)
    – calls on violations that demonstrably happened, but where thought not to affect the play (e.g. a travel where the mark wasn't near)
    – foul calls where there is some contact that probably didn't affect the outcome of the play
    – foul calls where there was contact that affected the play, though it was relatively minor
    – throwers calling fouls to stop play where they are getting a “hard mark”

    I'm with you where there were calls made on violations or fouls that were suspect or plain didn't happen (e.g. the number of calls by Florida that were overturned by the observers), but where fouls/violations do occur I think it's fine to call them whatever the degree (e.g. even minor contact that affects the play is a legit foul call). Aside from calls that are (or would be) overruled I would say that the majority of calls in the game were most likely legitimate, so to reduce the number of calls the appropriate way is to reduce fouls/violations, not just reduce the number of calls themselves.

  9. OK thanks for clarifying. I'm a little hypersensitive perhaps to some players advocating that a higher level of physicality is acceptable and shouldn't be called even where it is really breaking the rules (i.e. affecting the play), but doesn't sound like that's the case here. All good.

    I'm also supportive of the idea that all players at a certian level should need to (or be able to) pass a rules knowledge test of some sort. Failure to understand the basic rules is the source of a lot of disputes at the lower levels, and just plain frustrating at higher levels when people can be expected to know better.

  10. Great point Yang. I think the toughness I speak of comes from what is acceptable in a game – which comes from establishing that early on. For example, if you're marking someone tight, and as soon as there is contact, they call a foul, then you have an understanding that whenever you play tight against that player, that they'll call a foul. On the flip side, if you're marking tight and they don't call anything, you now have an understanding that they will let you play a bit tighter.

    I've seen this so many times in games where one person's game style didn't match the person they were marking and so it caused some tension on the field. I think both people need to develop that understanding and adjust their gameplay accordingly. A lot of players aren't used to this because in most sports, there's a 3rd party (ie a referee) making the calls and so you establish early on in a game what the referee will let go and what they will call. However, since we are our own referees, we need to establish this on our own and be accountable to ourselves, our team, and the other player if we decide to play in a way that doesn't match our opponent. In those cases, just be prepared for a lot of calls.

  11. By weak calls I mean if someone hucks it and you call a travel – and their foot moved like an inch. Yes, technically it's a travel, but if you're marking hard, you won't be able to see that and really 99% of people on the field move their foot at least that far. I could pretty much call a travel on every single throw on the field but why don't I? Because the game would suck. Just like in hockey when refs let a few things go, a bit of hooking for example, but when it crosses the line (ie the player gets dragged down, or they're hooking for too long), then the ref calls it. I think the same thing needs to be understood in ultimate. If I go to mark a thrower and they move away from me by traveling, by all means I'll call that. I almost think that requiring every player to undergo some sort of rules clinic would be a great idea in all the leagues (and to get your USA Ultimate membership, you would have to undergo a rules quiz). I think it would make the game a lot cleaner, more fun and more competitive. I've been in games where I made a call on someone who contested. In the discussion I asked him why he contested, what he say, and he said that he didn't even know the rules; he was just contesting for the sake of contesting. Brutal.

    I think if a violation (ie a foul) definitely affects the play, then by all means call it. As much as I don't think you should make small little calls (ie you get fouled, but you never would have caught it), I think you should definitely make legit calls so the other player realizes that they cannot get away with that during a game. It's all about accountability and I think it was lacking in the Florida/Carleton game.

  12. there are calls that regulate and keep the opponent – AS WELL AS you and your own teammates – honest. the calls that were occurring (and being called by both teams in the open finals) were just flat out bogus! that's all there is to it.

    man up and play better D. if you're off your man then you've got no right to call a travel. you're lack of positioning (e.g. 8 yards off your man) leaves you with absolutely no leverage to call a travel.

    those hucks that went up, and were called back because of “supposed” travels, were all force side puts, w/no denial by the mark (who happened to be off his man in several of these instances). it's simply gross, as you put it in your early post.

    what we are seeing is systematic cheating making its way into a sport which claimed and prided itself in a lack of such… what is wrong with this?… it's a complete and very accurate reflection of our society that values winning (or making money) with no regard to how that victory is achieved… none.

    i am rendered sick by the thought of CBS ALT GAMES airing our college open final as the prime example, representative of our sport… after all many of us have put into the development of ultimate as a sport, i am simply grossed out and sickened by this… yuck!

  13. Michael,
    Great to see a comment from you on here. A lot of times I've never sure who the people are who comment but when someone who has coached at such a high level like yourself comments, I know I'm onto something 🙂

    Do you still coach? With what team(s)?

    I love examples from sports like golf when players admit that their ball moved – costing them an extra stroke and sometimes a championship. To me there's nothing more sportsmanlike than that.

    I think you'd enjoy this website: It's managed by a colleague of mine, Duff Gibson. He won a gold medal in Skeleton at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

    I agree that it's disappointing that game was aired – there are so many better games that can represent our sport so to have that one be what a lot of people saw is sad.

  14. I agree that the amount of calls that are made is unnecessarily high. But I wouldn't attribute it to your observation that athletes are becoming “soft”. Really, I see it as a false sense of entitlement. And not entitlement in the financial/class sense, but in the sense that many of these college athletes KNOW that they are talented, especially the ones on teams like Florida, and that, because of this, they must display a superior knowledge of the game by calling tons of fouls and by assuming that if the other team does something well, it is because they broke the rules. I attribute the mass amount of calls more to douche-bag-edness and bitterness than to players being “soft”.

  15. Hi – I'm in the middle of watching the replay of this game and I find myself yelling at the screen. This from somebody who almost never watches any kind of televised sporting event (but who has played pickup Ultimate for the past 15 years.)

    Watching call after call being overruled, I kept thinking this was the kind of crap that made me hate watching college basketball after only seeing one game. Either fouling, or calling fouls as a strategy.

    Early in the game, one of the commentators actually made the point that because Florida's roster was smaller than Carleton's, they were *wise* to be “slowing down the game”. But at the expense of having more than three throws go by without stoppages?

    It's insanely frustrating to watch, and if this is what Ultimate has to become to “go pro”, then screw it. (Yeah yeah, it's a different game at this level, damn hippies, Olympics, blah blah blah. Whatever — it's boring and frustrating to watch this kind of play.)

    [Like I said, totally mid-level pickup player here, but I've read lots of Parinella, et al's writing on the topic, etc.]

  16. It's also important to think about Florida's tight rotation. Because their three big guys (Troll, Brodie, and Gibson) play almost every point, it's highly advantageous for them to make any call. It doesn't matter if they were actually traveling or not, what's really important to Florida is the amount of time they get to rest during these calls, allowing them to run the entire game.

  17. That's the thing — it's not “cheating”, because technically you can call *anything* you want. Is it crappy sportsmanship and a violation of “Spirit of the Game”? Hell yeah.

    While I don't play or watch basketball or soccer, it seems analogous to guys who feign falling to try to draw a foul call/whatever color card. Bullshit calls, but in those sports, strategic use of fouling and making foul calls is “part of the game”.

    I *suppose* that fans of basketball and soccer may understand this, but my greater fear is that casual fans will watch beautiful hucks and catches get invalidated by bullshit travel calls and think “WTF? This game is stupid.”

    Which is what I usually think of the final “foul-and-hope-they-miss-the-free-throw-and-we-can-convert” fests of most any college basketball game.

  18. Of course that's why they're doing it. The commentators said as much as well. It's a sensible strategy, to be sure. But from the POV of a spectator it's infuriating to watch.

    Watching discs fly and people catch them is good fun. Watching them bring the disc back because of an umpteenth questionable travel call is painful.

  19. Don't get me wrong, I was there and I was absolutely pissed every time Florida made a ridiculous travel call. I didn't hear the commentators, but I know that everybody except for the section of orange and purple was as enraged as I was. I had never seen Florida play before nationals, but it's true that they play a Frankenstein-like hybrid of ultimate. Carleton played ultimate, Florida played mind games. It's unfortunate that Florida won. Nobody wants to see a game where one player holds the disc for 5 seconds, calls a foul, calls another foul, then hucks it when somebody is finally open, unless you're gigantic 500 fan. Florida, plain and simple, is ruining ultimate with their poor spirit and weak calls.

  20. In relation to this, I really think the travel rule should have a provision stating that if the offensive player does not gain an advantage (like a slightly moving foot on an unmarked throw), a travel can not be called. We often play on some questionable fields, feet can move a bit. Otherwise the travel call can be abused to break offensive flow much like non-involved picks used to be before the rule was changed…

  21. I think some of the early foul calls are a necessary counter to teams being taught to foul on the mark early in the stall count (because there is a minimal penalty for it). If you don’t start establishing a pattern of fouling and start racking up their TMFs, your opponents will not back off on the mark. Were there a lot of weak foul calls in the game? Absolutely. But I believe the early foul calls (prior to Carleton’s first TMF) were legitimate and a smart strategy by Florida, which did get Carleton’s marks to back off.

    I can think of two easy solutions for bogus travel calls. 1) Do not allow players to make travel calls, or 2) stiffen the penalty for an overruled travel. False positives should be very unusual- either a TMF every time a travel is overruled and/or revoke that player’s ability to make any more travel calls that game.

  22. I don’t think that game came down to calls. I thought Florida just won it outright with a lot of great plays. Carleton was unable to effectively guard Brodie Smith. I also thought the bad calls and infractions went both ways, having reviewed the footage pretty carefully. Carleton fouled a lot on the mark (and earned some TMFs as a result), way more than Florida did. Both teams made some incorrect travel calls and some weak, ticky-tack travel calls. I think stronger enforcement through the Misconduct System (TMFs & PMFs) is important to help players a) mark legally and b) only make legitimate travel calls.

    I encourage anyone who has strong anti-Florida or anti-Carleton feelings after that game to review the footage to get a better understanding of how the misbehavior was actually balanced or unbalanced.

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