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Ultimate Has A Bad Bid Problem

[caption id=“attachment_46164” align=“aligncenter” width=“1200”]

Andrew Carleton was ejected for the collision that followed this photograph.[/caption]

It’s been a rough month for fans of the non-contact sport of ultimate.

While calling ultimate “non-contact” has long been a misnomer (like it is in basketball), it has become increasingly clear that the level of acceptable contact between players has risen over the last 10-15 years. Players are more athletic, more willing to tacitly agree to physical play downfield, and more eager than ever to get that huge layout block.

But has the elite end of the sport reached a tipping point? 2016’s club and professional competition has been defined by a growing number of dangerous bids caught on video, and the health and safety of players are becoming a real concern.

Just this week, we have seen two (admittedly extreme) examples of reckless plays: first, a heavy collision from the Toronto Rush defender Geoff Powell into the DC Breeze’s Markham Shofner and, second, a brutal impact from Nightlock cutter Laurel Oldershaw into the All-Star Ultimate Tour’s Jenny Wei.

Both plays caused injuries: Shofner was limited with a back injury and may miss future games. Oldershaw landed awkwardly and suffered a broken leg.

Here are a selection of plays – taken solely from the month of July – with various levels of contact and outcomes.

Game: Toronto Rush v. DC Breeze [AUDL East Division Final]
What Happens: Toronto’s Geoff Powell attempts to chase down a huck and make a block, but collides heavily with DC’s Markham Shofner.
Outcome: Common foul, goal awarded to DC by referee. After the play, two offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were handed down for the players jawing at each other. Yesterday, the AUDL announced a one-game suspension for Powell.

Geoff Powell Hard Foul

Game: Denver Molly Brown v. Seattle Riot [USA Ultimate US Open Women’s Semifinal]
What Happens: Denver’s Claire Chastain attempts to get a layout block on an in-cut by Seattle’s Molly McKeon, but Chastain lands hard on McKeon as she makes a sliding catch.
Outcome: Team Misconduct Foul assessed to Molly Brown for a dangerous play. Riot disc.

Claire Chastain Foul

Game: Seattle Mixtape v. Minneapolis Drag’N Thrust [USAU US Open Mixed Semifinal]
What Happens: Minneapolis’ Jay Drescher makes a late bid into the back of Seattle’s Khalif El-Salaam, who lightly throws the disc at Drescher, on a scoring catch. El-Salaam also lightly shoulders Drescher as the players walk away.
Outcome: El-Salaam caught the disc for a goal. No fouls were assessed.

Drescher Foul

Game: Seattle Mixtape v. Minneapolis Drag’N Thrust [USAU US Open Mixed Semifinal]
What Happens: Later in the same game, El-Salaam tries to get around Drescher for an in-cut layout block but collides with him heavily in the back. Drescher leaves the field with a significant shoulder injury.
Outcome: A foul call by Drescher is contested by El-Salaam but upheld by the observers.

El-Salaam Foul

Game: Jacksonville Cannons v. Atlanta Hustle [AUDL Regular Season Game]
What Happens: Jacksonville’s Andrew Carleton lays out directly into Atlanta’s Sean Sears, who was making an upline cut. Sears was concussed on the play and left the game.
Outcome: Carleton was immediately ejected by the referee.

Carleton Foul

Game: Seattle Sockeye v. Chicago Machine [USAU US Open Final]
What Happens: A Chicago throw into traffic is blocked cleanly on a layout from Seattle’s Simon Montague, right in front of Chicago’s Brett Matzuka. But Seattle’s Justin Lim, coming from the weak side, crashes into Matzuka.
Outcome: A Matzuka foul call was contested and overruled by the observer, as Montague made a clean block before contact was made.

Lim Foul

Again, let me reiterate: this is from less than four weeks of competition (and does not include footage of the Oldershaw bid, which is arguably the worst of all).

You may not agree that all of the above deserved to be called fouls, but each of these plays deserves scrutiny. Should a player be allowed to blow up a receiver who didn’t have a chance to catch the disc (as in the case of Matzuka/Lim)? Should bad bids through the back be tolerated as long as they don’t knock the player down or cause an injury (as in the case of the first El-Salaam/Drescher play)? These are questions that face both players and officials as we lurch towards new definitions of acceptable physicality.

Notably, the much more stringent enforcement in these situations has come from the AUDL, a league that has drawn heavy criticism in the last few weeks for the physicality of its play. But the problem of bad bids is not confined to the AUDL, nor is it exclusive to the men’s game.

So what is the solution?

While having broader community discussions about dangerous plays is important for setting norms, I believe a much more rigorous penalty system needs to be enforced by observers at the highest levels of the game. ((The AUDL has its own issues to work out, but an immediate ejection and a suspension upon review are setting the boundaries in their league. I would also say that Major League Ultimate’s officiating may be the best in the country right now; referees are quick to hand out bands and punish players for bad bids.))

Currently, observers are empowered to hand down Team Misconduct Fouls (TMFs), Personal Misconduct Fouls (PMFs), technical fouls, and direct ejections. The basic structure exists for observers to begin penalizing dangerous bids much more heavily, but, right now, most observers are slow to call such fouls. This should change, either by a policy shift at the observer level or by a rules change at the USAU level.

PMFs, which essentially serve as a yellow card like in soccer (i.e. if you get another, you are ejected), are quite rare. But most of the above plays would qualify for a PMF in my mind. Heavy contact – whether intentional or not – should simply not be allowed, and PMFs alone have the teeth to stop bad bids.

TMFs, on the other hand, should be used for more systematic bad behavior, like mark-bumping or egregious travel calling to stop flow.

But the physical safety of players should be front and center in any officiating system: right now, there is not enough being done to set the tone.

Observers have already done a tremendous job of changing the attitudes of players towards what constitutes a foul by giving immediate feedback in the form of rulings on contested calls. They have also nearly done away with the chippy tactics that plagued the sport around 2010. Those benefits have spilled over into self-officiated contests as well.

But enforcement of dangerous plays has not been sufficient, and we are beginning to see that crop up with an uptick in such plays – and subsequent injuries. Observers have been too focused recently on calling technicals and TMFs for ticky-tack violations: foul language, sideline encroachment, and other non-consequential incidents. Those are appealing to deal with, as they are very black and white.

But it is time for a new point of emphasis in a grayer area. Players have no real authority to punish bad bids, but observers do. USAU should also consider adding immediate penalties for dangerous plays and/or PMFs, like a yardage penalty or a turnover. ((This is a much bigger conversation that I’m happy to have. I believe fouls should be penalized, not just given warnings as often happens. I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of a possession in ultimate and how other sports treat hard fouls.))

Physical play in ultimate is here to stay. We cannot pretend that the sport will become contact-free, or even that players want that. But there is a difference between jostling in the stack and blindsiding a defenseless receiver. The sport’s officials need to start making that much more clear.

Originally published at: http://ultiworld.com/2016/07/27/ultimate-bad-bid-problem/

As someone who believes that as much decision-making and control as possible should remain in the hands of players, I think the onus is on us to find real, practical solutions to this problem. We all have a responsibility to look out for the safety of each other as players and for the integrity of the our sport as a self-officiated game. I think it is wrong to immediately concede this authority to third-party officials, though that will happen if we cannot adequately address it ourselves.

We pride ourselves as a community on our ability to work through tough conversations and hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard. But if we can’t have the honest, difficult discussion about what we all can – and must – do to address this problem, we should not be surprised to see third-parties taking on a more active role in protecting player safety.

To what extent are we comfortable asking third parties to step in and enforce rules? How should we define the type of play that we collective agree deserves more accountability than a simple foul-no contest? What should that accountability look like? This is our opportunity to have a say in how this issue is addressed. We need to speak up now or the rules or enforcement responsibilities will change in ways we may not agree with or like.

Let’s engage in being a part of informing our community’s (and USAU’s) response to this issue rather than settling for decrying it from the sideline.

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This discussion is long overdue.

Personally want to think more about the best solution, but I don’t think the Chastain example is the best to make your case. At the instant she took off, McKeon was still upright and Chastain had a clear path to block the disc with minimal/no contact. Unfortunately, McKeon started to slide just barely after Chastain took off, and Chastain couldn’t change course. Some of the other examples (not all), while definitely dangerous, may even go into the realm of malicious intent.

Gut reaction: while USAU/AUDL need to improve enforcement and disciplinary mechanisms, players need to exercise greater discretion, judgment and accountability toward their opponents and teammates. And that may translate to specific players adjusting their more dangerous habits, or teammates/opponents having productive discussions with one another about changing their habits.

“Win at all costs” or “going hard” is not an acceptable excuse for a dangerous play, especially in a sport that places such a premium on sportsmanship, character and community (I hate the term “spirit of the game,” but we all know what we’re talking about here).

This being said, most in the ultimate community are mature adults with plenty of playing experience and shouldn’t need a hall monitor dictating when crossing the line in such egregious situations…

Disclaimer: I am no saint and have certainly committed egregious fouls in the past. Not proud of them, but have made conscious efforts to avoid dangerous bids more recently.

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Agree with your view, Charlie.

A few thoughts:

The second Drescher collision with Salaam – Drescher dives purposefully after contact… can’t remember the last time I saw this in high-level ultimate. Also I got the sense this was Salaam playing enforcer after the first hit to protect himself next time… Are we heading toward fights next? Because that’s the next escalation – almost happened after the first incident in the endzone with the spiked disc…

The Markham collision too also almost ended in a fight. That collision was the worst of all your examples. No regard for your fellow man. Powell must be a fan of DJT.

The Lim play was just unfortunate because it was the result of a floaty disc that was misread by all three players… Matzuka misread it (or rather it floated on it) and gave up position… Montague had basically given up until he saw it floated… Lim also misreads and then when he realizes it floated and he didn’t have a play, failed to get out of the way.

The Allstar/Nighlock play… was a self-inflicted poor decision and read. I don’t see how the defender could have done anything differently.

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The first step has to be for team mates and coaches to start saying that these plays will not be tolerated, rather than defending poor judgement by someone just because they are a friend.

Until we see that objectivity from teams - and yes, it might hurt your chances of winning - then I don’t see the situation improving.


Interesting reading the comments since there does not seem to be agreement that all these examples were fouls (which may be the case) or even that all were dangerous on the part of the D. But in all cases (except maybe the Chastain case), it was in the control of the defender to avoid contact if they had chosen to. The Salam case is interesting since I’m not sure it was a foul, yet he could have avoided contact - and is further complicated in that it’s not clear whether the injury was due entirely to the D’s contact vs. a “dive”. Just pointing this out to highlight how subtle this conversation will be, and that it will not be as straightforward as a foul/no foul judgement. BTW, I agree with Charlie that Observers/Refs must be involved, need the teeth to enforce a “no dangerous bid” rule, and must start using it. That is independent of the point others make that teams need to adopt the appropriate attitude within their team culture Both are needed.

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Came here to post about the nuances of many of these plays and I’m very happy to see that others have already taken up that cause.

I don’t disagree with the overall premise of the article, but many of the examples used are not black and white:

  • Chastain’s bid. Unusual contact. A foul yes, but not even a TMF let alone a PMF.
  • Lim/Matzuka/Montague. We can’t give the offense preference on a disc. Matzuka is running into a space unaware of his surroundings and he initiates contact with Lim. This is not like the Jax play, because if Matzuka was aware of the space he was running into, he could have avoided contact (the ATL player could not have avoided contact).
  • Salaam/Drescher. This one is bizarre. I don’t know what causes Drescher’s body to wildly move like that, but it doesn’t seem like it was due to the contact from Salaam. Again, foul on Salaam, but that contact doesn’t cause an injury >99% of the time (i.e. not a dangerous play).

Bingo. But do you think players will be able to overcome their own team dynamics to talk to their teammates?

Maybe captains/coaches stating their intolerance for these plays before they even happen, so at least players are thinking about it. Instead of waiting to react when the incident happens, in which, the social pressure might be too difficult to overcome.

This seems redundant to complain about the examples. We all know what the point of the examples are even if you don’t agree with them. They all undeniably involve heavy contact which is what the article is trying to bring to our attention. If you agree with the article’s point and not the examples, find better ones. There are plenty of dangerous plays in every league. We should be discussing how to approach fixing the problem rather than nit picking at the examples.

I for one am all for observers exercising the power to eject players and hand out PMF’s. Yardage penalties start to steer too far away from a self officiated sport in my opinion but if it is the best solution to protect us as players, then I wouldn’t be totally against it.

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There is a second angle of the Chastain’s bid, which to me makes it look worse. Still not black and white, but more than unusual contact IMO.


So I took another look at Salaam/Drescher two since I called it a “dive” initially and others said he got injured on the play… I’m wrong – not a dive. Salaam protects himself by using his shoulder (probably because of the prior play highlighted and general contact on that matchup throughout the game). this feels like “normal” contact to me and steering the cutter to a suboptimal position. Unfortunately,that shoulder contact causes a misstep and hyperextension, which is why Drescher looks like he dives… his leg locked and he just crumpled over to avoid more damage I think… would be interesting to hear from him.

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That replay angle makes it look like Chastain is going for the classic Nord-style reach-around block. McKeon moves in a way that turns that into a bad collision. But the same could have happened if Doug Moore had done that while Nord reached around (photo here). So was that a dangerous play by Nord?

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From the view behind Chastain’s bid it look pretty clear that she was trying her best to not make contact but McKeon changes how she attacks the disc to keep it from hitting the ground and slides into the path of Chastain. The fouls on Markham Shofner and Sean Sears are both reckless and should not be allowed if players safety is the main priority.

Another area to look at is players running into players who are in the air causing their legs to go up and changing a landing on your feet, to a 3+ foot fall onto your back or side. Personally, I have had this happen a few times and the worse of which left me with a bruised tailbone/hip and back spasms. There are 1 or 2 times that I can understand why the other player couldn’t stop but the others seemed to not care that they took my legs out from under me.

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That’s what I was thinking but the problem is you can argue that if the offensive player makes an adjustment after the bid then it’s now a dangerous play.

Charlie, as anticipated, I disagree with you. Show me the evidence for the underlying assumption that more PMFs will reduce this behaviour, particularly given the failure of repeated ejections to curb Jacksonville. Without some evidence to offer there, your argument is empty.

Did you mean “can’t argue…”?

No, I meant “can argue” because the defensive player is trying to make a play from behind the offensive player. If the offensive player gets to a spot first and the defensive player hits them then they will say its a foul on the defense, even if the defensive player made a bid before the offensive player got to the spot. Its the problem when trying to self officiate a call on the field when a player hits you from behind. You don’t know that player made a bid before you moved in front of them giving them no way to avoid you, you just know someone slammed into you.

Do I personally think that’s a foul or a dangerous play? No. Looking at the picture of Nord curving his body around the other player, its clear he is trying to avoid contact. Its just the question of what would we think if the other player moved in front of Nord after that bid showing a picture of the two colliding?

Can you show evidence that it doesn’t? How do you know Jacksonville wouldn’t be making more bad bids than they already are if ejections were not happening?

Just two thoughts:

  1. Why not keep the current PMF/TMF structure AND give players/coaches the ability to call PMFs/TMFs in observed games that can be contested and upheld/overturned by observers?
  • In games that are not observed, PMFs including those that are contested and downgraded to regular fouls are documented and reported to the tournament director, along with scores.
  1. Why not devise a penalty system for teams with low/abysmal scores in the contact/physicality section on the spirit surveys that teams have been asked to fill out at all triple crown events so far?
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The things we celebrate are what we are going to get more of. We need more highlights like this:

Barely hit the player’s arms/hands and called his own foul. That’s the game of ultimate that I know and love.

Aside from more positive reinforcement, there might a need for more negative consequences. A crazy idea:

  • Why can’t players call PMFs and TMFs and the like (possibly after some required cooling off period)? Why did we depart from player officiating for those calls? I think we’ve all gotten riled up and made stupid plays, but if my teammates and/or respected opponents were the ones to calmly point that out to me, I think I’d take it well and sit down and take a breather. There are have even been times when I’ve sat myself down to calm myself. It’d be good for the players to take that responsibility of themselves.