Monday, July 10, 2006

MLU: Player perspectives

The MLU made its debut a week ago at Potlatch, of all places, and, it seems that, despite the dogmatic fervor of the ref "discussion" on RSD (can people disrespecting each other over religious beliefs really be called a discussion?), there were no reported protest marches, sit-ins, or fist fights. While the lack of such off-field conflict is really boring and the general feeling on RSD right now is a mundane "its all good", the attendees at Potlach got to eat cake in that they could partake in "FUN" Ultimate and witness MLU genuflecting before that "black hole of need", the God of Entertain Us, otherwise known as The Spectator. Most accounts seem to point out that the MLU action was indeed fast paced, athletic, and fun to watch, but, as acknowledged by both the organizers and players, in need of refinment and tweaking when it comes to the new rule set and specifically its implementation by the refs.

While RSD can be fun in a Jerry Springer kind of way, I am interested in perpsectives on MLU that exist outside the context of the rigidly polarized and over-emotional world that is that newsgroup. As such, I contacted a number of players and asked them to answer a few questions about their MLU experience. I also contacted Ian McClellan about an interview and he expressed interest, but was unable to complete the interview as he was leaving for vacation. I very much appreciate the time that the authors spent on this, and I think there are some extremely interesting points to be found.

I received the following from Fortunat Mueller:

1) Obviously, the rule differences between MLU and the UPA’s 10th ed. are of great interest. Which of the new MLU rules did you feel worked well this past weekend?

I really like shortened time between points. I guess this isn’t necessarily a difference with the 10th edition as much as it is a difference with the way the game is played today.

2) Which rules did not work well?

The silent stall is a little goofy. I guess I figured that a real 7 second stall would be similar to most elite stall counts anyway, but I didn’t account for the fact that the refs stalls would be as inconsistent (and at times fast) as the players’ stall. I think that people count fast, not because they are cheating, but because they are breathing hard and their pulse is elevated from running. As it turns out, same thing happens with the refs…Maybe this can be fixed with ref training, but more likely, a visible stall clock is a better answer.

The rule that allows the D to set up on any stoppage is goofy and encourages intentional fouling on a fast break. I think it makes sense (maybe) on an offensive violation, but on a defensive violation it is silly to give the D such a big advantage.

Finally the use of replacement discs whenever a disc goes out of bounds (to keep the game moving) makes a lot of sense. However, what the refs frequently did was to give the O a replacement disc even when the old disc was still on the field. That is confusing and strange. In one situation in one of our games, a player got stalled and thew the disc a few yards after the whistle. A D (now O) player went to go pick up the disc to put it back in play. Meanwhile the refs dropped another disc at the spot of the stall, which was picked up by another O player and thrown for a goal. I think situations like that need to be avoided (perhaps this is just a ref training issue).

3) How do you feel the refs did in managing the games?

Highly variable.
Some seemed to no nothing about the rules and were hesitant to do anything. Others were a bit more active.
In general, I thought the level of refereeing was pretty low. I recognize it is a difficult job, and that the refs only had a few hours to actually read the rules, but I was disappointed by the result. I’d say in the games I played in and watched, on receiving fouls (which should be the easiest calls to make because everyone is watching) the refs were about as often wrong as they were right.

4) How did you and other players react to not being able to call your own fouls? Was it difficult to adjust to the idea of intentionally fouling?

Most people didn’t adjust. They called their fouls as a matter of habit (and as it worked out, if you called it loudly enough, the ref usually blew his whistle also).
Other than one or two people, I don’t think there was any intentional fouling to speak of. Of course, players were just getting used to the rules and trying to figure out their teammates so maybe it wasn’t representative of the future of reffed ultimate.

5) Were there any problems with the silent stall?

Yes, see above. The silent and short stall were not so much the problem as was the inconsistency of it.

6) Is there anything else you would like to add?

A few things:

1: I know the organizers did their best and I know for a fact that Ian was working his ass off in the weeks before the event, but it seemed mildly absurd that at the event that was supposed to show the potential of proffesionalized ultimate, there was neither a game clock nor a scoreboard anywhere in site. That is the very first thing I think you need to make ultimate watchable.

2: speaking of timed games…I think they are kind of dull. They make a comeback seem less likely so once a team is up by a couple in the second half, I just kind of tuned out.

3: Paradoxically, the 2 point line led to fewer deep shots, I think. Many teams played junk or had a deep poacher until the O crossed the two point line. This just made the first 20 yards of the field boring. Maybe 2 points is too much for a deep shot (someone suggested 2 points per regular point and 3 points for a deep shot ?), or maybe you need to make the penalty for not playing D till the line more severe by putting the line at midfield or something, but I didn’t think it added anything to the game as it was.

4: I think for reffed ultimate to work, you need to make some changes to the rules that make it easier to referee. Marking fouls that are not during the throw are impossible to call, but can at times have substantial effect on the flow of play. Maybe make the mark stand a few feet away (and offset that disadvantage by some other rule changes that benefit the D), but the way it is, I think even with good refs, those little bumps are hard to call (and it is especially hard to tell as a ref, when you should let them go because of offensive advantage).

5: I missed calling my own fouls and the expectation to play with a sense of honor and fairness. I love the sport of ultimate (strategy, execution and all that), but I also am very attracted to the aspect of self officiating. It is hard to do at the top level, but what in life that is worthwhile is not also difficult.

6: I am not nearly as down on the idea as I sound. I had fun both watching and playing. I’d do it again if asked. I am just not sold on the idea just yet.

Jeff Eastham responded:

1) Obviously, the rule differences between MLU and the UPA's 10th ed. are of great interest. Which of the new MLU rules did you feel worked well this past weekend?

The active travel and receiving foul calls were great. I also liked the stall being reset after a timeout. On out-of-bounds pulls, a new disc was placed at the brick/2-point line by the refs, which sped up the game greatly.

2) Which rules did not work well?

Like I said in my post (on RSD), the awkwardness of some of these rules is probably mainly attributable to the players and refs not being super-familiar with them. That being said, I think fouls and violations away from the disc (picks, holding, etc.) were rarely enforced; not surprising given that there were only 3-4 refs to watch all the action.

3) How do you feel the refs did in managing the games?

They definitely became better as the day went on, but were a still a little shy with the whistle.

4) How did you and other players react to not being able to call your own fouls? Was it difficult to adjust to the idea of intentionally fouling?

I don't think there were many intentional fouls. I remember a couple in particular, but only one was designated as a technical because of it being intentional. Not being able to call my own fouls, even if they were clean, was pretty frustrating. It is hard to imagine how I would react if I was intentionally fouled to prevent a catch or score, and it wasn't called by the refs. I guess that's why I play Ultimate and not Football.

5) Were there any problems with the silent stall?

No, I think the silent stall worked as intended. It did generate a lot of comments directed at the refs when people thought they were counting slowly. As a thrower, it did add an anxiety factor, but seeing as how some people don't listen to the stall anyway.

6) You said, in posting to RSD, that you wouldn't recommend MLU as the "future of the sport". What are some of the primary reasons you feel this way?

This may be a little harsh, looking back. The primary reason for this statement, however, is that Ultimate has spread, and is continuing to spread, in a large part because of the sportsmanship/Sprit of the Game aspects that it possesses. Any time that I have spoken to PE teachers, or sports enthusiasts (and we get past the whole no dogs involved thing), they don't really pay attention and become interested until I mention the lack of referees. Sure, using a Frisbee is pretty unique, and there aren't a ton of non-contact sports, but they can't get over the lack of a 3rd party official. And after they hear the whole respect your opponent and Spirit of the GameĆ¢ spiel, whatever resistance they might have had to teaching or trying Ultimate usually dissolves.

In fact, I believe the lack of ANY self officiating by MLU is a mistake in what appears to be their goal to produce a top-level league of Ultimate players that can be mass-marketed and aired on TV. The sports market is saturated with content as it is. Soccer is a great example of a sport that has great intrinsic appeal, but is not that popular in the US for the simple fact that is a late-comer. If the only thing MLU has going for it is the use of a Frisbee, it will not be able to break through into a broader market where Soccer has struggled for decades.

7) Is there anything else you would like to add?

Again, I think there are lessons to be learned here that would be applicable to the Observer system used in the UPA series. A 3rd party can be helpful in resolving certain aspects of the game that can cause frustration (travel calls, not knowing the rules, line calls, etc.) as well as speeding up the game (time between pulls, putting the disc immediately on the field where it should be put into play instead of a player walking it up).

For the few that don't read RSD, I contacted Ben Wiggins and asked him if I could reprint his post from last week.

My opinions from the Potlatch/MLU weekend...(please excuse my butchering
of the English language)
1) MLU is a very different sport than Ultimate. And it is awesome.

Biggest Pros:
Game moves much more quickly.
Zero spurious travel/pick/stall calls.
Silent stall makes marking more fun, and high-stall situations
more exciting
2-point line plus strategic fouling makes for a more
strategy-intensive game
Rules are designed for fan-friendly play
Short end zones + longer playing field proper makes for a better

Biggest Cons:
If you don't like refs, you obviously won't like MLU
This is NOT a good game for beginning players....the level of
physicality and possibility of being injured goes up in
the course of normal play.
Lack of self-refereeing (and the intrinsic benefits of SOTG)
Cost of good referees is high

I loved the game. Much less downtime, a small percentage of the arguments
(and almost none between players) and more gametime pressure make for what
could be a much more marketable sport....which is exactly what it was
designed to be, so that isn't suprising. It's a different game, and probably not one that most ultimate players
want to play recreationally. In the same way that most city-league
basketball players don't want to be called for illegal defense, most
ultimate players would probably not like someone like me pulling their
jersey, intentionally fouling them, or being forced to play at a very high
game pace. Ultimate was designed for players, MLU for the spectators, and
there are some big tradeoffs between the two.

MLU is NOT a replacement for Ultimate....I think they are different
sports, and both have a ton of value. Going back and forth between my MLU
team and my Potlatch team was really fun....each time I did I was excited
for aspects of that game.

2) Potlatch and the MLU were a good mix.

It seemed like the two independent events made each other better. MLU
without Potlatch is elitist and probably doesn't have a fan base yet. I
think the MLU added to Potlatch, was hopefully interesting for the fans,
but didn't detract from the scene, IMO. No one skipped their games to
watch MLU. The crowds depended much more on the schedule than on who was
playing (ie the Potlatch final was by far the biggest crowd). I think this
goes to show that people want to watch good ultimate, and maybe co-ed v.
elite men is not that big of a long as the players are
playing well.

3) 'Allstar teams'

Pros: Really, really fun to play with some guys that I normally play
against. The athleticism and talent on our team was
incredible, and the Furious/Rhino guys were really fun
to play with.
Hopefully fun for the fans to see a lot of the best players in one
Athletic matchups were top-notch (Beau vs. Nord, anyone?)
Geometry of the field changes with so many great was
more difficult to poach, and teams were not constrained
to rigid offenses that allow the weak-link throwers to

Cons: Lack of coordination was the biggest downside. Teams with players
from a bunch of different UPA teams had troubles getting flow
going....and flow proved more valuable than just having a bunch
of great players, since athleticism mostly cancelled out. In
other words...DoG would probably have done pretty well in
the MLU tournament as a cohesive team that doesn't turn the
disc over.
MLU won't be an unqualified success until the refereed system
works for cohesive teams at intermediate skill in a
game with something real on the line. It was a success, just
not an unqualified success...I have faith that Ian, Toad, et
all will get it there.

4) Refereeing is the toughest job in sports

The Refs for MLU were much, much better than I think we could have hoped
for, given that this was most people's first time. I would not have had
any faith in first-time basketball refs, and I had faith in these refs.
They deserve a ton of praise for the job they did.

In general, these referees kept the whistle hidden, a set a precedent
early on that they were not going to call very much. I'm going to review a
set of calls (or non-calls) that I was involved in...I feel like very few
players were trying to push the envelope of the rules but I think that I
got a pretty good feel for what would be acceptable in a refereed game
with experienced observers.
I'm not trying to show how smart I am, or how sneaky....but I really felt
like we wouldn't know the limits of the MLU rules unless we tested them,
so pushing the limits was definitely one of my lower-priority goals for
the weekend.

Game 2: NW v NE (I wasn't at game 1 vs. the SE until the very end)

The faster pace of the game was amazing. If you pulled out of bounds, you
still had to run down hard on D, because a new disc came into play
immediately at the brick. Similarly, a new disc came in after
out-of-bounds turnovers....minimizing downtime. Awesome...I have always
thought that pulling was the most boring part of the game for this can be up to a minute of downtime. Great change.

Early on, I found myself trying to get my teammates to foul more, since it
seemed like the refs were calling few fouls. Even small fouls on the mark,
especially before the throw is started, made a big difference in the game
(if you could grab an arm, and stop a pivot to an open throw, that
wouldn't be called....but a big advantage for the D). I found out once I
got on the field that fouling is tough...first you have to catch up to the
guy, then you have to know a throw is coming, then you have to do
something about it. Not as easy as I thought.

My first "brilliant" idea was to try and intentional pick play. At this
point, the refs had called maybe 1 pick over 3 games....maybe we could get
an open 2-pointer out of it. Our guy rolled off the back of the stack and
I gave his defender some friction (ok, a lot of friction...kind of a
clumsy attempt). I was immediately called for the pick...good call by the
refs, who were right on top of it. If I had been more subtle, I think they
still would have seen it. Refs 1, blw 0.

(By the way, the new pick rule (D player can't be picked off of another D
player) is sweet for game-play, though the obvious tradeoff is that the
game is slightly more dangerous.)

My next "brilliant" idea was on D. FM caught a swing about 8 yards out of
the end zone, and I could see in his eyes that he had an open
he started to cock the hammer I tackled him. Grabbed both arms, wrapped
him up, fell down on top of him.
I was whistled for the foul. Should I have been given a tech? (a Tech = 2
personal fouls). Yeah, probably. The result of the play was that Forch had
the disc at stall 0, looking at essentially the same formation as before
(O can reset on a D foul, but they were already pretty well stacked up).
He didn't have any motion, though....I call this a win for the D. They
scored several throws later...but I think professional fouling will, as
reffed games keep going on...become much more commonplace.

I hope, of course, that I would never do this in an Ultimate game. Like I
said, very different sports, and I felt no guilt at all, since fouling is
a part of MLU. Me tackling FM increases the chance that one of us gets
hurt, for sure.
In general, we (the NW) did not foul as much as we should have. On a
couple of 2-point throws we allowed huckers to throw unimpeded....and in a
serious MLU game, I think that extra point makes it worthwhile to tackle
that hucker.

Last note....If a big guy went deep on me for a 2-pointer, I was resolved
to drag him down. Give them the disc on the goalline for 1 point, prevent
the 2, swallow my pride and make the team-first-play. In the next rule
edition, I would suggest that a technical foul called on a 2-point
receiver should give the receiver the disc on the goalline, with the first
throw being worth 2 points....

Game 3: NW v SW

I spent most of this game as a cup player in our transition zone, designed
to stop the 2 point bomb. As such, I got to know Parker Krug really
well....I fouled him probably 5-6 times that would have gotten called in
an ultimate game, and maybe 4 of those probably should have been called by
the refs, and only two were. The two that were called were called quickly
and I'd say overall good refereeing. Maybe I should have gotten a tech for
the bearhug....but like I said, I really didn't want that 80-yard Krugbomb
coming out.

All in all, the 2-pointer changed on-field strategies more than the
refereeing, it seemed to me...

Al, if you're listening, he did throw that huge thumber on a meaningful

I also threw a turnover in this game...I was the 2 in a 4-person string
play. MN came and put a mark on me, and as I went to throw my backhand, he
grabbed my throwing arm as I pivoted. I tried to pivot through the 'foul'
and get the throw off anyway (Ultimate based instinct) and my throw missed
the receiver. The word foul was on my lips...but there was no whistle, so
I ran back to cover on D.

Missed call? Yeah, but it happens both ways. If you want all the good
things about refs, you have to accept that this play might happen and be
out of your control. telling that I don't call this foul in and
Ultimate game, MN goes to the observer, and I lose the disc anyways....

At two points in this game, a referee came up to me and gave me a
technical foul warning. Once was for a hard foul (the bearhug) and once
was for 'excessive celebration'. On both occasions, I would not have been
surprised to have been T'd up, and I think the warning told me that I
could get away with that stuff, rather than its intended goal. Gotta
remember, I think, that in the MLU I expect to be reprimanded by a call,
not by my own conscience...blow that whistle. Was my celebration poor
sportsmanship? Yeah, probably....but T'ing me up there would have been a
strong message to everyone else, and as it was, no one heard the warning
but me.

Aside: This excessive celebrating was for a play against a guy I think is
one of the best defenders in the was an outpouring of my own
surprise/elation, and I hope he isn't pissed that I ran around like a damn
fool afterwards. Definitely not premeditated. Looking back, I regret that.

There were several stalls in this game....I LOVE the silent count. First
off, the 7-second count feels like forever, and I would be is longer on
average than the 10-second count in big Ultimate games. When I observed
college Nats one year I was asked to rule on a contested stall...the irate
marker calmed down real quick when I showed him my stopwatch that said
"5.3". wow.

Anyway, the 2 seconds at the end of the can feel both teams
fan's edging toward the field to see whats...gonna....happen....
It's sweet.

Game 4: Final vs. SE

Two big points stand out in this game.
Early in the game, I was guarding TG...he cut breakside for a high
inside-out backhand. He went up with two hands, I went up with 1, and used
my other hand to rake down his right arm. In an Ultimate game he would
definitely call it, here it was a good physical play, evidently. While he
stood and argued I took off for a 2-point bomb from one of our
handlers....just goes to show, if you want to argue, you might get beat
(although, in this case, TG just ran me down and skied me....damn.).

Around halftime, I got locked in on one of the SE dump handlers, CS. I
found that if I waited until stalling 2-3, when I was sure both backfield
referees were looking at the thrower/marker, I could grab CS's jersey and
drag him down. At 4-5 then, when he should have been getting open, he was
trying to regain his balance...their O ground to a halt and they had to
call a TO.

CS complained to the ref during the TO, and had I tried it again right
then I would have likely been called. But, if I were being crafty, I would
have waited to use that trick again later. More coordinated refs might
call this, or they might not (I remember similar stuff going uncalled on
my HS basketball team). Maybe CS would learn to handfight me away, so I
couldn't do this....either way, the game gets more physical. More like
basketball physicality, for sure.

As it was, I subbed off during the TO....another sweet rule that we used
well, bringing in our two subs on every timeout possible.

At the end of the final game...we went up 15-12 with about a minute of
game time left. We concentrated on the 2-pointer, and they scored the 1 in
about 10 seconds. Then we threw a quick turn and they scored again it was 15-14 with 9 seconds left. Had we worked those 9
seconds off of the clock before the turn, it would have been game
over...someone on RSD said that down by 4 with a minute left would be
impossible, and I think that is wrong. Especially with the 2-point line,
you can come back quick against the clock. Still harder to come back vs.
the clock than versus the score, though.

Of the four teams, I think the SE used the MLU strategies the best,
playing the 2-point line particularly well on fastbreaks.

If anyone actually read all this....banana banana banana. Go Cradle
Robbers. A big ThankYou to Gavin Sing, Andy Lovseth, all the refs, Ian
McClellan, the NUA crew, and Sammy CK for putting this one.


This just in from Ricky Eikstadt:

1) Obviously, the rule differences between MLU and the UPA’s 10th ed. are of great interest. Which of the new MLU rules did you feel worked well this past weekend?
a. 60-sec between pulls – the game’s pace was brisk
b. putting the disc in play within 7 seconds
c. lower stall count
d. fouls were called by refs, so the game pace was much faster (no discussions about fouls.) however this had it’s drawbacks (below)
e. there wasn’t much discontent between players when there were fouls and the refs called them. I felt like the refs calling a foul took the heat off players and potential conflicts were less regular.

2) Which rules did not work well?
a. At times, during play, the disc is put into play at a spot different from where the disc actually is. For instance, a long throw out of bounds or a little out the back of the endzone, etc. in these cases, the ref would place a disc at the OOB points or the place on the playing field proper where the disc went out. This was quite confusing at times to have the new disc suddenly be in play _and live_ despite the fact that the previous disc was still nearby.
b. Calling picks was very difficult as a ref. The pick rule says that defenders running into one another is not a pick. So as a ref you constantly had to parse the cause of a potential pick, then decide, then blow the whistle.
c. Marking fouls were vitually impossible to call well. The ref behind is screened by the thrower. The ref in front is screened by the marker (for the most part.) It was easy to get away with fouls.
d. Since so few fouls were called, I think you should foul out after 2 or 3 fouls instead of 4. I don’t know if anyone got 3 fouls in one game.

3) How do you feel the refs did in managing the games?
a. I, personally, missed several calls, which after I considered them should have been called.
b. I know I both fouled and was fouled numerous times and it went uncalled.
c. The refs did keep the pace of the game brisk.

4) How did you and other players react to not being able to call your own fouls? Was it difficult to adjust to the idea of intentionally fouling?

a. It was frustrating at times. It led to me being stalled one time, when I was fouled but it wasn’t called and I had a lapse for a moment when I was thinking about being fouled but had no recourse. I wasted stall time and was consequently stalled.

5) Is there anything else you would like to add?

The refs helped in many ways, however, the marking fouls and picks (which are the two things that really slow down the game currently) went uncalled a lot or incorrectly called. These areas will require some training to do right as a ref.


BK said...

It would be easier to read Ben's comments if you re-formatted them to remove the arbitrary line breaks.

gcooke said...


Sorry, my friend. I cut and paste that together. I am too lazy to go through it line by line.