Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Riding Self-Officiated Refs

I just finished reading John Feinstein's "A Season Inside". He spent a year in the mid-80's writing about college basketball (the year Kansas won). One of the chapters profiled several of the refs that work consistently for Div 1 college basketball. It was an interesting look at the lives of folks who get paid a little bit of money (they all have "real" jobs) to officiate big events. One of the interesting points is that this group of refs liked to test each other on new and/or obscure rules. The refs profiled were, at the time, some of the best in the business and yet sometimes they got the rulings flat out wrong. The book also went into the specific relationships between the coaches and the refs. Again, it was a good look at the personalities of the sport and the "game within the game" that is officiating. I came away from reading the book with great respect for the refs interest and energy in doing the best job they possibly could.

So, while I do understand Idris' frustration with Ultimate players not knowing our rules "inside and out" and I do believe that if Ultimate is going to differentiate itself via self-officiating, then a lot of energy needs to go into making sure we know the rules, it was interesting to read about professional refs getting the little details wrong. Now, this is not to say that Ultimate players deserve a wide berth when it comes to getting the rules wrong. Quite the opposite actually. While we can take it for granted that self-officiating players will make mistakes in their interpretations of the rules, we should, in the spirit of Idris' comments, take pride in individually developing high standards for our knowledge of the rules until say, a rules test is needed to step onto the field.

I think it is safe to say that heckling of players about the quality of their play is considered socially acceptable on a broad level. There does seem to be a sense of etiquette that heckling is more acceptable at "social tournaments" than during games "that really matter". Again, it is a difficult and shadowy thing to try to define "good taste" as we all have different interpretations of exactly when it is the best time to get shit-faced and ride someone about their play, and that is not the purpose of this post. So, while we can say that in a general sense that heckling is considered OK, depending on the circumstances, I think we are are a bit more unsure about what happens when we disagree with someone's call or interpretation of the rules. I think we have a bit of trouble differentiating between the player that is cheating and the player that made a bad call. Clearly, this has to do with the interpretation of intent, which is highly subjective. Add to this the bias of either being a player and inherently impartial or rooting for one team over another, and it is clear why aggresively disagreeing with a call could be considered in "bad form". I do, though, think it is possible to disagree with a call and not define the player as a cheater. While riding the refs in other sports has become routine and often crosses the line of acceptability, I think it is possible to consider that Ultimate, as it transitions to bigger venues, could benefit from our very loose social contract of not riding our self-officiated refs.


Idris said...

How would ultimate benefit from our loose social contract of not riding our self-officiated refs? [also, I never signed that contract :)]

I do believe that if Ultimate is going to differentiate itself via self-officiating

That makes me sad. Do people really see that as a major differentiator? :(

Not the flight of the disc, the way players move on the field, the combination of constant running, jumping, diving. Everyone's a quarterback, everyone's a receiver.

Is the coolest thing about ultimate really that there are no refs?

gcooke said...


Thanks for the clarification.

By differentiating, I did not mean to imply coolest or best. I simply wanted to identify that small aspect of our sport as something that sets it apart...with the assumption that all the cool stuff you mention is understood.


Idris said...

I went down the slippery slope of differentiator -> sets it apart -> what makes it unique -> what is special about it -> what is cool about it.

to me any differentiator, no matter how small, is a reason you choose it over alternative sports... or why others should (whether as spectator or player).

so while I think people need to learn the rules... it has nothing at all to do with the uniqueness of self-officiating... rather the poor rules knowledge takes away from the cool/unique things happening more fluidly and more often.

so again... what are the benefits? prevention of a ron artest type moment?

George said...

Well, I think the benfits are highly speculative.

I am generally suspicious of The Mob mentality. I think one could think that riding self-officiated refs could keep players more honest as they might feel accountable to the crowd in terms of the quality of their calls. However, this places implicit trust in the objectivity of the crowd. I think there is enough work to do with the issue of the ability of players to be objective (and knowledgeable) enough to make their own calls that we really don't want to bring the crowd into it.

So, and this might come across as laughably naive, maybe our tacit laying off of the refs assumes that players are trying the best that they can and results in comparitively well behaved crowds...excepting heckling, of course.

....in the end, that is a highly speculative benefit...and not plural.


Joe's Brother said...

Hey George ... I made some predictions for CHC over in my blog. Care to make some of your own?

- Joe's Brother

gcooke said...


I try to avoid predictions when I am in a TD role......