Apologies for the delay in the recap.
We were hoping to find some photos of the observers and players in action. Alas, it was not to be. We did, however, find the above video. It’s a highlight reel from Auburn from the weekend. You can get a glimpse at the observers in action in various shots.
This weekend was, in our opinion, a good showing of some of what Ultimate could potentially become if all the powers-that-be get their heads and acts together and take the best of all worlds. It’s clear that Ultimate is moving towards a more observer based officiation system. Anyone who plays Ultimate at any kind of competitive level should be for this. It makes NO sense to avoid it.
Now, the current question is: How much of the UOA’s system should or should not be adopted into the future of Ultimate?
The General Feel
We were surprised by the general feel of the tournament. We had never played under any kind of experimental rules or observer roles. We half expected to be able to feel like we were in the middle of a revolution or that we were playing an entirely different game.
This was simply not the case, the tournament felt like every other tournament we’d ever played in, if not less important simply because of the reduced size. The observers were in the back of our mind for the vast majority of the tournament and that’s the way that it should be.
It’s possible that Mike Geric’s reputation and vocal nature on RSD simply preceded him and led us to believe that the observers would be much more “in-your-face” with their new rules and regulations. Our experience was quite the opposite though. The rule changes, when implemented, were quite subtle and easy to adjust to.
As far as assessing the strength of the teams at the tournament, the fact that pool play finished with a three way tie only shows that the top teams attending were all relatively evenly matched.
From the LSU perspective, we felt it was clear that LSU was the best team in the field on Saturday. The score against Tennessee doesn’t really tell the story of the game. In the second half LSU had a 10-5 lead before allowing five straight breaks from Agent Orange on the following turnovers, turf, drop, drop, turf, overthrow (not on a huck). Tennessee took advantage and got back into the game before LSU closed out the game on a 5-2 run.
However, LSU couldn’t hang with opposing teams on Sunday. It might have been legs, it might have been the absence of a few key players but Sunday LSU dropped two 15-12 games that didn’t feel as close as the scores.
Alabama is strong again this year. The Tide is a team that already knows it’s identity, get it to Tim Brady early and often, and that could be a threat to other teams that are still working to discover what works for them. Bama score its first three points on the exact same play off the pull against LSU.
Brady receives huck, outlet to another handler, vertical stack downfield with one of several fast, long receivers at the back of the stack, second handler breaks mark to Brady who breaks mark quickly and effectively for a near full field breakmark huck.
LSU found that a straight up mark minimized the effectiveness of this attack plan but Brady is one of those players that you have to accept is going to get open and is going to break the mark, what you do with the other six men on the field is the key to your success. Sadly, LSU was unable to do that and Bama avenged its season-ending loss from 2010 College Regionals by taking LSU down 15-12.
Point differential was enough to move LSU into finals against Tennessee but LSU struggled to play Agent Orange evenly the second time around. UT jumped out to a large early lead on the wings of having multiple players who are equally solid receivers, throwers and defenders. The Tanasi effect is clear, with three of Agent Orange’s top seven taking a trip to Sarasota at the end of the month.
LSU felt like we matched up well with Agent Orange, being equally tall and athletic but Tennessee was definitely more mentally sound and more physical than we were and it showed as Agent Orange jumped out to an early lead (potentially as much as 6-2). LSU battled back and wouldn’t go down quietly, making some big plays and taking advantage of several UT miscues before eventually tying the game at 11-11 (we think). UT closed out pretty strongly before taking the championship home 15-12.
These three teams will certainly be among those hoping that the Regional redraw along with with the graduation of names like Dempsey, Brodie, Nilan and Gibson will leave the top of the new South Region wide open.
Things We Liked
As far as the things we enjoyed about the tournament, the list is certainly topped by active stall counts.
It took a game or two to stop saying, “Stall one…” after an opponent’s catch but there’s no denying an improved mark when one doesn’t have to think about counting. We didn’t think it would be that big of a deal but it is a HUGE deal. Not only that but a consistent stall count is AMAZING.
We were marked by an opposing player in the Mississippi State game who insisted on stalling along with the observer. All game, every time we touched the disc, he was two counts ahead of the observer by stall five.
We couldn’t shake the feeling that occasionally the stall count was started a little late due to the distance from the play to observer (think “warning track power” hucks). However, it’s still undeniable that the count, whether late or not, was still consistent. That is worth a lot on its own.
Spirit of the Game
It’s interesting how spirit improves during observed games. A lot of people think that an increased observer role is positioned opposite of a better Spirit of the Game (SotG). In fact, when implemented correctly, they go hand in hand. There were a number of questionable up/down calls and foul/contests that could have detracted from the enjoyability of the game during a regular tournament that observers settled quickly and quietly.
We, personally, lost our cool after a questionable bid during one of our games that ended with our defender on top of us. In an odd twist of fate, Gerics was quick on the scene to tell us to chill out, calm down and play on. Perhaps, without observers, we would have said something that we regret even more than how much we regret our current actions.
In the UOA model, players still control the game which is something that we believe has to be maintained in order for Ultimate to maintain the essence that draws us to it. However, Ultimate’s evolution to a more competitive level has required that there be moderators to assist in maintaining that essence.
Things We Didn’t Like
Lots of Space
This is obviously a logistical issue. Even Gerics couldn’t convince 8 observers to make it out this weekend which meant that one game every round went unobserved. However, for observing to be a (near)perfect system there must be more observers.
Basketball, in a much smaller and action centered playing space, employs three officials on the court. Ultimate needs to get to a point where we have the resources to employ more observers… at least three and possibly four. Stalling, travels, marking fouls and fouls on dump cuts are an awful lot for one person to be paying attention to. Hopefully, Gerics and other observer advocates understand this and are working towards getting more observers on the field per game.
Once again, this is wholly a logistical issue at the moment and baby steps are better than no steps but it must be in the back of our minds.
Though we regret losing our cool in the aforementioned foul, we still believe it was an egregious violation of the rules of the game and worthy of a greater penalty than the stoppage of flow for our offense and the allowance of the defender to set the mark.
A second example (once again, this is from an LSU perspective, excuse the bias), Arkansas put up a floaty hospital pass on a dump that was brought down by one of our teammates, in anticipation of the catch block we had already started for the endzone. There was a foul called on the turnover that was overturned. During the debate we had, easily, 20 yards of separation but were 5 yards outside of the endzone and Arkansas took note. As soon as the disc was put in play, a clear intentional foul was delivered. The nearest defender caught up 5 yards as we had nowhere deeper to go. The disc was put in play again, another intentional foul, another 5 yards lost. This was repeated one more time and the mark received only a verbal warning. By the time the verbal warning was delivered, LSU’s advantage had been lost.
We would like to have seen a more serious penalty for such a clear, intentional violation of the rules. This isn’t to trash Arkansas, certainly there are plenty of teams that would have done the same in Ludicrous Speed’s position. However, in order to stop play like that, serious penalties have to be instituted. We’d like to see even UOA observers hand those out more liberally.
This was a great weekend full of competitive play and exciting innovation. We hope that Gerics keeps this up. The only thing we are wary of is Gerics’ end goal. We would hate to hear that he’s trying to usurp USAUltimate’s position as the authority on college Ultimate. Hopefully, he’s trying to prove that he’s serious about these changes and can implement them and USAUltimate will see this as an opportunity to adopt already proven changes.
We hope this recap was coherent.
Sorry for the delay in the recap. Life gets in the way.