Sunday, January 16, 2011

Don't Move to Beacon Hill or Why Refs are a Bad Idea

Way back in 2002, when my wife and I were freshly and madly in love, we decided to move. Our apartment on Capitol Hill had no outdoor space and we were desperate for a porch and a garden. So we started looking, found a place in Beacon Hill with two huge decks and yard and moved in. It sucked.

We had been so focused on what we were missing, that we didn't give any thought to what we might have to give up to get it. The corner apartment with windows facing south and west? Goodbye. The most interesting street in Seattle four blocks away? Goodbye. Walk to downtown? Goodbye. 3 minute bike ride to Pike Place Market? Goodbye. as

It is all too easy to get caught up with what is wrong with ultimate. It's all to easy to say "Refs will fix it." We need to be smarter and more far-sighted than that. The issues around Spirit of the Game and refs and self-officiation are incredibly complicated. How we choose to address them will have profound impacts on the game as we play it today and how it will be played in the future. In this series, I am going to look at these issues and see if it isn't possible to tease them apart and in the process, engender a real conversation.


  1. Very interesting and fresh perspective. As usual, I look forward to hearing what you and others have to say about this pivotal topic.

  2. It seems there's a false dichotomy here. You should be able to play an official game of ultimate, or any sport for that matter, with or without referees. Eventually, at nationals, the finals will have officials making active calls on everything. I don't see how you can avoid it. The stakes are just going to get higher and higher and it will be just too tempting to make a call that shouldn't be made to be the best of 1000 teams.

    But there will never be a day where there will be officials at every level of the sport. A game played with referees should be the same as a game played without referees, with perhaps minor differences. There is a huge market out there for physical activities (witness the rise of triathlon) and ultimate can be part of meeting that market. Not needing refs everytime two teams want to play an official game is a huge advantage over most other sports.

  3. Dave,

    Thanks for the comment. I'm curious about your idea of eventually. My experience playing at Nationals is that the pressure is already pretty intense and yet, most games are successfully managed under SotG. Look at this year's Ironside-Revolver game. It went great.

    The "eventually" you are considering may never even happen and we have a lot of steps to take before we get there. No one is making a living playing or coaching ultimate yet. There is no audience base for ultimate at all yet. Both those very important thresholds can be crossed with self-officiation. I am going to make the case that the best way forward for our sport is to maintain self-officiation for the foreseeable future.

    An important part of my argument is that we look at the whole picture and context of the sport, not just one game or one division.


  4. Lou

    Ultimate might be living on Beacon hill right now. Ultimate might not be 4 blocks away from the most interesting street in Seattle. Unlike with a house you can try it out and go back if people don't like it.

  5. "Eventually" could mean like, say, lacrosse is now. I agree. We could cross a lot of thresholds before we use refs. And even then I think they would only be used in the highest levels of the game. Self-officiating is not the one thing that makes ultimate distinct and good though.

    Ultimate has advantages over a lot of other sports. It's an intense workout. There's not much equipment. It's easy to set up. It's easily coed (we play two women, you play two). There not many necessary statistics. Substitutions are easily part of the flow of the game. A 9 person squad can play a 16 person squad. etc. In short, 20 friends is a game, 60 friends is a league. That's the magic of it. Other sports have limitations that ultimate simply does not have.

    Self-officiating is part of that mix. It's easy to put on a game if you don't have to find someone to watch it and make calls. And I can see how self-officiating cuts down on some forms of cheating (if the ref doesn't see it, it did not happen) while it may allow others. I just don't see why some see it as indispensible to the character of the game while others see it as a great hindrance to the game taking off.

  6. FYI - Ultimate is IN Beacon Hill now. Mercer MS has won the middle school league for something like 4 years in a row. Their graduates are now at Frankin HS where I coach and we're 5-1 and heading to USA Ultimate Westerns for the first time this year. Beacon Hill and The South End is where it's at.

    I have no comment about ref's - Just a shout-out for Beacon Hill, The South End, and all that's rad about the kids there and the ultimate that's being played!

  7. That's awesome! Here's a South End shout at back at you - it was watching a Washington MS vs. Mercer MS final in 2003 where the seed was planted for a piece of the Oregon teams' offense. The structure was simple, elegant and effective.
    Good luck at Westerns.