Monday, February 28, 2011

Last Chance

I am going to wrap up the ...Why Refs are a Bad Idea series in the next week or two. So far, I've covered accuracy, fairness, bias, watchability, growth, promotion, and $$. If there are any other aspects of reffing yall are interested in or think I forgot to discuss, let me know.

Friday, February 25, 2011

$$$...or Why Refs are a Bad Idea

It's all about the $$$. If you want refs, be prepared to pay. A lot.

A two-ref system basically requires that each team carry a ref. (Two refs per game, two teams per game, one ref each.) Experience with observers tells us that it is incredibly difficult to get observers for games. A couple years ago at Solstice, I arranged to pay the observers $100. I thought $100 seemed like a pretty good incentive and that I'd have no trouble getting luck. Realistically, you have to push that number up around $300 or more (plus travel) to make it worth peoples' time and you'd still be getting crappy refs. Let's look at the numbers.

A typical tournament is going to require a ref work ~9 hours a day for two days. Even if you call Sunday short, you are still looking at 16 hours for the weekend. You want to pay them $300? That comes out to be $15/hr, which is short of what co-rec referees make to ref city league soccer games. Anyone co-rec players out there think that's the quality of reffing that's going to bring our sport forward? If you want quality refs, you should expect to pay $500 a weekend. Per team. Per tournament. Plus travel. For a Nationals contending college team that's an extra $2500-$3000. For a Nationals contending club team that's an extra $3000-$4000. Nationals not included.

Paying and having refs would not be optional. This past weekend in San Diego, a couple dudes showed up and observed a few Open games, but the majority of the Open games and all the women's games at Prez Day went un-observed. It wasn't a big deal because the current system we have, where the observers follow the players' calls and the players lead the officiation can function smoothly with and without observers. We can play a tournament without observers and it isn't going to greatly effect the game when we do have observers. But refs!? If there are going to be refs at Regionals and Nationals, there damn well better be refs at every major tournament.

At Oregon this year, we have already had two starters leave the team because they can't afford it and a number of the women are scraping by. Adding $2500 in a sport where most teams receive little to no funding or external support would be difficult. It would be difficult for the dedicated teams and impossible for the developing teams. Teams already balk at paying $200 for Sectionals. What would happen if it went to $700? They wouldn't go.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Prez Day Recap

It was a hectic week, leading to a series of travel/weather disasters but ending in a victory.

I was actually quite grateful for the terrible weather, the drive to San Bernidino, the team not sleeping but an hour or two, the getting lost and arriving at the fields 25 minutes before game time, my flight being canceled so I missed all day Saturday and on and on... There are always things you cannot control and you have to roll with those things and come out on the other side. To get a chance to handle a mess of external adversity was a great thing. We weren't perfect, but good enough to win out on Saturday.

Sunday and Monday the weather was lovely: sunny and 50 with a thrower's wind. I love the Prez Day schedule with it's leisurely two-game Sunday (if you are in the top four.) We opened with Carleton and they struggled with our zone and never made it much of a game. As always, it was a bit sad for me. Then we played Cal for the pool and the 1-seed. They couldn't handle our zone either and we ran away in the first half. Emotional fatigue set in during the second half, our d fizzled and we traded out to finish 13-7. Still a great day.

Monday was a weird one; we played three California teams in the quarters, semis and finals. First up was Sonoma State. They are legit, but so so thin. When we played them on Saturday, the combination of weather and the fourth game of the day blues meant they had no interest and no fight, so we beat them 13-2. It was different in the quarters. They hung in early (4-3) before we tightened up and put on a three point run to close out half (7-3.) We kept up the pressure and finished up 13-6ish. The challenge for Sonoma will be to manage their talent. Maggie and Brin can ball and their supporting cast is getting better, but they've still only got 13 players on the roster. However, finishing tied for 7th will only help their chances of making Nationals; they need the wild cards.

We played UCLA in the quarters and they played great. Kodiak and Hawkins are the heart of this team, but the rest of the Bruins played great. We actually played great defense, but had lots and lots and lots of unforced errors and kept giving them chances to score...which they did. Lots of UCLA scores on their second possession of the point. We had the gut check timeout at 9-10 UCLA and ran 3-1 to win 12-11.

Cal again in the final. We mixed up the d, shifting back and forth between man and zone. An-chi played, but she looked hurt. She made some great throws, but wasn't the physical presence I expect her to be when she is healthy. The first half was close (7-5) but as our defensive pressure wore them down, we pulled away and won 13-6.

Looking at the landscape, things are still a bit unclear. The top teams are not as good as last year when Oregon, Washington, Wisco and the Skirts came into the season fully formed and dominant. The teams that came into the season with most of their roster intact look quite good; better and more polished than everyone else. I'd put UNC, UCLA, Cal (probably Stanford and UNCW) in that category. There are other teams (us, Wisco, SB, Washington) that are overhauling and look rougher and have farther to go. We definitely missed UNCW, Stanford, UBC and Washington; they are all top-10 and the tournament would have been very different with them. Stanford Invite should be great.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

That's the Worst Game I Ever Saw! or Why Refs are a Bad Idea

Actually, when it comes to watchability, refs and SotG are about the same. What determines watchability is the execution. We can all remember ultimate games that were awful and painful to watch and we can all remember basketball/football/soccer games that were awful and painful to watch. There are certain things that make a game more watchable and more exciting and things that detract from that, but reffing and SotG don't really have anything to do with those.

First off, no one likes to watch a blow out. The other day I went to watch the (evil) Cardinal play the Lady Ducks and it sucked. Other than Nia Jackson's valiant drives it was a depressing display. There's only so many uncontested offensive rebounds followed by uncontested lay-ups you can watch. There's only so much interest in wondering if the Ducks can hold the lead under 20...30...40... But refs and SotG don't have anything to do with that. Blow outs happen.

No one like to watch a game with a ton of stoppages. I mildly follow high school basketball here in western Oregon and twice recently, teams have used the hold-the-ball technique to eat the clock. There isn't a shot clock, so if you are undefended, you can hold it indefinitely. In the recent Mapleton-Triangle Lake game, Mapleton held the ball (literally held it) for 2 minutes of the 4th quarter while clinging to a four-point lead. A handful of years ago, Siuslaw held the ball the entire first quarter, before putting up a three at the buzzer. First quarter score? 0-0. There are always nooks and crannies in the rules for teams to exploit - if they are willing.

While there is no difference here between a reffed and SotG in theory, although there are some much needed changes that need to be made to the observing system to effect the necessary speeding up of the game. A couple of years ago at Solstice, I implemented an observing system designed to speed the game up and make it more watchable. I went through a ton of uncut game footage and timed and categorized all the stoppages. Here were the biggest issues: time between points, bricks, arguments, calls. Most frequent call resulting in stoppages? Foul on the mark. Traveling was not a major issue. (Footage was from club nationals.) Here are the important changes to remedy these issues.
1. Less time between points. The NFL runs 40 seconds. Surely we can get to 60. It will be an adjustment, but not nearly the adjustment going to 90 seconds was. In the 90s, Schwa (masters of eating the clock) once were timed at 5 minutes between points!
2. Brick at midfield. A brick almost doubles the time between points as Joe Handler swaggers off to get the disc, survey the field, check it in....yawn. Defenders hated this rule, but the number of bricks dropped precipitously when we tried this at Solstice.
3. Quick observer rulings. The current policy of time for players discussion of calls achieves two bad things, while failing to achieve its stated goal of allowing for player determination of a call. First of all, letting the players discuss means any call that needs discussion takes 2 or 3 or more minutes to resolve before play can get going again. Also, it creates an opportunity for drama. When observers step in quickly, the opportunity for players to argue and carry on is snuffed out. The supposed goal of observers waiting is for the players to have time to resolve the call, but that only happens maybe 5% of the time and the remaining 95% of calls result in argument, drama and an observer ruling. At Solstice, we used a simple "walk-to" rule. When a call was made, we (the observers) started walking to the play. When we got there, we asked the players, "do you have a call?" If they said yes, they made it. If they were still arguing, we made the call.
4. TMFs for bad calls. The object of this policy is to prevent teams from controlling the game by making lots and lots of calls. Once it is clear that a team is going to make lots and lots of calls, they should be held to a high standard of accuracy and punished if they don't reach it. Also, players should get TMFs for cheating even if it isn't called. At the club level, only about 10% of marking fouls are called because it is such a disadvantage to stop play. These uncalled fouls should generate TMFs even if the thrower isn't calling them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get in the Back of the Line, Sucker!...or Why Refs are a Bad Idea

Right now, ultimate is in the front of the line. A line of one, but we're in the front. As soon as we add referees at any division of the sport, we move to the back of the line. Behind soccer, rugby, lacrosse, rowing, tennis, name it. In case you haven't noticed, resources are incredibly scarce out there right now. Even sports on the big time are struggling. As we consider these issues, we should consider where we are, where we are going and how we can best get there.

Right now, under SotG, our sport is growing at a breakneck pace. We are outgrowing soccer, lacrosse, name it. This is absolutely fantastic. There is nothing that will help our sport more right now than growth. A big part of that growth it SotG and self-officiation. Most of our growth is coming in the youth division and parents love SotG and the culture it brings to our sport. The moral lessons inherent in ultimate and SotG are ones that every parent wants to teach their kid: respect, restraint and honesty. Not only that, the culture of ultimate is a welcome respite from the nastiness of high-stakes soccer or basketball. At the core of that culture is SotG. Every game you play, SotG helps build that respect and culture. To be able to say to a parent, "Ultimate is self-officiated at all levels," is incredibly powerful.

Club and college ultimate should serve as banner divisions to promote the growth of our sport. As such they should do so within the framework of SotG. It kind of goes back to If it Ain't Broke... We are growing at a torrid pace with SotG at all levels. Why would we change it? As a brief aside, both the college division and the club division need some changes to function better. The Open College division needs to make some changes in the way games are observed to prevent the kind of debacle we saw in the finals last year. Less time for discussion, TMFs for every bad call and censuring of coaches. The Club division needs to get out of Sarasota and out of October. Please! Who watches those games? Put the finals in Boston or Seattle where you will have 10,000 fans and youth players watching.

Now that I've distracted you from my main point, let me conclude in a high quality, middle school conclusion kinda way. The most important element for the development of our sport right now is growth. We are currently growing at the fastest rate of any sport in the country and we are doing it with SotG functioning at all levels. Not only should we keep SotG at all levels, we should strengthen the presentation of it at the Club and College levels so they can serve as flagships for the sport.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

If You Had One More Eye...or Why Refs are a Bad Idea'd be a cyclops. Refs make mistakes. Always. All the time, every game, no matter how good they are. When you ask one person to completely police a game, they are going to mess up. Our current system of self-officiation plus observers is incredibly accurate. Even the worst games are called more accurately than the best reffed games.

Let me define 'accurate.' In this situation, what I mean is whether or not the outcome of an individual call is correct. Is the 'travel' a travel? Is a 'foul' a foul? In ultimate, the answer is yes and yes and yes. In reffed sports, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no.

Accuracy hides a much bigger issue: fairness. Each individual call may be correct, but if one team is systematically calling a lot of stuff that the other team isn't, you end up with an unbalanced and unfair game. This happens all the time in reffed games. The difference in ultimate is that it is the competitors themselves manufacturing the advantage. This issue of fairness and the ability of one team to create an advantage for themselves is the strongest argument for refs.

A few thoughts on this. First, adding refs won't increase accuracy - it will decrease it. It won't increase fairness, either. It will actually create more games that are decided unfairly. All it will do is remove the control of that unfairness from the players. Finally, don't be confused into thinking that adding refs will keep people from working the rules to their advantage. On the contrary, adding refs will greatly increase the amount of cheating and gamesmanship as players and coaches learn to really take advantage of the rules, enforcement and the officials.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bellingham Invite

We went up to Bellingham to play in the Invite this weekend. This is the third year of its existence and the third year we've won it...sort of. It has slowly become a really nice tradition for the team and myself. Mizu, the girls and I usually stay in Seattle and visit with friends. I miss that on Saturday, but the tourney is only one day so I get Saturday night and Sunday to hang out.

This year, bad weather, bad offenses, short rounds and yappy coaches (guilty!) made for a number of capped games. My suspicion that us (U of O), Washington and UBC are all top-10 teams was confirmed as we three-way tied, all beating each other. Here's a review of those three games:

Round 1: UW v UBC. UW came out screaming and handed it to UBC early and went up huge. I wasn't keeping score, but I'm going to guess that they were up 6 at half. UBC was playing okay, but they dropped so many passes - at least 8 in the first half and 3 goals over the course of the game. They couldn't stop UW's offense or match their intensity on defense. In the second half, though, UBC switched to zone and UW started to falter. (It was very clear that no one had worked on zone offense yet - everyone's sucked.) UBC ran out of time and lost 11-9 at the hard cap. The nicest thing for me in that game was to see Stefi Chow back on the sideline after a year off.

Round 2: U of O v UBC. What a weird, lackluster, ugly game. Bailey was out with a hamstring and Julia went down with a bruised heel on the second point. We weren't quite sure how to proceed without those two in there. Neither team could move it on the other's zone and there was turnover after turnover. Still, we managed to earn a two point lead with about 8 minutes to play...and gave up three to lose 9-10. Blech.

Round 4: U of O v UW. After beating PLU 13-0, we were going to face UW. Our captains got us riled up and ready to go and we came out with the intensity we'd needed in the morning. Our defense gave UW fits and they never could get a rhythm. At 8-6 us and 5 minutes to play, we all realized that UW would need to score two to force overtime. Instead, we scored 2 and won, 10-6.

Our Western and PLU games were blow outs (13-1 and 13-0) respectively, so it's hard for me to say a lot about those teams. I know Western played UW to 7-9 and one of their best players was sidelined for our game, so...

Tomorrow I'll get out a Why Refs are a Bad Idea... post. This one will be about accuracy.