I have to admit that the dreaded slippery slope is still unslid down (what the hell is the proper metaphor for not going down that slope, anyone?) after several years of Callahan Observers. Why is that?
You would think that once some personal responsibility for clean play has been removed, that players would start to change their behavior. If we've learned nothing else from economics, it's that people respond to incentives. There appears to be no incentive to play fair when an Observer is not looking, at least in certain circumstances where the Observer is likely to rule "no call, play on" rather than "didn't see it, do-over". So there have to be other incentives.
Of course, there is honesty keeping people honest. But that's not quite it, because an honest player plays by the rules as they're played. You wouldn't call an NBA player dishonest merely because he takes a few steps like every other NBA player. In just about every sport, there are the rules the way they are written, and there are the rules the way they are enforced. It's much better if the two coincide, but more likely you end up with a series of adjustments to how the players play and how the rules are called. As an example, consider the baseball strike zone. At some point, the batters began crowding the plate to get at the outside pitches, so the umps began calling an outside strike. The classic example is Eric Gregg in a deciding game of the Braves-Marlins series back in 1997, who rung up umpteen called strikes on pitches that weren't within 6 inches of the plate but were in his strike zone. Were the pitchers in that game "dishonest" because they knew the ump was calling a generous strike zone and so they threw the ball to it?
No, of course not, so there must be something in the game that continues to exert pressure. It's not "spirit of the game" in the sense that crazed Sectionals-level players (by this phrase, I mean people who devote their lives to ultimate but will never win or even participate in any big championship) use it, but maybe something closer to "good sportsmanship." Or maybe it's just that the fear of being stigmatized by a yellow card or team misconduct foul or of being humiliated by having your call overtuned causes players to behave (economically) irrationally. This is common. Managers might be afraid to go against the Book because if it doesn't work, they'll get fried in the press. A rookie might be afraid to throw a high-percentage huck because he'll get yanked if it fails. In these cases, the player's personal incentives are not in line with the team's incentives.
Or, it could be that the personal responsibility has not been removed with the presence of the Callahan Observers, because calls still originate with the players. I know that in the interest of fast play that discussion time should be limited if not eliminated, but I would still prefer a system where the players do have a chance to present their cases briefly to each other, and possibly to the Observer. (I add "to the Observer" because it seems that the Observers are told to rule on the call that is made rather than on making the call that they would have made had they been active refs. For instance, if a marker counts evenly at a 0.6 counts/second rate and gets to 10 a split second before the thrower throws it, the Observer is supposed to rule that a stall, even if that cheating marker skips the word "stalling", or like some of us tend to do, starts the count with "stallingone". Anyway, not sure this digression means anything.)