Thursday, June 09, 2005

More about fouls

I've been having some discussions with a bunch of people about whether the game is deteriorating as shown by the 85 calls in the College Nationals finals between Brown and Colorado.

As always, the answer is yes, but I'm not sure what to do about it.
I think it comes down to two things:
1. More markers today make it a practice to mark so closely that a lot of fouls are inevitable, although no single one is intentional; and
2. More players make calls that are legit per the rules but that few 5-10-15-20 years ago would have dreamed of calling.

These reflect a change in the culture of the game, and perhaps the culture of America.

Some are calling (and I might end being one of them) for some new set of penalties to discourage games from getting out of hand. The rule being suggested (two overruled calls or contests results in expulsion for the rest of the game) doesn't strike me as being particularly effective, but I'd like to see something positive done.

Is there a way to get the culture to change? Colorado has been cited as being especially offensive with their treatment of opponents, their own players, and their general approach to the game as some bad-ass Program that everyone else just wants to take down. I don't know whether the kids on the team know any better, but there are enough good people that they should be looking to as role models that this doesn't happen.

Oh, the usual disclaimers about how this isn't necessarily representative of a trend, I'm not blaming everyone who plays, and I know that old people are always saying, "Kids today."


gwbuhl said...

One Bay area ultimate player has suggested often that a yardage penalty should be imposed on overturned calls. The hope is that this would force people to think objectively about the calls they make. However this does not speciacally address the overabundance of calls.

To deal with excessive fouling on the mark, one solutiona is take your free throws. Recently, it has become harder to do this with the "you called the foul before you threw" call and the offense's foul call quickly followed by a travel call by the defense.

luke said...

i saw the game, and was the one responsible for counting the calls. that said, it was not at all unwatchable. it was, in fact a really good college game... either the observers kept it moving...

my IMPRESSION is that most of the calls were not the "that sweet huck is coming back on a travel call (you know, the ones that right or wrong result in jeers)," but more of just, travel, pick, etc. Which means maybe they're calling ticky-tack, but not cheap...

what is the 'goal' for game flow? in other words, soccer is my former favorite game, and the flow is more continuous than frisbee. But that said, the action is way more continuous than anything else w/ an endzone... (football, rugby, etc.) Well, rugby keeps those stoppages of play pretty short...

if you want continuous flow, you will have to have a ref to maintain it... and then maybe it's time to bring on the goons...

Justin R said...

Recent discussions on this topic have a tendency to blame the messenger (person making the call), when in fact what may be happening is that people are simply fouling, travelling and picking a lot when they should know better. As the skill level of players has increased over the years, so has the expectation that a player throwing the disc should do so without making a travel, or a cutter getting open without running through the stack etc.

There really is no excuse for travelling whatsoever when you are playing at the college championships. If you have not figured out how to play within the letter of the rules, then you shouldn't be playing on an elite team.

The problem is that not all tournaments, practices, etc. take place with the same expectations as college nationals. So many players are still thinking in practice/pickup mode where strict compliance with the rules is not required.

The problem is that changing the rules to make harsher penalties for violations OR overturned calls both can send the wrong signals. Many fouls and violations are genuinely unintentional. Others, however, while not intentional, call into question whether any real effort was being made to prevent the foul from occuring (ie. causing contact by bumping the receiver; marking too close; or running picks that are clearly dangerous).

My thought is that something like a technical foul in basketball or a yellow card in soccer, where a player: (1) clearly violates a limited sub-set of the rules (say picks, fouls, marking violations); and (2) did so in a manner that demonstrates intentional or reckless disregard for the relevant rule.

What should the penalty be? I think moving the disc is silly and would fundamentally change the nature of the game. Maybe the team gets a certain number of team fouls, after which the team violating the rule would have to drop a player for the remainder of the point.

Going to hide under a rock now while people flame me.


parinella said...

NBA players travel all the time. Everyone drives over the speed limit. In practice, people tend to prefer a system where the officials use discretion in calling only those offenses that clearly exceed the spirit of the law.

Having said that, I agree that a lot of elite players make no effort to adhere to the rules, or even to the spirit of the rules. Certain players are egregious travelers with apparently no concept of what a pivot foot is. Other guys hump the thrower's leg and say, "Just call it."

I generally know when the slightest rule breaking takes place but rarely call it unless it's significant because I don't like the game that way. I don't say anything to teammates who make this call, say "I see" when someone calls it on me, and mutter something under my breath when I'm not involved.

Justin R said...

Jim wrote:

"In practice, people tend to prefer a system where the officials use discretion in calling only those offenses that clearly exceed the spirit of the law."

But that's exactly my point: a penalty such as moving the disc or fouling out after an overturned call would not work because there are too many minor violations that could be called. Increasing any type of penalty for a violation would simply encourage people to call more often, whereas imposing a saction for making an erroneous travel call would simply encourage more fouling, foot dragging etc. because violators would know there were significant risks to the person making a travel call if they got overturned. So any change that does not establish a new level of violation is likely to have problems, unless it eliminates self-officiating altogether.

That is why I suggested that only intentional or reckless disregard (determined by an observer) for a limited set of rules should receive any kind of an enhanced penalty. I am not saying that would work, or even that I advocate that change. But if someone is going to tweak the rules to address the number of fouls/stoppages of play, I don't see any other way of doing it short of going to full-blown refs.

The goal of rules (whether ultimate or any legal system) should be to express how the game should be played. I am not a strong believer in natural law, so while I understand completely your statement about not calling the slight violations, I can't agree that a system where certain rules are ignored by convention is acceptable. The NBA, to use your example, should just change their damn travel rule to reflect how the game is played, and let everyone enjoy the game.

Also, a successful system of rules should eliminate as much as possible the distinction between slight violation which should not be enforced, and a violation which is appropriate to call. Otherwise, it becomes subjective (and subject to abuse) when a call should be made because the rules themselves to not set the standard considered appropriate by the community.

The problem is that it is rarely possible to maximize fairness without taking away certainty. Is it fair that a minor departure of the pivot foot that results in no benefit to the thrower is a travel? Likely not. But to make a rule that tried to take fairness into account would make the rule so unclear that it could never be enforced. Speed limits, are perhaps the best example another example where you just can't write a law that fairly reflects what is safe for most people because it could never be enforced.*

Anyways, I am getting way off track here. My main point is that the 91 stoppages of play in the college finals may be more a result of changes in expectations of players as to what expected behavior at a national tournament is than a defect in the rules themselves.

I don't know what the appropriate solution is. I would really like to see some games played under the NUA's proposed system (both high level and pickup), if for no other reason than to silence their whining or give them the credit they have been claiming they deserved for years. Unfortunately, the current advocates for major changes like that appear to be so hot-headed they can't seem to get the job done. But sooner or later someone will and it will be interesting to see.

[Sorry for the long post by the way. Didn't intend to be this long].

* NH law, for example, used to be that the speed limit was only prima facia evidence of what was a reasonable speed. But the law had to be rewritten years ago because this standard proved virtually unenforceable and anyone willing to pay my hourly fee would get off.

parinella said...


Terrific response. If I ever get arrested for a traffic violation in NH, I'm calling you.

The problem is that it is rarely possible to maximize fairness without taking away certainty
This is well-said, and captures the problem rather succinctly. For speeding enforcement, cops are trained (I hope) to enforce the law the way that NH had it written (being above the speed limit is a necessary but not sufficient condition).

How can we train the enforcers in ultimate to do the same? The easy answer is "refs", but can't we instead make the players more aware of this?

Marshall said...

Yardage penalties strike me as a weird thing in Ultimate. In the middle of the field (say, in between the brick marks), a 5 or 10 yard penalty just doesn't seem that important. At or near the end zones, even a 5-yarder would seem significant, especially near one's own end zone. To make a meaningful deterrent, a significant distance would be required, such that the penalty would have to be applied carefully to avoid changing the game disproportionately to the infraction. Further, would it get just applied to the disc holder, or does everyone move or re-set? In some cases, moving the disc relative to the rest of the team is a significant issue for positioning.

One thing that refs theoretically do is call games consistently. NBA and NFL refs spend a lot of time trying to do this, and we know that they fail (especially in the NBA) to do so. Baseball umpires can have spectacularly different strike zones. In Ultimate, perhaps well-trained observers may call the game more consistently than the teams themselves.

As noted, there are great inconsistencies in how the game is called (and great historical inconsistencies, though that may not be as important now). One non-contact example is the wrap-around travel (when the receiver turns upfield on their nominal three steps); I have a sense that this gets called a fair amount here in the Northeast, but less elsewhere. Maybe that's an incorrect sense, but it highlights the importance of consistency in calls. Naturally, I'm not offering any clever solutions to any of this on a Friday afternoon...

Kyle said...

Perhaps the answer is to put more of the responsibility of the sport being played fairly and watchably on the coaches.

Both of the teams in this year's open college finals were coached (Nathan Wicks and Tom Matthews for Brown and Catt Wilson, Bob Krier, and Justin Shacklette for CU). These coaches were the only people allowed on the field that were not players, tournament staff, or media. They certainly have a significant impact on the way their players play the sport and their presence on the sideline is a privilege. They also have the ability to communicate with each other (as do captains at the club level) to minimize the calls and stoppages, either by telling their players to quit violating the rules so much or by telling their players to stop calling the insignificant calls.

The UPA has a Coaching Certification in place and is working to expand it this year. We talk extensively about the responsibilities of coaches to uphold this element of Ultimate by teaching their players correctly and by communicating with captains/coaches on other teams both before tourneys/games/leagues and during a game if there is a problem. We are not far from the point where we could require all "inside-the-rope" non-players (or, in the case, where a team has no coach, a captain) to have base level certification. Further, if there is a significant problem with the way their team plays (i.e. ignoring the rules), complaints could be filed against a coach and if they are found to be failing in their responsibilities, the coach's certification could be suspended (meaning that they couldn't be on the field or inside the ropes). This would focus the responsibility of teaching players to follow the rules and call them correctly on the coaches and would avoid taking away player responsibility (which refs would do) creating a "market" for fouls/bad calls (which penalties for multiple infractions would do), or create a greater incentive to call fouls (which increasing penalties for infractions would do).

Is this crazy? What would the flaws of this system be?


parinella said...

I think some form of education would be good. Maybe the UPA could produce a short Etiquette video. Maybe you could get a hold of some training materials that NBA refs or traffic officers use.

Could the UPA take away a coach's certification because his players made petty calls?

Is there another way to educate the masses? Players should know that just because they _see_ an infraction doesn't mean they have to call it. Use discretion.

Video: Side of a highway, car pulled over for speeding.
Officer: Son, do you know how fast you were going?
Driver (looking at 55 mph sign): 56?
Officer: That's right, please step out of the car. You have the right to remain silent.

Kyle said...

Yeah, the petty call problem is certainly the toughest. While the calls might not help the flow of the game they are correct by the letter of the law.

The UPA producing a video that says "hey it's ok to travel a little bit, don't call them" seems a little silly. Do you think that the NBA or police officers have formal training in using discretion when making calls/giving tickets?

If that's the case, maybe our Observer Training program should simply include information about discretion about certain calls (e.g. don't uphold a travel call if the thrower doesn't gain an advantage, tell the teams that's what you'll be doing, and give TMFs for too many petty travel calls).

In the past, observers have ruled on travels strictly, and so maybe that encourages players to make too many travel calls.