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How Would You Like to Play Today?

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Furious vs Sockeye, 2012 NW Regionals
Could Somebody Please Just Tell Me Where to Go to Play Ultimate?

It’s like nagivating a poorly-written choose-your-own-adventure book.  And on every other page is an illustration of a different set of jerseys.

I am leafing through e-mails and solicitations concerning various semi-professional, amateur, and community-owned models of ultimate in 2013.  I groan over the myriad choices, overlapping schedules and requirements in front of a co-worker.  He has heard me mumble about ultimate and sports administration woes before.  “Find out who’s offering the most money, and just go with them!” he says.  There’s undeniably some candid wisdom behind that.

But it is not quite so simple, I explain.  Even if money was a sure thing, it’s not about money.  For an assuredly obsessive player, it’s about how and where you’d most like to compete.  Really, the choices come down to voting for something with your time and feeling like it’s time well spent.

Not very long ago, the ultimate calendar looked simple.  Sure, we didn’t know for a certainty exactly which tournaments we would attend, or whom we would face, but there was an unquestionable season with a couple of well-defined goals and 2-3 flights therein.  For years, the toughest questions revolved around precisely where everyone would fly, and the changes in the system were hardly tumultuous.  Conflicts, although sometimes frustrating, were minimal.

And there was an implicit hierarchy — a pyramid outlined by both skill and obsession.  Athletes with sufficiently hardcore ambitions found their way up its slopes. They joined the historically elite teams, climbed the steps and paid out the commensurate costs.  Yes, it was expensive (and somewhat elitist) but we all trained and paid for that sense of status and the ever-hopeful, upward drift toward the glorious top of that pyramid.   The system was monolithic, maybe even stagnant, but at least it was comfortable in its familiarity.  We had all bought in, we were able to measure our achievements against our goals, and it felt like time well spent.  Good or bad, it was simply what you did.

In 2012 — for better or for worse —  it exploded with options.  And the effect is quite comedic when you sit down to contemplate it.

Our players are now staring at an intimidating and totally unfamiliar menu of  Triple Crowns, Major League Ultimate, NexGen League and American Ultimate Disc League.  Like a fistful of ad pamphlets shoved through the mail slot, they’re colourful, all offering Great Things and all equally confusing to take in at once.  What happened to that natural sense of order?  Where is our pyramid!? Is there still a pyramid at all, or are there now several?

On top of all the possibilities, some Vancouverites are on (or coaching) national teams, trying to represent their country in Toronto (U23), or in Cali (World Games).  Some want the distinction of a run at Italy (WUCC 2014), which of course means attending a national championship, too.  Where we should choose to spend our time and effort, as both players and clubs, is a non-trivial question.  I honestly wish there were fewer options — at least not all new, all at once.

Granted, the Triple Crown Tour is expensive, but it is similar enough to things we have happily done for years,  run by an established organization, as safe, reassuring and comfortable in their continued existence as an old leather belt.  Most ultimate players are accustomed to just showing up and playing the game, intent on victory, and shooting for a title. USA Ultimate has that sturdy venerability, and aspirations for major sponsorships and network broadcast.

Entrepreneurial organizations like AUDL, MLU, or NexGen want to promise players and clubs more video exposure, lower costs, and maybe shares of profits.  But there are the natural complications, of course. From left to right, they draw on players and club structures varying from least- to most-familiar.  And they conflict with each other, USA Ultimate, and Ultimate Canada in varying degrees, on personal and club levels.  With a finite pool of players in Vancouver, and inability to have it all, what does the optimal arrangement look like?  For the first time in recent memory, teams and their players find themselves asking grossly unfamiliar questions, wondering how to resolve conflicting risk and opportunity.

We collectively look like competition dogs, finely honed to our specialties.  We stand among the best and most competitive ball-chasers in the world . . . and the Spalding truck just overturned in the street.  We’re virtually paralyzed by the sheer spectacle of all this opportunity.

And so leaders whose customary headaches have typically revolved around practices, rules and seeding arguments now suddenly need to superpose calendars, read the fine print, compare obligations, get versed in financial statements, figure out the distinctions between different legal entities, possibly read up on tax law. . . .  Abruptly, everyone is calling an accountant-cousin or a lawyer-friend for help.  We are excellent at throwing discs, but for all our training, we’re utterly hopeless in the face of a prospectus or a letter of intent.

And then we ask what everyone else is thinking?  Nobody wants to find himself or herself stranded on the unfashionable pyramid, wherever that may be. Beware that dangerous question, for Opinions invariably spill out in plenty.

Could somebody please just tell me where to go to play ultimate?

Furious vs Blackfish at 2012 Washington Sectionals

Alex Davis

3 Responses to “How Would You Like to Play Today?”

  1. James (Colby) Says:

    Assuming you have reached out to the other teams? A litttle collective bargaining power? Hold a team conference?

  2. Rob McLeod Says:

    One of the most well written articles period I’ve read in a long time. Well done 🙂

  3. edward bredin Says:

    Since you’re in Vancouver, AUDL is out of the question, unless you want to wait a year. But they are shaping up well. MLU offers a lot with one game per week and lower costs, and allowing beter TV exposure. The TCT is the safest choice, but it is expensive and keeps to the tried method (which considering the rise of new leagues, is not working). Finally, we have NexLeague, which is the best bet with the most risk. You need a captain who can handle the taxes and the fine print, but the league is a really great improvement.

    So if I was in your shoes, I would say MLU (then switch to the AUDL next year, if I wanted). If my captain and team are open to NexLeague, I’d do that, and if all else fails, the USAU will still be there. Thanks for reading.