Friday, March 28

What Isn't Ultimate?

Currently, there is a debate about what the goals and values of ultimate are. This seems odd, as ultimate itself is inanimate. (Though this semantic quibble can be shelved for the moment and attributed to useful verbal shorthand.)  Regardless, the definition of terms within a discussion is vital for clear, useful, and efficient communication.

Thus, if various groups and individuals are asking "What *is* ultimate?" the discussion may well be enlightened by considering the negation: "What *isn't* ultimate?"

We can start simply:  Ultimate is not a volcano.  Nor a peapod.  Nor that ever-creepy ungulate, the goat.

More specifically (and briefly looking at what it is again): Ultimate is a game of some kind.  A sport even.  That's pretty much as clear as it gets because ultimate can be played under any rules.  Go ahead, read the rules yourself:

I.C:  Captain's Clause: A game may be played under any variation of the rules agreed upon by the captains of the teams involved. In tournament play, variations are subject to approval by the event organizer. Such things as game length, field dimensions, number of players and stall count can easily be altered to suit the level of play. Before a game starts, each team designates one captain to represent them in disagreements and arbitration.

So, in a very essential sense, this means that ultimate can be anything.  Ultimate can be played with a stall count of 2.  With 20 players per side.  With 2 per side.  With a mile-long field.  With a postage-stamp-size field.  With a literal postage stamp for a field.  With an Oreo as a disc.  With a football as a disc.  With legal picks.  With on-the-fly-subbing.  With a horseshoe-shaped field.  With a required beer-in-hand.  With active officials.  With legal skip passes (YAY Fools Fest!) With blindfolds.  With intentional rule infractions required rather than banned.  With a goaltimate goal at one end and a 20yd x 6yd endzone (YAY Mini!) at the other.  Ultimate could even be a game of basketball.

Read that again and let it wash over you like darkness washed over The Dude:  "A game may be played under *any variation* of the rules agreed upon by the captains of the teams involved." (EmPHASis adDED) This could include (let's say not-so-arbitrarily) wider fields, active officials, a shorter stall count, no freeze-tag on calls, and single-game play.

That is, no matter what USA Ultimate says, they cannot define what ultimate is.  The ruleset of ultimate that they have crafted through years of work does not allow them to do so. Yes, this is a bit circular (One must first accept the USAU ruleset in order for the captain's clause to exist... but then the captain's clause can negate the whole of the ruleset) but that does not invalidate the power of the ruleset.

Now consider more closely one element from a recent USAU statement: "we believe in the tournament structure." The rules themselves show no preference for tournament play over single games other than that "In tournament play, variations are subject to approval by the event organizer."  Thus, if you're playing a single game, you need no one's approval to change the rules, just an agreement between the captains of both teams.  If you're playing a tournament, you need the approval of the Event Organizer.  Seems reasonable.  If a game occurs within the larger context of a tournament, it would be weird for to play under different rules.  Apples to oranges and all of that.

The definition of the "Event Organizer" (II.D) is "The person(s) or entity organizing a competition, whether it is a tournament, tournament series, league, single game, or other type of event."  If we look back to I.D, the rules explicitly state that "The event organizer may modify rules relating to game logistics in order to suit the event. Examples include game length (game total), upper score limits (caps), time of game limits (time caps), halftime length, number of time-outs, starting time point assessments, uniform requirements and observer operations. Any such change must be established before competition starts."

Welp, Major League Ultimate and the American Ultimate Disc League can pretty easily be considered "leagues" (look at that "L" in both names!) and rules for these leagues are clearly stated before the competition starts.  So, by the definition of ultimate given by the national governing body of ultimate in the US, the sport being played in the MLU and AUDL is indeed ultimate.

Why? Because the captains agree to call it ultimate.  The teams who agree to play call it ultimate.  The coaches, the fans, the staff, the media, the sponsors, the stadium owners, and on and on.  They all call it ultimate.  The two leagues have simply used the rules of ultimate to define the version of ultimate that they are playing.

If it isn't ultimate, then... what is it?

Well, interestingly enough, neither the MLU nor the AUDL rulesets contain a captain's clause.  So, their definitions of ultimate are far less flexible than the USAU's definition.  That is, the USAU ruleset contains all other subsets of rules of ultimate (and, in fact, all other games and sports of any kind, by my reading).  The MLU and AUDL rulesets specifically do not contain any other rulesets of ultimate.

So, to recap, USAU is calling the MLU and the AUDL not-ultimate despite defining ultimate so broadly that it contains an infinity of games.

Curiouser and curiouser.

1 comment:

Kyle Weisbrod said...

Just found this post. You may not be aware but USAU has an actual definition for Ultimate that is from long before the pro-leagues were established and that do appear to define what is happening in MLU/AUDL as "not Ultimate"

"What is Ultimate?" as defined by the USA Ultimate Board of Directors? The USA Ultimate Board of Directors believes that one key factor that defines Ultimate is that the players need to be the ones in control. The definition of Ultimate developed by the Board at the 2001 Strategic Planning Meeting is as follows: "Player defined and controlled non-contact team sport played with a flying disc on a playing surface with end zones in which all actions are governed by the 'Spirit of the Game™."