Would This Really Be a Good Podcast Episode?

Photo: CasparGirl

Andrew Francis from Madison, Alabama, writes to say:

I have what I think is a great idea for a podcast episode. I play and am a huge fan of ultimate (ultimate frisbee to most people, but Frisbee is technically a copyright of Wham-O). The sport is the perfect place for an experiment. In all games, there are no referees actively making every call. Players call all their own fouls and settle disputes between themselves on the field. If someone makes a bad call, you can argue it all you want to. If they stick with their call after the discussion and the parties can’t agree, ultimate has what I like to call the “magical do-over” that no other sport has. The disc just goes back to the person who had it prior to whatever infraction was called, and you begin play from that spot. 

In the major club and college tournaments (and now filtering down into the low-mid level tournaments), the use of observers (see the USAU definition) has become a common place. Players still call the majority of infractions, but when two players don’t agree on a call, the observers will step in and make a ruling.

The reason I think the two of you would be interested in this is because observers actually make very few calls per game, but the number of bogus fouls, travels, etc. decrease drastically. Players know that any questionable calls they make will just be overturned. The mere presence of a neutral third party who might make a call makes players play the game in a cleaner, more honest fashion.

What do you say — is this good stuff for a podcast? Let’s not forget that there are other sports that are self-policing — except when they are not.


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  1. Rob Salty says:

    This model works well on games with few calls and less emphasis on speed of the game. A crowd could never make basketball or soccer calls fast enough. High school and collegiate tennis uses a call-your-own-game model as well, with the occasional line judge (one judge wanders between multiple matches at a time).

    Social factors play a part too. Tennis players typically make the correct calls, but are heavily stigmatized if they gather the reputation of “hook”, or unfair caller. I’ve witnessed many matches were players ask for a judge to focus on their match from the start, purely because of a competitor’s history.

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  2. Kirk says:

    Absolutely, especially in light of the recent controversy regarding Tiger Woods at the Masters, as golf is supposedly mostly self-policed, too.

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  3. Min says:

    As an avid ultimate player as well, I definitely find this to be compelling podcast material. But I wonder if there’s enough content for a full episode. What kind of stats are available? AFAIK, there is no comprehensive stat tracking in ultimate.

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  4. Matt says:

    Yes. (As an ultimate player, I’m biased.)

    There are also two pro-leagues, the AUDL and MLU, that are in their second and first years respectively. Both of these use referees because even with observers ultimate is akin to swapping quickly between the excitement of baseball (between the crack of the bat and the end of the play) and watching floor debates on C-SPAN.

    Get hopping though, college nationals for USAU is in Madison, WI over Memorial Day weekend.

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  5. Blair says:

    Think it would be a great episode, specially now since there is the start of a pro league. How will that impact the self calling part of the game,

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  6. Mark says:

    My observation is that there are some unregulated utilities that work the same way. The mere fact that lawmakers might make a regulation they must follow keeps them operating similarly to their peer regulated utilities.

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    • nobody.really says:

      Under the theory of contestable markets, a firm that is currently a monopolist may nevertheless be constrained in raising prices. From the private sector, a sufficiently large margin between marginal cost and price may prompt other firms to enter the market. From the public sector, a sufficiently large margin may prompt regulation.

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  7. Brandon says:

    The only reason “call your own fouls” works in anything is when there’s nothing big on the line.

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    • nobody.really says:

      “The only reason ‘call your own fouls’ works in anything is when there’s nothing big on the line.”

      I was pondering the opposite theory.

      The US has three “co-branches” of government. The courts have more-or-less asserted a position of superiority over the other branches — although the other branches have not always been quick to conform to judicial rulings. But there is real dispute about clashes between the executive and the legislative branches; for example, does Congress’s authority to declare war limit the discretion of the Executive as Commander in Chief? Now, we might imagine a constitution that more clearly delineated authority between these two branches.

      But greater clarity would almost certainly change the behavior of the two branches, not merely at times of impasse, but before. Arguably, the ambiguity in the constitution is not a bug, but a feature — because it prompts each branch to seek compromise rather than provoke a constitutional crisis in which neither side can be assured of victory.

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      • hudson says:

        This is the analogous argument you make? You know the sport is doomed to wallow below any actual recognition when the US government becomes the basis for on-field comparison purposes.

        Nerds play frisbee. I am a nerd. I play frisbee. And nerdy tendencies are the most unifying theme among the people that play the game. In that sense, frisbee players would love the podcast.

        Not a single other person would care.

        Brandon is right. “call your own” works because nothing big is on the line.

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  8. Jon says:

    2 things jump out at me…

    1. I am surprised Wham-O was allowed to copyright the name Frisbee. Frisbee was a slang term applied to Wham-O’s flying disc product by college students. Wham-O used the name after learning about the slang term.

    2. Baseball started out as self policed sport. It slowly migrated into whatever you can put by the ump goes. The bigger ultimate gets the more it will migrate. The problem is there is a built in path to every sport – the more disputed calls; means the officials have more power; means more bad calls; means the more people try to trick the official. The only way to minimize it is to minimize things that can be disputed.

    As a vintage base ball player I am amazed people can’t get out of the mode of always looking to the umpire to make the call.

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    • @UltiCraig says:

      Jon, Don’t be surprised. The college students that you mention were from before the invention of plastic and called “frisbie” when they threw Frisbie pie plates and pie tin lids made by the Frisbie Pie Company.

      Later, sometime in the fifties, Wham-O bought the rights to the Pluto Platter, invented by Walter Morrison and Warren Francioni. Soon after that, Wham-O renamed it a Frisbee, changing the spelling of the pie company’s name. And not long after that they introduced a design change, adding flight rings, and got a patent, so the copyright does legitimately belong to them.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Names of products get trademarked, not copyrighted.

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