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.

Rob Salty

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.


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


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.


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.


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,


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.


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


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.


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.


I think this would make a great episode. Golf in particular is prime for this. It is amazing to me that the vast majority of tournaments are self policed. The big PGA events have rules officials and the people who play judge from their sofas. But most tournaments are not on TV, nor do they have an official with every group. Given the money and the pressure to win it is fairly remarkable that tournaments seem to remain fairly contested. I suspect the stigma of being one who cheats outweighs the potential gain in most cases - I know that is true for the guys at my club. Better to lose a $2 nassau than garner a reputation such that no one will play you for anything...


When I started playing ultimate 30 years ago, you had to pass a drug test to play.

.....so, dude, there wasn't a lot of agruing about little BS.....like, all hung up on competition and harshing the vibe and whatever....screw it man, let's just have a do-over....cool?


I'd definitely be interested to hear a podcast on this topic.

My first thought is, if teams are playing home and away games with home and away crowds, how neutral is that third party really, especially if there is any kind of rivalry between the two teams?


It's really odd to read an article, and then realize it was your email you were reading.

Anyways, as other commenters have already pointed out, there are now 2 different professional leagues () that use full referees. There is ample amount of free/cheap game footage to analyze from a non-observed game, an observed game, and a refereed game.

Make this podcast!


I left out my links in the parathenses- (http://theaudl.com/, http://mlultimate.com/)


Yes. (But about ultimate? meh.) Let me raise the question... how do we act when we know we are being watched? Can simply being watched change behavior? Are we better behaved or worse? Have you seen Black Mirror S1E3? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2089050/

Steve Cebalt

Very interesting with ramifications beyond sports. My daughter takes a class called "Dangerous Ideas." Her most recent paper suggested making EVERYTHING legal (heroin, prostitution, drunk driving) except one thing: Harming another person in any way with malice or recklessness, which would carry a life sentence. Her notion is that 1) Most people are more good than bad and that 2) more people would police their own behavior if the "price" is life in prison. Essentially a variation on the Frisbee issue: What works better -- freedom or laws-- to incentivize the desired behavior?


I would LOVE to hear this episode.

Erik Jensen

I played ultimate frisbee for many years precisely because of the self-policing. I would have preferred other sports, but the culture of frisbee is so much better. There is something called "spirit of the game" which is the guiding philosophy. You would never intentionally trip or grab someone, even if the foul would give you an advantage. It helps that there is no money or fame involved.



Also, when the concept of "spirit of the game" is made explicit, players do tend to become more honest and not only more fair, but even charitable, giving the opposite team a call they could have contested.