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.


I remember The Hawthorne effect or project on observation and behavior. Long time ago. Like Ultimate though.


Yes, this would be a really neat podcast!

Danton Noriega-Goodwin

I'm a huge fan of the Freakonomics podcast, an avid fan and player of Ultimate, and a PhD student in Economics.

I could think of not of a more gratifying podcast than a podcast by Freakonomics about Ultimate!

Tim Schafer

Would listen!


One of the interesting things about Ultimate is that the concept of "ref sense" is lessened. I.e. "If the ref doesn't see it, it's fine" Since the players themselves are, in essence, refs, any violation can be called.

However, this leads to problems in some cases: E.g. when a team is physical towards the other team, but calls ticky-tack physicality when the other team initiates it. There's also the problem that since you have 14 "player/refs" on the field at a time, each of them has their own varying knowledge of the rules and definition of what "incidental contact" might be.

Also, since one of the underlying tenets of the rules is that no players will intentionally cheat, there are no harsh penalties for violations. However, if a player does cheat, that also means the penalties are lessened. With an observer present, the stakes become higher and the "ref sense" returns. If you can cheat without looking like you're cheating, you gain an advantage.