AUDL Expansion: Professional Sports Need to be Profitable

I just finished reading a solid article about the AUDL expansion for next season.  The article does a pretty good job looking at the current AUDL teams and takes some guesses at the success of the league based on team profits from year 1.  The question the author raises is whether the league will be profitable for investors that have purchased a franchise.

I really enjoyed the article because it addressed a concern I’ve been having for a while.  Will owners be able to make money from a team?  If they can, I suspect the AUDL is here to stay.  If not, the league may last a few more seasons, but it won’t be around much beyond that.  A profitable investment is, after all, what owners/investors want to get out of a professional league.  

In the short term, I think teams will be able to make enough profits to offset costs, and/or owners that can’t break even will be ok with small initial losses while hoping things pick up.  As I’ve touched on before, the AUDL did not really do any national or big scale advertising or marketing before season 1.  Nonetheless, several teams seem to have generated enough local buzz to get people into the stands. 

Obviously, none of the teams are selling thousands or tens of thousands of tickets for a game, but many teams seem to have numbers sufficient to generate a reasonable revenue stream.  A couple owners might already be making a buck off ticket sales.  Other owners may be breaking even or experiencing a small loss.  It is all speculation and conjecture based on loose numbers.  My point is that a local revenue stream could be sufficient to support an AUDL team in most cities.

Unfortunately, local fan support (primarily from the ultimate community in a team’s hometown) doesn’t really grow the sport.  That means a team that can’t survive purely on ticket sales will only be in existence as long as an owner is willing to lose money on his/her franchise.  The league could probably survive a failed franchise or two, but teams folding will likely have a huge impact on the league.  Losing teams affects the schedule, causes problems balancing divisions, incites panic in other owners, etc.  Consequently, the professional sport has to grow in national popularity for the league as a whole to be successful.

I’m very interested to see what the AUDL does in terms of marketing and advertising for future seasons to grown the sport.  While I recognize that marketing may have not been affordable before the onset of the first season, it has to be a priority as the league expands.  The league has to find a way to generate buzz, reach a broader audience than just ultimate players, and find a way to create diversified revenue streams for both the league and the teams. 

 

I’m not sure exactly how they can do this.  I’m not really a “marketing guy”.  Getting a TV contract with a network, even if it is a smaller cable network, would be a step in the right direction.  I suspect that isn’t really in the cards yet though.

 

 In lieu of getting the sport on TV, the AUDL might be able to find a way to monetize their online content more effectively.  It seems to me that there has to be more effective model for selling games online than an ala carte service.   Perhaps a “league pass” or something similar would be a way to generate up front revenue. 

 

Those are just a couple ideas, and I’m sure there are lots of other great ways the league could expand its brand recognition and fan base.  I’m really curious what other people think about this topic though.  Do you think the AUDL will be able to be successful with their current model?  If not, what changes do you think they need to make to expand their fan base?  Do you even think the AUDL as a product is good enough to succeed? 

 

  

 

Places to Discuss Ultimate?

I’m planning on offering some more AUDL focused content as soon as I can view the games from this weekend.   My real ultimate commitments kept me from watching the games live, as I was playing on both Saturday and Sunday during gametime.  I’m trying to play club mixed this season, and my largely broken and battered body is resisting, so I’ve got a lot of weekend training and practice that I need.

Since I haven’t been able to catch the games and write, I have been spending a lot of time traversing the web in search of intelligent discussion about ultimate.  I have found a few isolated articles that are solid (and I’m considering reblogging a few).  There are also a couple really neat blogs, but I haven’t found many spaces that attract more than a few active members. 

I thought I might turn here for advice or suggestions.  Has anyone found a great place to discuss ultimate on the web?  Is there a secret handshake I need to learn first?  Will cookies be served at the meetings?  Since I’m already throwing a shout out to anyone who might be reading this, please feel free to request specific topics you’d like me to write about.  If the topic seems cool, I’ll try to tackle it.    

Will the Community Fight for Professional Ultimate?

Despite the inaugural pull being less than 24 hours away, the start of AUDL has been a softly spoken secret.  If you are a big fan of ultimate, finding out information about professional ultimate is certainly possible if inconvenient. It worries me because so few people know about the league.  The season hasn’t exactly been, well, marketed…at all.  I even have friends who play ultimate and hadn’t heard about the league.  To stay afloat then, the AUDL is initially going to be relying on the wallets and interest of the ultimate community.  Certainly, the big fans of ultimate have to get on board for the league to succeed.

The problem is that ultimate fans can’t even decide what to make of the AUDL.  They are generally conflicted.  The AUDL has made a number of changes to the rules, and a lot of the best players in the country/world won’t be competing in the AUDL.  Plus, USA Ultimate already offers a competitive platform for the sport. On the surface, it is hard to see the point of another league.

As a result, ultimate players/fans are having trouble getting behind the AUDL.  Some even feel angry or slighted by decisions the AUDL’s has made like adding officials or changing the field. The community’s dissatisfaction and ambivalence may be the AUDL’s death knell.  If the ultimate faithful don’t get on board, who exactly will sit in the seats?  Who will provide value to potential advertisers?  The game hasn’t been marketed to anyone else.

Daniel Lametti has an interesting article about the AUDL over at Slate, and I highly recommend the read.  The article asks the basic question; is America ready for professional Ultimate Frisbee?  I don’t think that question gets to the root of the problem though.  The AUDL hasn’t been pitched to America.  It is too small of a startup for national advertising.  As an initial offering, they are relying on the ultimate faithful, those of us who regularly keep track of what is going on with the sport.

The ultimate community has a choice to make it seems.  There are certainly enough people involved in the sport here in the U.S. to support a professional league with estimates of over 4.7 million players who have tried ultimate.  People that play ultimate as a demographic are also typically more educated and affluent than many other demographics, so we have the money.  Do we want professional ultimate though?

When I played in college, I frequently talked with my teammates about the future when ultimate would be a professionally recognized sport.  Even back then, it was on our minds.  Obviously, we wanted to watch the sport we loved.  We wanted to root for our favorite teams, follow our favorite players, and track their stats.  More than that though, we wanted legitimacy for ultimate, the sport we loved.

After all, Mr. Lametti’s article isn’t wrong.  People outside the ultimate community don’t really take our sport seriously.  It’s true that articles written about ultimate almost always lead in by detailing the rules and creating assurances that the game is more than a bunch of hippies hanging out. It gets under my skin.   Reading stuff like that sucks.  It means the author thinks the readers need that information!  Sadly, those authors are probably right.

Ultimate players pour their hearts and souls into the game.  We play despite people’s perceptions about ultimate because we recognize how amazing it is as a sport.  You’d think we could have moved past irrelevance and mass ignorance by now.  Anyone who has seen the USA Ultimate (previously the UPA) collegiate or club championships in the last decade wouldn’t question for a second the level of skill and athleticism needed to play.  They wouldn’t need to associate hippies with the activity to define it.  People outside the sport don’t get to see those games though.

The problem is systemic.  Americans, as a larger collective, don’t really recognize or pay much attention to a sport unless you can get paid to play.  The mindset seems to be that only professional sports are “real sports”.  Even then, sports get disrespected, but at least they get disrespected as sports.  Ice Hokey doesn’t get as much respect in America as football, but no one thinks Ice Hockey is just a thing you do in between passing a bowl.  In terms of recognition and legitimacy, one highlight on ESPN’s Top Ten has done more for ultimate than more than a decade of high-level competitive play.  It was an amazing play.

Sadly, one play just isn’t enough to change a cultural perception.  On the eve of the AUDL’s opening pull, I should be ecstatic.  I’ve waited for this moment for over 10 years.  I’m not excited or pumped though.  I’m nervous.  Professional Frisbee’s fate now rests in the hands of the people that live and breathe the sport.  We’ve grown up with the UPA/USA Ultimate rules, and many aren’t happy with what the AUDL done to the rules.  There are other choices the AUDL has made like picking franchise locations far from ultimate hotbeds where many of the best players reside, which has upset many people including myself.

Despite those choices, I can only hope the ultimate community is able find a way to support the AUDL.  Ultimate has given us all so much.  It deserves a legacy beyond hippies and border collies.  It deserves legitimacy as a sport.  We too, as a community, deserve that legitimacy, and we now have the power to seize it.  I don’t want another decade to pass by while college players are forced to define ultimate for the people who ask in the framework of other “legitimate” sports, while thrashing their bodies day after day playing one of the most physically demanding sports around.  I want ultimate to be recognized as a legitimate sport for what it is.

The players that step onto the field on this Saturday are fighting for that goal.  Love him or hate him, Brodie Smith gets that this league is about more than personal fame or making money.  It is about giving back to the legacy of a sport that has given so much.  The AUDL is certainly not perfect, but supporting professional ultimate is bigger than officials and stall counts.  The question isn’t whether or not America is ready for professional ultimate.  The question is; will the Ultimate Community Fight for Professional Ultimate?

I know I will.

AUDL Rules: Changes that Hopefully Don’t Change the Game

I lived in Indianapolis up until the beginning of last year, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising that I am very excited about the start of the AUDL season.  For those of you who don’t know, the AUDL is a professional ultimate league that is starting this spring.  There is currently an 8 team roster with one team is based in Indianapolis.  Tons of interesting, controversial, and polarizing information is floating around the ultimate community about the league, but the bottom line for me is that this league is the first shot ultimate has had at being a professionally recognized sport.  I’m really pumped!

Since the first games are still a couple days away, I decided to channel my excitement into writing about the league.  More specifically, I want to talk about the rules.  They are pretty different from USA Ultimate rules, and I noticed browsing the web that no one had really taken time to talk about all the differences in one spot.  Sure, you can get an idea of the rules by watching a scrimmage or listening to what people have to say about the league.  You won’t really be able to find a solid comparison though unless you read all of the USA Ultimate rules and then cross reference them against all the AUDL rules.  That would be long and boring.  I know, because that is what I did.  Now, you can just sit back and read my summary of the key AUDL differences!  Hopefully it is at least slightly less long and boring.

Big Changes

There are some big changes that I want to highlight right off the bat.  These are the more broad sweeping changes and are generally structural departures from the current game.

  • Officials – There are officially officials.  They are not observers.  They call boundaries.  They assess penalties. They make calls.  More important than having someone there to make calls though is having someone who doesn’t.  Players no longer get to blow the whistle.  I think this is going to be a big adjustment for a lot of players used to stoppage of play whenever they felt a foul occurred.  I imagine players are going to struggle with having to continue play despite contact on the mark or in response to aggressive defensive bids.  It will be interesting to see how players adjust.
  • The Field – The field is bigger.  To be more accurate, the field is wider.  USA Ultimate field width is 40 yards.  The AUDL width is 53 and 1/3 yards.  This change seems to be primarily so that the game can be played on existing football fields, but widening the field will certainly provide additional advantages to the offense.  The 80 yard long AUDL field of play is also slightly longer than that of USA Ultimate’s 70 yard field (at least in the 11th edition rules).  Total field lengths are both the same though, with USA Ultimate using end zones that are each 25 yards long as opposed to 20.  Basically, AUDL players will have more real estate horizontally for positioning and swinging but they will have to stretch their goal line to goal line throws a little further.
  • Fouls – AUDL fouls are generally divided into categories by the level of their severity.  Severity matters because, like football, yardage penalties are assessed for violations of the rules.  I find this system interesting because it discourages contact.  Still, yardage penalties, particularly the 5 yard variety, don’t seem like they will have much of an impact on the game.  Ultimate isn’t a linear battle down the field like American football, so I’m not really sure what the short yardage penalties accomplish.
  • Winning Condition – The AUDL has followed the example of many other professional sports by choosing to play timed games rather than score-capped games.  I understand why this change was made.  It makes the sport logistically more predictable.  Spectators have a rough idea of how long a game is going to be, and timed play eliminates the possibility of a really fast game due to a blowout.  Plus, stats for scoring are not capped in this format, which paves the way for scoring records and the potential for players to break those records down the road.

I do worry about this rule though.  Without some sort of “shot clock” component that drives the offense to score, I worry that teams could adopt possession oriented strategies designed to protect a lead and run down the clock.  At the very least, teams with a lead may be less likely to take risks (which usually result in more spectacular/athletic plays).  I suppose this is the case in USA Ultimate sanctioned events anyway though.  Tournament games also have a score cap and a time cap, and teams can implement these strategies to cautiously nurse a lead as hard cap approaches.

Those are the general changes I wanted to highlight.  There are some really fascinating new dynamics that come along with the AUDL, and it will be interesting to see how these big changes affect the sport.

My instincts tell me these changes won’t be as big of a deal as many people are making them out to be.  After all, USA Ultimate has used observers for some time; the responsibilities of observers has increased during that time to including calling lines and travels; and some tournaments have even experimented with the use of officials.  Officials aren’t really that different from observers, and I honestly think the sport has been moving in the direction of non-player officiating as it has become more competitive anyway.

Similarly, the larger field will certainly impact play, but there is already an awful lot of space on an ultimate field.  A little more won’t change the game too much.

As I discussed, yardage penalties for fouls probably won’t be a big deal – with the possible exception of big 20 yard penalties for personal misconduct or flagrant fouls.  Like in soccer, negative net yardage plays are both acceptable and encouraged in many situations.  Offense is more about relative field position in ultimate and soccer than it is about being 5 or 10 yards further up field.

Even switching from score capped games to time capped games probably won’t have a substantial impact on the sport.  It seems like a big change and philosophically maybe it is.  Still, competitive games are currently time capped with a hard cap and a soft cap.   The real difference is just that the timer now artificially ends the game regardless of play.  In effect, the only substantial change is that the AUDL will have last second throws and catches, and the last team to score may not necessarily win.

On the surface, all these changes appear to dynamically shift the face of ultimate, but I don’t think that is going to happen.  Ultimate is more than who makes the calls or how big the field is.  The AUDL will still be the sport we’ve grown to love.

Small Changes

Whether the AUDL will still be the sport we’ve all grown to love or not to me hinges on the smaller rule changes.  There are a bunch of them.  In truth, the AUDL drafted the rules very differently on the whole than USA Ultimate.  I want to draw your attention to a few of those specific rules that could make for big changes to the sport as it goes pro.

  • Double teaming – You can do it.  It is legal, and it is weird.  The scrimmage I linked to above has a few examples of this new rule in action.  Basically, you can have 2 people marking the thrower, within a disc space.  Two people on the thrower can block out a lot of field.  This creates a whole lot of opportunities for new zone coverage and defensive strategy.  It also increases the need for quality up field hammer throws.  The double mark also places additional pressure on the thrower, especially when coupled with….
  • A Seven Second Stall Count – Three less seconds really puts pressure on the thrower to make good decisions fast.  Your cutters have to time their cuts better, and you have less time to set up a dump.  Still, it has been pointed out to me that seven seconds counted by an impartial official is probably equivalent to most ten second stall counts in today’s competitive ultimate environment.  The bigger deal really isn’t the actual time you are given.  It is that the stall count is silent.  Players are going to have to develop internal clocks to avoid the stall in the AUDL.
  • Thrower Traveling – Traveling can result in a turnover, if you are deemed to be a “thrower” at the time of the travel (the official determines when a receiver becomes a thrower and there is a separate less severe penalty for receiver travelling).  This is a very interesting rule because it has the same problem as travelling in basketball.  No one wants to enforce a rule that is difficult to call and has a severe penalty.  It will be interesting to see if/how this rule impacts the game.

*tangent alert*

I want to talk more about this travelling rule for a second.  Possession in ultimate is more important than it is in basketball.  Yet, referees in basketball are hesitant to call traveling.  They are so hesitant in fact that the rule has slowly eroded over time allowing players more and more freedom to walk all over the court.  Allowing jump stops, letting players palm the side of the ball, and increasing the number of steps a player can take after the dribble to two are all examples of this erosion.  The rule is so withered that people don’t even pay attention to a player’s pivot foot.  Watch a game some time and you will see what I mean.

My point?  How can we expect observers not be hesitant/avoid calling a travel with the in game implications of the call being so large?  Watch some collegiate or club level ultimate games and you will see what I mean.  A lot of elite level players pick up and move their pivot foot all the time.  Sometimes, it isn’t even while they are in the act throwing or slipping.  They just….move it!  Observers are often responsible for making those calls.  They do a pretty good job, but they also let some stuff go.  They also know that making the call won’t cause the offensive team to lose possession.  Still, they miss a lot of calls – primarily when the travel won’t affect the play.  Like when, on stall two, the thrower picks up his pivot foot and moves it slightly to the right. It was a travel, but it didn’t hurt anything.  In the AUDL, every travel will affect the play because it changes possession.  This will either result in weird turnovers on stall two or more likely in the officials not calling travel and letting throwers ignore the suggestion of a pivot foot.

Personally, in future seasons I think they should consider taking away 20 or 30 yards from the spot of the travel and making sure if a travel occurs on a throw that the throw is complete first.  If you take away the disc on a travel, you take away your officials’ ability to comfortably make the call.

*tangent off* ….back to the list

  • Picks – The changes to picks are primarily in the language.  Without getting bogged down in a word for word comparison, there is a little more leeway given to the offense in the AUDL concerning picks.  The goal of the change seems to be aimed at preventing defensive players from positioning themselves in a manner which would create a pick when the offensive player cuts.  I only really mention this change because it shows a lot of forethought on the part of the AUDL.  Under the USA Ultimate rules, picks are usually fairly innocuous calls.  If a pick is called, the call itself rarely has a negative effect on the offense.  Either the play was unaffected by the call, the thrower misses a throw to the picked player anyway, or the player who set a pick catches the disc and resets the play.  The AUDL assigned 10 yard penalties for each instance of a pick, so they needed to make sure that defensive players wouldn’t abuse the rule.
  • Time outs – Time outs are now a much bigger deal!  The rules change two major things about timeouts.  First, timeouts reset the stall count, and second, you can substitute during a timeout.  I really like these changes.  Timeouts in the AUDL have many additional strategic applications.  Sure, you can still use one to set up an iso and punch it in at the goal line, but you can also use one during a long point in windy conditions to get a fresh line on the field, or to put your O line on after you D line comes up with a big stop.  A thrower can even use it as a get out of jail free card and avoid a penalty.
  • Injury Time outs – This change is interesting because it isn’t really clear how the rules will be practically applied.  Players do not call injuries officials do.  The rules say that “during an injury timeout the health and safety of the injured player are of primary concern”(emphasis added) and also that the official should stop play immediately when the injured player’s team gains possession.  The rules never specifically allow for a play stoppage at any other time.  Based on this information, it seems that there may be a requirement that players tough out an injury if they are on D when it occurs.  Still, there are catchall rules that allow officials to use discretion generally, and calling injury timeouts at other times may ultimately fall into that category.
  • Disc Brushing – This is the last rule change I want to discuss because it is the only one I don’t understand.  There are certainly more changes, but I think I’ve covered most of the significant ones.  I want to talk about the disc brushing rules in the AUDL because one aspect of the rules is very odd.  In general, the rules are just like the USA Ultimate rules.  You can’t intentionally brush the disc to yourself to gain yards.  However, there is a weird thrower rule which is tacked into a section discussing receivers:

It is legal to tip/brush your own throw. However, if after a tip/brush, one is the first player to touch the disc, then it is deemed a tip/brush to oneself and it is a travel.

So, that is odd.  The wording makes it seem like you can throw the disc and then alter its course once by tipping or brushing it like you would when making a kickpass. **edit** Suncho pointed out, and rightfully so, that USA Ultimate and AUDL both allow the thrower to brush the disc after it is thrown.  I still think it is odd, but it is part of the rules for both leagues.  That means kickpasses and intentionally serving up a throw and then brushing it are legal. **edit** I can also think of some crazy scenarios where the thrower is able to chase down his own throw and then brush it to another player before anyone else touches it but that is highly circumstantial.

There is one other problem with the AUDL though.  “Tipping the disc for the purpose of evading a defender is a travel.”  Even in the above highly unlikely scenario, I can’t imagine a situation where the thrower wouldn’t be trying to evade a defender when they eventually get to their hovering throw and try to tip it.

So, when can you tip the disc?  Most intentional tips (not that they happen often) are either to keep the disc inbounds or to evade a defender.  So, you can tip it to keep it in bounds but not as a strategy to get around a defender?  What if someone is defending the tip that keeps the disc in play?   The whole thing is just really odd.  The only option the rules clearly leave open for tipping is to brush or throw and then brush a disc to an open player when no one is around.  I really hope they fix or clarify this rule.

If you ignore my rant about disc brushing rules, the AUDL has gone to a lot of trouble to make rule changes.  It is pretty clear that many “smaller” specific rule changes that the AUDL has made will have a bigger impact on changing the way the sport is played at a professional level than the broad changes like adding officials.  It will be interesting to see in what ways the dynamics of ultimate affected by these changes.  Still, I’m excited and hopeful that the new rules won’t detract the overall feel and spirit of the game.  That way, I can just focus on how awesome it is that a professional ultimate league exists.

Paved by Pagan Plastic: The Penultimate Ultimate Path

Each game as I step onto the field, a war rages within me – the battle between what once was and what is.  The disc flies high.  Ancient demons lure me, promising unmitigated glory.  Their siren’s song beckons.  It takes all I have to resist.  The thrower’s eyes meet mine.  The disc spins.  I chase the wind….

At least, that is how I imagine the omniscient line would be delivered in some Hollywood by some star like: Keanu Reeves, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or more likely Buddy.  Fortunately, I don’t think I have to worry about my story popping up on the silver screen, even showcasing a golden retriever.  I’m just a guy who loves ultimate.  The best I can strive for is to tell my story in black and white.

I grew up in Northwest Indiana.  In my hometown, ultimate was just another adjective.  All disc sports were encapsulated under the moniker Frisbee©, and most people assumed a dog was a necessary requirement for play.  Luckily, I ran cross country on a team with connections to distant lands.  Alumni runners returned from exotic locations of higher learning such as Greencastle, West Lafayette and Bloomington spinning captivating tales of glory, chivalry, and athleticism all distilled into one word, “ultimate”.  The name alone piqued our interest.  Eventually, we acquired a secondhand disc, and I got my first taste of this mysterious foreign delicacy.  I was hooked immediately.

If you’ve been to Northern Indiana, it should not surprise you that introduction of a round plastic disc to the location was a fascinating alteration to our ecosystem.  The disc had the immediate distinction of being more interesting than corn and grass.  Watching it hover and glide through the air was even more spellbinding than the sight of a sleeping cow knocked from a standing position onto its side.  The disc was indeed so wondrous that in years to come it became a talisman of sorts for our team.

This was lucky for us.  You see, runners desperately need a talisman.  In the realm of sports, most competitors can rally behind the silhouette of a ball, a racquet, or other piece of equipment.  Runners don’t have equipment.  They just have shoes.  Everyone wears shoes.  Not surprisingly, footwear made a poor symbol for our teenage identity.

The disc on the other hand was a round hovering emblem of grace and power.  We became so attached to our totem that it began to consume and reshape us in its image.  To be sure, we were still distance runners at our core, but were warped and twisted.  Often, long scheduled runs would transform into treks to remote field locations where we could practice our dark art of disc.  Divining into the disc’s curving depth, we conjured endlessly; summoning scenes that rivaled the grand stories handed down by our forerunners.

I was an early and avid convert of Disc.  Ultimate allowed me to take advantage of my athleticism and mentality in a way distance running could not.  I was never more than a fair distance runner at the best of times.  My twitchy energy, nervous stomach, and finicky joints manifested themselves in mediocre race day performances.

Ultimate felt tranquil in comparison.  There was no gun blasting a start and no tedious tracking of splits and places.  Disc allowed me to center my attention and lose myself in the flow of the sport.  I wasn’t driven by an invisible internalized clock.  When the disc was in the air, my head wasn’t occupied counting numbers.  I could lose myself in the simple joy of chasing plastic.

Unfortunately, my teammates and I existed on our own island.  The governing body of the UPA did not have sovereignty over rural Indiana.  Our ultimate only existed in the arms, legs, hearts, and minds of a small group of young men.  Lacking an authority to consult about rules, we filled in the gaps as best we could.  In truth, the acts in which we engaged could scarcely be called ultimate.

It was wild, uncivilized, and pagan.  Our sessions were brutal and lacked nuance.  Impact in the air was common and encouraged.  There were no fouls or picks.  We also allowed the thrower to move laterally along the field (None of us had a useful forehand and, being unaware of the rules for pivoting, our apocrypha allowed the thrower to get around a mark).  Since throwers could easily move and huck downfield, this rule in particular was responsible for spectacular and bone shattering midair jousting battles.  We typically played on an enormous field, and we were completely unaware of the concept of subbing, as we did not even know how many players were supposed to be on a side.

This was my introduction to Ultimate.  Glory and violence proved more important than possession or precision.  Few Ultimate players would ever participate in this sort of game (and I wouldn’t encourage it), but I am grateful to have learned in this environment.  The simplicity of our game kept me engaged, the brutality kept me always poised, and the emphasis on the spectacular plays honed valuable skills like sure hands, aggressive defense, and powerful throws.

In the years to come, I was taught most things I learned about Ultimate before college were very wrong.  I’d discover the sacred rules and struggle to bring my existing practices in line with dogma.  I developed new throws, avoided contact, and always set my pivot foot.  I committed to the “spirit of the game”.  There was still glory to be had, but it was muted and culled.  Savagery gave way to civility.

Eventually, I made pilgrimage to my hometown bringing the sanctified texts and precepts back to a people in need of order.  A few other missionaries from the old days of distance running were preaching the word as well.  There were many converts in those years, and the new religion spread like wildfire in drought.  True Ultimate began to shine in my hometown.

Today, there is a small group there that communes regularly.  The disc shines high above their game, a beacon of glowing white that confirms they follow the true path.  It is easy to recognize that these people have been redeemed.  Yet, I know keenly what price paid in that conversion.  Our pagan rights were flawed and barbaric, but part of me can’t help but be saddened by what is lost.  I have been playing ultimate now for over 15 year, but the games I first played will always hold a special place in my heart.  Pagan plastic will always be a part of me.