The Offside Trap

by | July 23, 2015, 3:24pm 20

The dust has settled after a momentous World U23 Ultimate championships in London. WFDF and the English lads provided a masterclass in tournament organization. However, beyond the buttery biscuits and green glowing fields I found a sour taste lingering in my mouth. I uncovered a stinging snare clutched onto the fabrics of our sport.

Before I dive in any further we must first look at, what some consider, the cornerstone of ultimate, Spirit of the Game and the rules that bind it. A reading from the gospel according to WFDF:

1.2. It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for breaches, but rather a method for resuming play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach.

It’s not a phrase you’ll find in the rulebooks of soccer, rugby or even quidditch, but this magical verse gives our sport its true essence. Nevertheless, this rule seems to fall into a bottomless paradoxical pit when we examine what happens when a team frequently infringe on offsides or time limits. Two sins that had carelessly slipped under the radar until the arrival of the lemony dressed game advisors.

Offsides

A6.1. On the first instance of an offside violation for a team, or if the violation is contested, the pull must be repeated. The offence must signal readiness within fifteen (15) seconds of the violation call, and the pull must be released within thirty (30) seconds.

A6.2. For subsequent offside violations by a team.

A6.2.1. If the receiving team is offside: the receiving team must start with the disc at the midpoint of the end zone they are defending, after players set up and a check is performed.

A6.2.2. If the pulling team is offside: the receiving team starts with the disc at midfield, after players set up and a check is performed…

…no, not buried treasure but the dreaded reverse brick mark!

...no, not buried treasure but the dreaded reverse brick mark!

Time Limits

A5.4.1.4. If the offence fails to signal readiness in time the opposition should call a time limit violation. This violation must be called prior to the pull.

A5.4.1.5. On the first instance of a time limit violation, or if the violation is contested, no penalties apply. The offence must signal readiness within fifteen (15) seconds of the violation call, and the pull must be released within thirty (30) seconds of the violation call.

A5.4.1.6. For subsequent time limit violations the defence should assess a time out against the offence.

A5.4.1.7. If the offence has no time outs left they must start with the disc at the midpoint of the end zone they are defending, after players set up and a check is performed.

A5.4.2.2. If the defence fails to pull in time the opposition should call a time limit violation. This violation must be called before the receiving team touches the disc.

A5.4.2.3. On the first instance of a time limit violation, or if the violation is contested, no penalties apply. The offence must signal readiness within fifteen (15) seconds of the violation call, and the pull must be released within thirty (30) seconds of the violation call.

A5.4.2.4. For subsequent time violations the offence should assess a time out against the defence.

A5.4.2.5. If the defence has no time-outs left, the receiving team must start with the disc at midfield, after players set up and a check is performed…

…the middle mark or the belly button of the field as I like to call it.

The middle mark or the belly button of the field as I like to call it

As it’s written, breach of these rules lands a harsh penalty. Starting in the middle of your own endzone or having the opposition set up at the halfway mark seems as if it’s providing too much advantage considering the infraction and the potential gain of such infraction. Now don’t get me wrong, I loathe how often teams stray offside but we’re not exactly seeing players sprint halfway down the field before a pull goes off. As such, I don’t believe penalisation in this matter is the answer. A bit more encouragement and education to enforce these rules would go a long way.

If the defence gets a good pull off and starts sprinting down the field only to jog back because they strayed offside surely that’s the appropriate redo of the situation no matter how many times in occurs. Similarly, I’d be happy for teams to lose timeouts for time limit violations but a yardage penalty doesn’t seem requisite with the infraction.

Unfortunately, in the game of ultimate, we occasionally see intentional breaking of the rules. Bumping, fast counting, stepping into the mark and double teaming are all classics but none of these infringements will ever land you with a yardage penalty, no matter how many times you disobey them. If you agree with a yardage penalty for offsides, why not for subsequent bumps on the mark or other fouls?

Overall, I think we need to trust Spirit of the Game a bit more. Players aren’t gaming the pull system right now and the penalties assessed for these infractions go far beyond what’s necessary. In fact, these penalties affect the game far more than the infraction itself, where as the penalties associated with a dangerous play are practically non-existent. If we’re holding players to a certain SotG standard for dangerous plays (in that players aren’t intentionally creating a dangerous play and thus should not be penalized severely) then the same must apply to offsides.

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  • Almost a grandmaster

    Interesting. Those penalties don’t seem harsh at all to me, especially since they’re only imposed for subsequent infractions and not right off the bat (giving room for unintentionality to be reigned in a bit after the first unintentional violation). These penalties seem rather to merely attempt some classic operant conditioning and human nature behavior control. If I had to judge the harshness, I think taking away a timeout is technically less “could have happened absent the infraction” as both the reverse brick (for a great pull) and the midfield (for a poor pull) are actually possible in game-like situations, as opposed to one team getting to call more timeouts than another.

    The trick, in my opinion, is having a ruleset that allows for unintentional infractions gracefully while dealing with intentional rulebreaking effectively. I suppose in that, I disagree with the rule about it being “trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules” considering I know for certainty that SOME players do intentionally break them (former teammates, and yes, I’m a Northamerican). I rather feel that it’s 1) “assumed that the average player will not intentionally break the rules” and that it’s further 2) “understood that some player might make a poor decision to intentionally break the rules”. And thus, the harshness of penalties don’t come into play until some benefit of doubt and fair warning has been communicated.

  • cranky rabbit

    You’re taking the additional rules and comparing them to the basic rules. As appendix A says:

    “The intention of these rules is to provide additions to the basic rules in order to create a smoothrunning,
    spectator-friendly, well-resourced elite sports event”

    So it’s not just about you and your opposition. It’s about the sport and the spectators too. The outcome to the game might be the same without the penalty but the experience for those watching is very different.

  • Sam Wood

    How hard is it to stay onside?

    • Liam Grant

      How hard it is to count ten seconds? Most players seem to be unable to do it. The main point is whether or not the penalisation of teams for time limits and offsides coincides with the overall spirit of the game. And if so should there be penalizations for other infringements?

      • Sam Wood

        I’ll take the bait.

        The penalization does not occur until after the second instance of the same infraction. Given the initial warning and the ease with which one can maintain an onside position, the penalties are appropriate.

        This isn’t like a gameplay foul where maximum effort easily puts one afoul of the rules. Stiffer sanctions for easy-to-follow rules, e.g., offsides, makes sense.

        • Liam Grant

          I see your point and thanks for taking the bait. I still feel that it goes beyond the ethos of spirit of the game. There’s nothing wrong with just having a re-pull in my eyes.

  • Liam Kelly

    the whole system is designed to (1) encourage people to be onside, and (2) educate people to (a) not be offside, and (b) how much of an advantage teams can gain by being offside.

  • Liam Kelly

    “penalties associated with a dangerous play are practically non-existent” these penalties do exist. Players can be removed from the Game by a tournament official, during a game. Or banned retrospectively from the next game or the whole tournament by the TRG (tournament rules group).

    There is no progressing penalty system for this because being dangerous and being offside are two very different things. There is no card system or anything like that.

    • Liam Grant

      I’m aware they exist, hence the word practically. There was about 3 rugby tackles in the U23 open final and no one was penalised.

      • Liam Kelly

        it was dealt with. I’m soon to publish an explanation of who called that spirit time out! =)

  • Harry

    We started watching these frequently at worlds. If we considered it an issue, we informed the other team first. More often than not, the other team sideline would observe us in joining to see if their team was offside (where we would both be very respectful – if it was very close, e.g. an arm over the line on pull, we didn’t call, as they were certainly trying to obey). I believe only once in the tournament did we make a double offside call. As such, the issue of penalties was a minor one. It really had no negative impact on spirit overall, just ensure that a rule was kept to.

    Offside, unlike most other rules, really does require someone not on pitch to call, as it’s impossible to know for certain while standing at your own endzone. Once we got used to it, it really wasn’t difficult to keep to. There was no loss of trust, just the knowledge that an external figure is needed for this call (unlike in all other calls, where the observations of those on pitch should be enough).

  • Uzoma O.

    I’m sorry, but how hard is it to stay onsides? Been playing the game for years and the only place where this is frequently spotted is during pickup. Once you get to well organized tournaments, it’s almost an unwritten rule to stay behind the line until the disc is up.

    • Jeff

      It is literally a written rule

      • Uzoma O.

        Yes. I’m saying that if you’re having a hard time staying onside then you deserve the penalties…..

  • Eric

    If my memory is correct, there was an issue about time/offside violation at this year’s USAU college natties. A team with a small lead and hard cap fast approaching was intentionally offsides to waste time and ensure hard cap would be reached prior to their opponents ability to score.

    • Matt

      This clause in the rules is clearly inappropriate for high levels of play: “It is assumed that no player will intentionally violate the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for inadvertent infractions”. I think it should be amended: “however, clearly intentional violations of the rules result in severe penalties.”

      A team intentionally violates the rules to game the system? They forfeit.

    • Sam Wood

      Yes, this came up. Observers are empowered to give a blue card (TMF) to the head coach of a team intentionally delaying late in a game.

  • K West

    Yes, you have to have penalties and acknowledge the person that violates
    the spirit. The same goes for aggressive and dangerous play. I wasn’t happy with the U.S play against Canada. They won in score only.

  • Greg Sparrow

    I may hate the width of the field and the time clock, since it doesn’t allow for comebacks, but this is one of the areas that the AUDL and MLU have got it right. I also like the yardage penalty for fouls on the handler and picks. You rarely see repeat disc space and contact fouls. Nothing slows down a WFDF game like watching two guys discuss a call for 2 minutes, which you know is going to back to the thrower. I like self-officiating, but it doesn’t work in a competitive setting.

  • Nate W

    Why does it not make more sense for a pulling team in violation after the first warning to take the yardage penalty? Their next pull from middle of their own endzone or from the back line of the endzone? Receiving teams in violation start on the front of their own goal line.

    Seems like a fair & simple adjustment. The article makes sense that the penalties do not fit the crime per say.