Supported by teams like Seattle Sockeye, on November 12th, USAU announced Colin McIntyre as the winner of the At-Large seat election, beating out incumbent Josh Seamon, of the UltiVerse, 409 votes to 320.
Colin has seen Ultimate from many perspectives. Currently an assistant coach for the University of Michigan’s men’s team, magnUM, he’s played league, competed in both the Club and College Championships and even played at the World Championships this year. A certified observer, Colin began playing Ultimate during high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and later found himself playing competitively at the University of Michigan. He finished up his fifth year of eligibility studying law at the University of Minnesota.
As a USAU member, Colin has been more active than most, often submitting proposals to the Board of Directors and communicating some frustrations with the organization to work towards a better player experience. Now, as a newly elected Board member, he has the power to make some of those serious changes a reality.
Skyd Magazine got in touch with Colin to find out more about his positions and what he hopes to accomplish under his newly elected seat.
I think a lot of people don’t even realize what the Board of Directors does. What does the BoD do?
Colin: The Board sets policy and makes high-level strategy decisions for the organization, and is responsible for hiring the CEO. The Board meets twice a year to approve the budget, allocate resources to different programs, and decide on proposals. Members of the Board also participate on committees throughout the year involving some oversight of staff. It is within this framework that the Board works to best serve the interests of the membership.
Just a quick example of scope. If you wanted the official observer uniform to be black and white striped jerseys, it would likely be the USAU staff that decided on your proposal. However, if you wanted to introduce referees to the USAU series, that would likely be a Board-level decision.
What made you decide to run for Board of Directors? Why did you want to be elected?
Colin: I have been very active over the past several years as a not-fully-satisfied member. There are a lot of areas for improvement that I have identified in terms of how the organization is run, how events are put on, and a whole host of policy and implementation issues. In hopes of getting these issues resolved, I have submitted proposals to the USAU Board and staff, and worked with the organization to try to make improvements. Through that process, I have found that it is possible to make one’s voice heard as a member, and it is possible to instigate change in the organization. At the same time, it is not as easy as it could be. My primary reasons for wanting to be elected to the Board were to 1) more effectively instigate improvements to the sport, and 2) help encourage and make it easier for other motivated members to be heard.
Less than 1% of USA Ultimate members voting in this Board of Directors election. What does that tell you about the players in this sport and the role of USAU?
Colin: I believe that a lot of players are somewhat indifferent to the operation of USAU. Maybe not too indifferent to complain on online forums, but certainly too indifferent to vote, or to otherwise get involved in promoting changes. I know many players are also preoccupied during October, and may choose not to vote if they don’t have time to familiarize themselves with the candidates. I am sure others simply forget to vote.
In terms of USAU, an overarching goal of mine is to help the organization engage and serve a larger portion of its membership. My election-specific proposal is already in the works to improve voter turnout through more effective announcements, reminders, and voting opportunities. If members feel more connected with the organization, they are more likely to participate in the elections. As a practical matter, if members receive adequate notice and a couple of reminders as the voting deadline approaches, they are also more likely to vote.
One of your candidate points was an interest in running experimental events to evolve the sport. What do those events look like?
Colin: These events can take a lot of different forms. First is an entirely organizer-driven event, with USAU offering assistance in data collection in a way that helps standardize feedback across events. Coordination of the details of experiments with staff ahead of time is ideal. I would like to see more of this type of event. This year at the Motown Throwdown, for example, we experimented with field dimensions (width, plus depth of end zone). Second are events where USAU plays a larger role, by subsidizing an observer crew to implement experimental procedures, for example. I think this second type is valuable, but should be used as a sample, off of which organizers can base their own events of the first type.
The types of events can vary. Showcase games and formats, tournaments, intra-Sectional leagues, intra-Regional leagues, experimental rules, experimental officiation, etc.. There is room for a lot of experimentation, but it is not feasible for USAU to fund, organize, or subsidize all of it. It is feasible for USAU to play a role as the national governing body to help coordinate and standardize these experiments and collect feedback from the participants.
You mentioned in your USAU candidate interview that you’d like to run a D2 Nationals. While that may have inherent value do you think it would be successful? How would you sell a D2 tournament in a way that convinces teams to cover travel expenses to get there?
Colin: I think that we have a large membership, many of whom are interested in competing at the highest level of their ability. I would be extremely surprised if there were not 16-20 teams nationwide (per division) that were not interested in competing for a National Championship of some kind. I think the promise of competitive games, awesome fields, a well-run event, and some media coverage is an easy sell to attract a lot of teams. Make the event the best event of the year for these teams, and they’ll be happy to attend. This model applies not only to D2 Nationals, but also to ordinary Regionals and Sectionals events. Teams like to attend great events, and they are willing to pay to travel to get there. Look at Emerald City Classic and the Chesapeake Open as two prime examples of this phenomenon.
You talked about Sectional and Regional coordinators and wanting to encourage them to focus on doing a better job (as opposed to a split commitment of playing at the same time for example). How will you incentivize those positions?
Colin: First of all, I think there are quite a few Sectional and Regional events that are simply bad events, and not because the coordinators want to provide a bad experience to the players. But that’s what happens. I think USAU is in a great position to provide additional resources and guidelines to help coordinators run good events. So first, establishing standards on what is acceptable in terms of field quality, tournament location, field setup, tournament organization, setting priorities in decision-making, etc. Next, provide resources on how to secure good fields, how to run a good event, how to attract media attention, etc. These duties sort of split between the tournament director and the coordinator (when two separate persons exist).
Secondly, I think it makes sense to pay coordinators who do a good job. Players do not have the right to demand a coordinator’s volunteer efforts at no cost. Charging $1-$2 per player for a coordinator to organize a great event is not unreasonable. Authorizing this fee as part of the budget would also create an incentive for Sectional Coordinators to attract new teams. It also may help attract Coordinators who will not be participating in the event (ideal). If possible, it would be great to mandate that coordinators not participate in the event. Regardless, the fee should be contingent on meeting a set of criteria designed to ensure a great event. There are undoubtedly some implementation issues to work out, but I think the basic model is sound, and is worth pursuing (and refining).
One last comment, I think we should encourage Regional Coordinators to explore hosting different divisions at separate sites. By aiming for a site that has 30 fields to host 50+ teams, we unnecessarily limit our pool of available sites. Each individual coordinator should prioritize finding a site with awesome fields capable of hosting one division, and then if a terrific site happens to be available that can host all three, that’s a bonus. But set the starting task as finding a site with 8 fields, and you’re far likely to have Regionals held on a site that not only has great fields, but is also in a convenient location, and with a local tournament staff that can comfortably handle the size of the event.
You join a strong force of current and new Board members including Gwen Ambler and newly elected Mike Payne. Many have experiences playing at many different levels and seeing the sport from a variety of angles. What do you bring to the Board that’s unique?
Colin: I think I overlap and sometimes underwhelm other Board members in terms of having a law degree and many years of elite and non-elite playing experience. I also join the Board as “the new guy.” With that in mind, I’d say that the primary unique asset that I bring to the Board may be the fresh perspective of an ordinary member who has been very interested in how the organization has been operating for several years. I think that I also bring a unique level of interest and energy in identifying and addressing areas of improvement for the organization and the sport. I have been very active in the proposal process, and I look forward to joining the ranks of John Terry and Mike Payne, who have stood out with a couple others as frequent submitters of proposals on the Board..
Where would you like to see Ultimate in 5 years?
Colin: I would like to see every tournament in the country (sanctioned or not) meeting some minimum standards in terms of safety and professionalism. In my view, a base requirement is that games are played on lined athletic fields, with adequate spacing buffer lines marked. Ample water and bathroom facilities should be a given.
I think that improving the quality of events by ensuring that they meet certain standards will help the sport in a variety of ways. First, it will help attract new players from leagues and elsewhere. Second, it will help attract positive media attention. The chain of benefits from these two things alone is enormous.
More specifically, I think it is reasonable to strive to make Regionals big events with local media coverage and spectators. Every Regionals game should have officials. Regionals could very easily be a premier event, and a 5-year deadline for this transition is more than reasonable. Sectionals should also provide an excellent experience to all participants, and is another good opportunity to attract media attention. Adding additional competitive opportunities (possibly tiered) to the membership is also something that can be accomplished in a 5 year deadline.
Colin: Ultimate has come a long way in the last 10 years. I think the sport can develop far more than that in the next decade. I would like to see Ultimate offered by local Rec & Ed departments. In my view, that would be a great mark of achievement. More Varsity high school teams, as well as a more-developed Youth Club season and series.
Colin: Two words. Jump stilts. Just kidding. 30 years is a long time. Hard to say. Thirty-some years ago, people were playing Ultimate in the Rose Bowl, with goals worth 3 and a “hot spot” in the end zone worth 5. But on the local level, I’d hope to be on part with soccer in terms of local youth and adult leagues (recreational, competitive, etc.). At the highest levels, I think semi-professional or professional competition is a reasonable goal, but we’re getting beyond my expertise.
USA Ultimate does a lot. They organize the official tournament series in youth, college and club; they work to grow youth ultimate; they work to sell the sport to a more mainstream audience through sponsorship; they run a magazine, etc. What do you see is the role of USA Ultimate? Are they the league organizers? Are they the player’s union? Are they the media?
Colin: This is a great question. I think it is sometimes unclear exactly what USAU’s role is. As a result, members’ expectations are all over the map, which can lead to disappointment.
As the national governing body and the face of the sport, I think USAU is in the best position to work to gain national media coverage and corporate sponsorships, and generally to promote the sport on a national level. of course, USAU runs its many Championship Series, and should strive to set the standard for great events, in terms of safety, organization, professionalism, etc. Beyond that, I think USAU is in a position to support local organizers by developing and providing a centralized source of informational resources. USAU can also help facilitate collaboration between local groups. However, I think it is important to recognize that, as with most sports’ governing bodies, there are limits to the degree to which USAU can play a direct role at a local level.
What the #1 tangible action on your agenda for Ultimate and why?
Colin: #1 action on my agenda is to make sure that every USAU Series tournament provides an excellent experience for the participants. Whether a team ends its season at Sectionals, Regionals, or the Championships, it should be the best tournament of the season for that team. Establishing a standard for all tournaments to measure against is an important role of USAU. In addition, this is a great way to serve the membership and attract new members. Not all Series tournaments have been great in the past, so it is critical to make the changes necessary to make future Series tournaments terrific and reestablish USAU’s reputation in this regard.
Does Spirit of the Game conflict with the viability of the growth of elite Ultimate into a mainstream market?
Colin: No. Sportsmanship exists in all sports. Tennis is a good example of a sport with an elevated level of sportsmanship, not dissimilar to Ultimate. Tennis instructors stress sportsmanship and fair self-officiating from very early on in players’ development, not dissimilar to Ultimate. There are certainly players in tennis and Ultimate who struggle to maintain good sportsmanship in competitive settings, though, and having neutral third parties present to resolve disputes is very helpful. Still, I don’t think that having officials conflicts with Spirit of the Game, and I have found that having officials helps promote sportsmanship in the games that I have played in (mostly observed, one reffed).
Should Observers make more active calls? What calls should they be making?
Colin: Yes, eventually. I think it makes sense to have Observers call active travels and count the stall and call up/down. The Observers are neutral, have a superior view on most travels, and can provide uniformity in the game on these calls. For me, the question is not so much what calls Observers should be making as it is when they should start making them. In my experience, there are implementation issues and kinks in the system to work out in all of these active calls. Having 4 observers resolves most of the issues, but I think continued experimentation is warranted to help refine the system and adjust Observer training to help prepare Observers for their added duties.
The sport of Ultimate needs ____________.
Colin: Jump stilts. Also, the sport of Ultimate needs motivated individuals to continue to step up as local organizers and grow the sport at a local level. As the sport grows, we have an ever-increasing demand for new coaches, new observers, tournament staff, tournament organizers, league organizers, and any number of other roles to be filled. I personally am following the lead of many players and organizers whom I admire, in helping organize local clinics and workshops to grow the sport in my area. I think this is the best way for the average player to help advance the sport.
Thanks to Colin for his time in answering our questions. Skyd Magazine wishes him the best and looks forward to the impact he’ll make on the sport.
Feature Photo by Perry Nacionales – http://www.mapgeek.org/