Pro-Ultimate Lives: CT Constitution Combine

by | January 18, 2012, 4:25am 0

Among the attendees was 2007 Callahan winner and 2-time College National Champion, Dan Heijmen (PoNY/SubZero and Wisconsin)

Any doubt that the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) was a legitimate enterprise quickly vanished as I passed through the revolving door at the Kaiser Annex-Bubble at Central Connecticut State University last Sunday.  More than 60 ultimate players from Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts, filled the space. As I surveyed the landscape, I realized that the likes of Dan Heijmen (PoNY/SubZero and Wisconsin), Brent Anderson, (Bodhi/Ironside), and Jack Marsh (PoNY/Subzero and Wisconsin) were not just names on an email list.  As I made my way through the melee of flying discs and warm ups towards Frisbee Central, I couldn’t help but assemble what I thought were the 25 best players in the room.  Before I could even set my coat down, I realized that an entertaining and high quality team was well within the realm of possibility.

John Korber, the man behind the success of District 5, is the General Manager of the CT Constitution

But that was just the beginning.  Once I made it over to John Korber (General Manager, CT Constitution) to exchange pleasantries, I noticed a dozen or so business types in a discussion circle using words you do not hear at ultimate tournaments very often, “monetize”, “revenue”, “small markets”, and “fiscal quarter” to name a few.  It was then that I was overcome with the feeling that this bubble held more of an NFL combine vibe than just another team tryout.  The power that is typically held by the athlete was now with the league management and talent that once seemed so instrumental to ultimate’s existence was now boiled down to series of numbers: ID, 40-time, vert, 300-yd shuttle time, etc…

From a logistical perspective, the CT Constitution Combine paralleled Buffalo’s.  Players were divided into 10 groups of 6 and shuffled through varying stations to assess athleticism (40-yard dash, vertical, 300-yard shuttle), throwing ability (break mark and throwing drills), and basic ultimate skills (3 on 3).  There were 2 additional stations that definitely highlighted a departure from your typical ultimate clinic, discussion groups entitled: “How do we get people to games?” and “How do we get them to come back once they’ve seen a game?”  These probed participants for ideas on how to get and keep butts in seats, arguably the biggest challenge of any venture of this kind.  And it is these two issues that occupy the primary focus of the AUDL at this point.

From my perspective player buy-in is not an issue.  I think Will Murphy (District 5 and Tufts) said it best when I asked him why he came out, “It’s a chance to play professional ultimate!”  One could argue that the sport’s best may not be represented, but most paying fans would not know the difference.  The rules of the game are still in flux, but an owners meeting in Detroit this weekend (January 20th-22nd) will likely sort out the fine details, at least for Season 1.  Teams of referees are currently being assembled by GMs and head refs from each team, and while not all candidates are familiar with ultimate, most have significant referee experience with similar sports (eg, soccer and basketball).  With these issues well in hand, the only thing between the AUDL and success is generating and maintaining a fan base.

Participants like Jack Marsh and Kevin Riley (PoNY/SubZero and Wisconsin) provided input on how to attract and maintain an AUDL fan base.

In appreciating the progress the AUDL has made and where efforts are currently being devoted, I now understand some of the methods of Josh Moore and the rest of league.  For all intents and purposes the bulk of the current ultimate community is only useful for talent, which the AUDL seems to have (if participation in these combines is an indication of commitment).  The rules and the field size are major issues, but they largely focus on taking ultimate into a new era so it’s anyone’s guess.  Realistically, the most relevant feedback will come from players that have actually utilized the format which means the value of those that have already bought into the concept is now two-fold. With this in mind, it seems clear to me that the AUDL and USAU are completely separate and unrelated entities that do not need one another at this point in time.  If current USAU players are interested in becoming part of this new venture (and it looks like they are) nothing is stopping them from participating and considering the timing of each season, it is quite possible that players could play in both organizations if they choose too.

There is no doubt that opening day will occur mid-April and the only thing limiting each owner’s success is their own creativity and resources attracting fans.  Fortunately for them, those running the league are financially committed and are absolute professionals with 1 goal in mind, to turn a profit.  Long story short, the AUDL controls its own destiny and regardless of whether the current ultimate community likes it or not, a professional ultimate league with referees will happen this year.

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