Since a number of my teammates and friends are curious about the AUDL, I wanted to interview a player who was both involved with the new league and who had the perspective of a USA Ultimate Series participant. The Connecticut Constiution’s Joe “Smash” Anderson fit the bill, bringing in over ten years of high-level experience that included a tour as captain of Pride of New York in 2011 and four years as a Juniors player at The Beacon School, a regular High School Nationals attendee.
Joe brought nothing but enthusiasm for his new team to our conversation. While I called him expecting to talk about how the AUDL differs from the USAU Series and to discuss just how relevant this league even is, Joe came at me from a different place altogether to reveal a genuine all-in attitude.
It was hard to keep topics compartmentalized as we talked. A question about strategy yielded an answer about marketability, which meant touching on public perception, which brought up the issue of individual motives for playing, and so on. But that’s what happens with someone whose energy is as infectious as Joe’s: the conversation jumps around and circles back because everything is interconnected.
I’m still skeptical about the AUDL. Jumping over to a refereed game bugs me both because I think that people dismiss self officiating without giving it the thought it deserves and because I’m wary of doing anything for the sake of an outside party’s approval, in this case an ambiguous group of non-playing fans. I’d also like to know more about who some of the team owners are and, at the end of the day, where the money to pay players is actually going to come from. I will say, however, that Joe’s perspective definitely shifted mine. I’m starting to understand the AUDL a bit more for the startup venture that it is.
Enjoy, and let’s keep the discussion going.
Jonathan Neeley: Tell me about the Constitution. How does it compare to PoNY? Could you compare it to a college team?
Joe Anderson: With these AUDL teams, it’s really not fair to compare them to teams that have been together for so long. But I’d say this feels like a high-level college team. Would we beat Revolver? Would we beat Boston? No. But those are systems that have been together for so long.
Here it became clear that playing with the Constitution isn’t about the AUDL vs. USA Ultimate Series. It’s about the start of something new. Joe went on to talk about the AUDL season’s start, touching on the new field dimensions and how they impact gameplay.
JA: We had a training camp where there were a month of practices. We had a pre-scrimmage against Rhode Island, and the refs were even asking us questions and people were still sort of learning this new game. We’re just starting to figure out schemes for how to deal with this big field. It feels like you could huck it across the field. If you can make that second throw on the AUDL field, you’re killing people because they’re such long passes.
If you’re the type of cutter that can just keep running cross country-style, 100% speed all over the field without stopping, those guys are perfect. They’re exactly what you need. If you get beat by a guy like that on defense, the sideline’s not coming anytime soon so you’re beat for a while, which sucks. It really showcases the offense, which is really cool. We’re in an offensive era, an offensive game where dudes are just putting up points and they’re unstoppable.
It feels like other sports do. Not that we’re trying to be other sports, but it’s just a fun feeling. It’s professional, it’s standardized.
JN: Is feeling like other sports a good thing?
JA: I don’t think this is a solution, it’s just different. We’re not trying to replace ultimate, that’s not what’s happening. It’s just that there’s a market of people out there that might want to watch this on TV, we’re trying to establish what that standard is. Why do we have to be isolated? We’re already so big. Why not just be a little bigger?
Nobody likes it when somebody’s like, “Oh it’s just a game, it’s a hobby.” It shouldn’t surprise someone that I come back with a bruise from a frisbee tournament. I wish people would embrace the fact that we’re just trying to bring this to the public.
JN: So is gaining recognition your motivation?
JA: Yeah. I really wanna tell people about frisbee, I think it’s really cool that Brodie’s videos are being watched and people who aren’t just frisbee people are watching his stuff. The fact that we got on ESPN twice, people are like “what is this?” The fact that we’re in Men’s Fitness, people are starting to notice that something is happening. I want to be able to say I was one of the first. I wanna win the first championship. I wanna win it while it’s quote this easy.
I would like to speak to anyone about Frisbee and have them understand what I’m talking about. That’s a personal thing as well as a want for the sport. I feel I’m doing my part because I felt that if I joined other people might do the same and take a chance with me. If we are successful others will definitely want to try. If franchises pop up in more cities that have elite established open teams, this league will be successful. If New York, Boston, Raleigh, DC and Atlanta get some teams and give players the opportunity.
JN: What’s it gonna take for guys to jump over to the AUDL from other teams?
JA: Dudes who want to take a chance on doing something different. The big fish in USA Ultimate have to take a chance. Those guys on Madcow in Columbus, that’s a good thing. Take a chance. It comes down to you, people who understand what that means, you know it has to be you because if you go, other guys will go with you. That’s your crew. I went over to the Constitution partly because I want to play with these dudes because they’re my boys.
JN: Are you going to play for PoNY this year?
JA: No. Honestly I just needed the change from, you know, practicing all the time, never doing anything with anybody, always being tired. I just needed a break for one season. Playing in the AUDL feels a lot easier, there’s a lot of other things involved like selling tickets, promoting on Facebook. It’s a lot less demanding physically, it gives me a lot more time to do things that I want to do. I’m about to start student teaching in the fall, I gotta be able to work on the weekends.
JN: How does that work? On one hand, you’re saying that this is a big step for ultimate, but on the other that players don’t need to be as committed.
JA: It’s a whole other level.
JN: From a competitive standpoint, can the AUDL and USAU Series co-exist?
JA: I think they’re going to co-exist for as long as people can say that the amateur championship is not as good as the AUDL championship. When those amateur guys aren’t as good as the winners of the pro league, that’s when they won’t be able to coexist. But for that to happen, people gotta come out.
JN: Getting back to your experience thus far, tell me a bit more about the team.
JA: We’re not practicing during the season, we’re just going straight to the games. Dudes are coming from all over the place to go to games. We had four straight seven hour practices and we’re here trying to figure it out together.
Mazur and Korber are doing a great job leading the team. We have a lot of really good young dudes. The UConn guys are good. Here on our team, it’s a bunch of really good young players mixed with some good experienced players. But we’re all young. I really think that even if I stayed with just this team and it didn’t change, I’d love to be a part of it for the next three years. We’re gonna be good. We’re all on the same page with this. It’s about the product. This is what we’re trying to do: sell that product. Everything we do is our product, we have to take pride in that. I’m totally bought in.
JN: Nobody knows much about the AUDL team owners. Tell me about the Constitution’s.
JA: Brian and Joe Ricci are really cool guys. We see them all the time. Again, we’re all on the same page about what’s going on with this, what we’re doing and what our goals are. I say, “Hey, what’s up boss?”, like he’s my boss. He works hard at something like everyone else. He has a role, we all have roles outside of the field, and we’re trying to be a great franchise because that’s what we wanna be. He emails me, I talk to him. And that’s what it is.
JN: What are some of those off-field roles?
JA: Dudes are always sharing things on Facebook, we run high school clinics (we’ve done two already), there’s dudes in charge of designing things, in charge of marketing. I’m involved with how the team runs the defense; Mazur and I run the defense. We don’t call the subs but we’re on a lot. I have to watch tape, be on the same grind that pro players do. I have lengthy frisbee talks about strategy, that’s what I do. I love it.
JN: Most players are used to going pretty far away once every few weeks, but you guys are hitting the road pretty much weekly.
JA: We’re gonna go down to Kentucky, I’ve never even been to Kentucky. Then we’ve gotta go to Indianapolis at the end of July. We’re gonna have a really long one, a crazy experience.
JN: Before we wrap up, I have to ask: are you seeing any money right now?
JA: I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s coming. I don’t really like to talk about these things. I’m gonna get paid every month. But I’m not playing for the money, I’m playing for the product. Everything that they’ve told me has been absolutely fair. Our owners break it down to, “You do your job we’re gonna do ours and put out a successful product.”
Some people out there are saying “these AUDL dudes, they aren’t the real ultimate players.” Who are you telling that to? Other people who play frisbee. But most people don’t. To the outsider, there’s no difference between winning Nationals and going to Nationals. People don’t understand the whole playing the whole day thing. I’m like, “Do you have any idea what a tournament is!?” Most people don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I want them to know.
Why don’t more people help out? If I could say I want to play frisbee for a living, that’d be awesome. That sounds like such a great idea. If the AUDL could just stay for another 10 years, I could still say in shape and play in the highest level games like the dudes on TV do it. And that would be sweet.
You want this to blow up? People need to start stepping up.