Unexpected Changes: My first view of the AUDL

by | April 20, 2012, 10:12am 0

As the vast majority of ultimate players know, this weekend marked the inaugural events of the American Ultimate Disc League. The idea of Ultimate going professional has generated a lot of buzz within the community. Most of the questions I’ve heard center around two topics, namely ‘can the AUDL make money?’ and ‘will having refs create a “win at all costs” mentality?’.

In my opinion, both of these miss the mark. One weekend is far too soon to begin speculating about the AUDL’s financial success. As for the addition of refs, I’m willing to bet that anyone who worries about preserving Spirit of the Game (SoTG) hasn’t seen high level Canadian teams play with a bid to nationals on the line.

Instead of focusing on these points, Ultimate players should be asking ’what other changes has the AUDL included and is AUDL ultimate still the sport we know and love?’. While the answer is obviously subjective, I’d like to share my thoughts on a couple of the less advertised changes the AUDL made to the rules.

The first change was noticeable before the game even started. The field was wider– 10 yards wider to be precise. I immediately thought that this adjustment would make zone defense impossible. After years of being the mark in zones, I shuddered at the idea of an extra ten yards added to those horizontal swings. Despite the wind, I expected only man defense to be played.

As it turned out, I was incorrect. CT coach John Korber won the flip and elected to start on offense. Rampage chose to pull from the end zone that forced the Constitutions to play upwind. Sure enough, the defense came down in what almost looked like a traditional cup. I say it almost looked like a cup because Rampage was blatantly double teaming the mark. I found myself calling out ‘Hey, ref, call the double team!’. As the point carried on without any calls I realized that double teaming is legal in the AUDL.

After the initial shock wore off, it became apparent that this change offered interesting strategy potential. Both sides demonstrated different ways of using and dealing the double team. The Constitutions used it more sparingly, positioning one mark to stop the around break while using the other to block off the IO break. This double force seemed to focus on preventing swings on the wider field. Rhode Island took the more aggressive path, using two very tall marks to put pressure on CT’s throwers. This was especially effective when shorter CT players found themselves trapped on the corner of the end zone. Rhode Island seemed content playing with little adjustment against the two man force, seeing as it was not actively causing turns. As Rhode Island’s marking left the far side handler wide open, Connecticut adjusted by throwing high looping swings (typically thought of as lower percentage throws). This was exemplified when CT’s Brent Anderson at 5’8” was surrounded by two 6’+ Rampage marks and threw a perfectly vertical blade 35 yards across the field to Lucas Murphy. The crowd collectively held its breath as the Lucas moved back and forth, adjusting to the wobbling throw, and pancaked it between his forearms. I’d be disappointed with myself if I didn’t mention that Chris Mazur’s response to the double team was to throw 7 cross field hammers with a perfect completion rate.

Two of the other modifications made by the AUDL are time related. The first is a reduction in the stall count from 10 to 7 seconds. Despite my expectations, there were only three stall outs, and one was negated by an up-field foul. What I had imagined would be a large change had minimal impact on the game. The other change was subtler in print, but more significant in play. Under these new rules, teams get only 20 seconds to signal readiness after a point is scored. This means that subs have to be ready to get on the field, and that players looking to stay in for consecutive points have to run to get back to the line. Since Rampage’s lineup appears to have less depth, their top guys had less recovery time between points. On the Constitutions’ side, Coach Korber is also a player, creating difficulties as he had to call a line while mentally regrouping from the previous point. As a spectator, these rules keep the game moving and I see the change as a positive one.

I was not thrilled with the last changed I noticed. The AUDL has taken away the offensive continuation rule. For non-ultimate players, this is when a thrower is fouled and still puts up a throw. If it is caught, the offense can ignore the defensive foul, being better off having completed the pass. In the AUDL, if a foul is called the disc comes back to the thrower– even if an up-field offender makes the catch. Though I do not think any players actively abused this rule, there was a string of marking fouls against CT which continually caused completed passes to be sent back to the thrower. I do worry that this could be exploited in the future.

Though the AUDL has made many changes, the game being played is clearly still Ultimate. Players looking to drool over huge shoulder height layout D’s and envy-causing 70-yard upwind hucks will not be disappointed. Additionally, many of the modifications make the sport more watchable for those of us interested in more than just highlights. Perhaps most importantly, as a mid-level player I’d be excited to try out the rules myself. More than the business or SoG aspect, the question each member of the ultimate community should ask themselves is ‘Would I want to try playing by these rules?’



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