Last Sunday, while most of the Ultimate community was concerned with College Nationals, I drove up to Buffalo to take in the contest between the Hunters and the Bluegrass Revolution and support my friends on the field.
My experience with the AUDL has been limited at best. Like many of you, I had serious doubts when the venture was announced. Since then, I’ve seen Brett Anderson’s layout and Brodie Smith’s no look huck, but apart from occasional highlight videos and articles here at Skyd, I haven’t paid much attention to the league. My lone direct connection to the AUDL is through a few local Pittsburgh players that tried out and made the Buffalo Hunters four months ago.
The first thing I noticed upon taking my seat was the space. A football field is enormous when you only have 14 skinny dudes running around. My first thought was, “how in the hell do you ever turn the disc over?” And that’s basically how the first quarter went, with each team trading O points aside from one break by the Revolution defense. The Hunters stumbled in the second quarter, with the Revolution taking a 17-14 lead at halftime. Following the break, fatigue set in hard for both teams. After 31 total points in the first half, the two teams combined for just 18 in the second half with Buffalo making a late comeback and taking a one point lead in the third quarter before eventually falling 24-25.
The win put the Revolution at 4-3 on the year, moving them into first place with the Indianapolis AlleyCats and dropped the Hunters’ record to 0-6. Frustratingly, three of their last four losses have been by a combined four points. “We can’t afford to take a shift off,” said Hunters player Jeremy Kanter. “In each of these losses, we were happy with how we played for 75% of the game, but we need to bring that level of effort and focus for 100% of the game.”
This was the first professional sporting event I’ve attended outside of the major four, and I have to say that there wasn’t a huge difference in the overall experience. The match took three hours from start to finish, about the length of a football game. An emcee did a good job keeping the 150 or so fans invested in the game, though I will note that the fans were devoted more to individual players than the Hunters in general. Once we all got into the spirit of things, though, it felt like any other professional event.
The pace of the game was perfect. Almost everything was in the hands of the referees. They didn’t make a ton of calls, but those called were resolved much faster than in a typical game and players went along with the outcome immediately. I like that the AUDL has tried to maximize the control referees have over the flow of the game, while minimizing the things the referees have to think about. Were there missed calls? Yes, players got away with some things, but it wasn’t worse than in a regular game. Jeremy agreed saying, “The pace and field size make the games more demanding, but most of all I really enjoy the refereed game.”
The quality of the game itself was somewhat lacking. I’ve seen equivalent gameplay at tournaments like Chesapeake, Stanford, Centex, etc. I don’t know what it is exactly, but maybe just putting ‘professional’ in front of something suggests a superior product from anything I’ve seen before. Granted, this is the first year of an experimental venture, so I absolutely believe that the product will improve exponentially in future seasons once players get used to the field and rule adjustments.
The way I see it, there is a tradeoff from defense to more offense. More space makes offensive flow a bit easier and forces defensive players to have to play tight for much longer than on a 110 x 40 field. Layouts and skies on defense were almost non-existent until the second half when throws were less accurate and floated a bit more. Also, giving players of that caliber — Club/College Regionals and higher – 15 more yards to work with on offense makes playing defense much more difficult.
Curious about the long-term appeal of the AUDL, the last question I asked Jeremy was if he thinks Ultimate puts on as good a show as other major sports.
“I do think it has a lot of appeal,” he said. “It’s still Ultimate. You’ve got all the same objectives, go through all the same emotions, and have all the same personal relationships. The AUDL version of the game is very similar to basketball in that it’s a constant attack with the potential for an explosive play at just about every pass. We don’t quite have the speed and physicality of hockey, but I think the pace and directness makes it a little more fun than soccer and lacrosse. You also get more bang for your buck than you would with a football game, where each game only has 10-20 minutes of actual play with the rest being dead time between downs.”
Special thanks to Jeremy Kanter for allowing us a peek inside his mind.
Feature photo by Dan Rosati