Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rules Knowledge Advantage

If your rules knowledge is not particularly high, you may need a copy of the rules nearby as you read this. I really like this electronic version as it allows me to Ctr+F anything. Bookmark it.

What do you think Ultimate Blogosphere, is it "unspirited" or prohibited in some way to gain an advantage through your better knowledge and understanding of our sport's rules?

This has been on my mind for a while and I have discussed it with many people, including other Observers, and there are varying opinions and lots of "it depends". I can think of many situations where my question applies - in my mind all of these have some of the same fundamental features but I have had mixed reactions from the same person to presented scenarios I see as equivalent. I don't advocate some of these, some of them seem wrong, some of them feel OK, but I am not sure why. What makes a situation innocent or seedy?

Here are some of the things I have in mind:

- ---------When a defender is unaware of the state of the disc and thus their right to check the disc. If they are honestly under the impression that they get to check a bricked-pull at the brickmark, is it wrong to put it in play without their acknowledgement?

------------ If a defender is under the false impression that a player may not change speed when walking the disc to the line (a popular misconception in San Diego until I started doing it intentionally in practice), is it wrong to trick them with a walk and then run when they aren't looking?

- ----------Drawing a marking foul when I have the disc at stall 7? Decide on the meaning of "drawing" yourself.

- -----------In an observed game I tell my team beforehand exactly when it is beneficial to go to the observer and when the risk/reward is not in our favor. I tell them to never call "strip" and always "foul" (*bonus points to the commenter who knows why). Is this advantage that comes with my Observer experience unfair? Do I have a moral obligation to tell the other team these things?

-----------Not putting a live disc into play for a while as I wait for my cutters to get open so I can put it into play and throw to them at stall1. What qualifies as "reasonably necessary"? Throwers call plays all the time before putting a disc into play.

-----------What do you think of the fact that I use the actual wording of the rules in discussions of fouls? It doesn't sound off, but I believe I might have a better than average success in arguments if I use phrases like "Contact resulting from adjacent opposing players simultaneously vying for the same unoccupied position, is not in itself a foul"

- ---------I have never ever seen the procedure after a contested or uncontested stall performed correctly. Here is the procedure proscribed by the rules:
If the thrower has not released the disc at the first utterance of the word ten, it is a turnover. The marker loudly announces stall and play stops. A stall is not a violation and rule XVI.C does not apply.
  1. The marker calling the stall takes possession of the disc where the stall occurred and then may either:
    1. place the disc on the ground and after acknowledgment by the defense, touch the disc and loudly announce in play or
    2. retain possession and have the former thrower restart play with a check.
Now, ever stall I have ever seen ends with the thrower dropping the disc and play continuing as if the disc was live the whole time. Often the marker will sprint toward the endzone and a teammate will pickup the disc and throw it to him. Is it unspirited to call violation when my team gets stalled and then is on the receiving end of this aforementioned play which is almost universally accepted? How about me NOT calling violation if my team BENEFITS from a quick stall-to-breakaway huck- score even though I recognize the disc is dead as soon as "stall" is called?

----------The seemingly most shitty one: if a thrower loudly says "time out!" but clearly does not make a "T" with his hand and the disc and puts the disc on the ground would me enforcing a turnover be acceptable? How about if it was 13-14 in the finals of a tournament with a $50,000 prize for first. Rules are rules, right?

----------And my personal favorite, philosophically: while waiting at the spot the disc is to be put into play at(my team just turned it on an OB huck), may I not check a disc presented to me because the ONLY way the rules allow a live disc to be put into play is a ground-tap (II.R)? The confused thrower might start faking (the disc is not in play yet so I do not count stalls), and he might throw the disc. If he does, I stop play with a violation call because he threw a disc that wasn't in play. (If the throw is incomplete its a turn because a live disc is subject to turnovers; if the throw is complete, it comes back). Is it Unsportsmanlike to apply the rules so thoroughly ?

I can see how me even thinking about this could make me seem like a dick but I promise you I really don't want to be a dick about rules. The timeout situation seems completely abhorrent but the change-change-of speed one doesn't. I am philosophically interested in why. I actually like thinking about our rule set as a philosophical question.

I would never WANT to win because of rules disagreement, but I am actually kind of offended by the poor rules knowledge of my competition (and even players at the highest level). From my current point of view, we are the referees of our sport and referees should know the rules. Period.

I would really like you to comment on these situations with your thoughts about rightness and wrongness. As you think about them, here are a few select passages from the rules that make it a little more complicated:

Spirit of the Game: Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.

Captain’s Clause: A game may be played under any variation of the rules agreed upon by the captains of the teams involved. In tournament play, variations are subject to approval by the event organizer.

  1. If an infraction is committed and not called, the player committing the infraction should inform the infracted player or team of the infraction.
  2. It is the responsibility of all players to avoid any delay when starting, restarting, or continuing play. This includes standing over the disc or taking more time than reasonably necessary to put the disc into play.
  3. If a novice player commits an infraction out of sincere ignorance of the rules, it should be common practice to stop play and explain the infraction.
  4. In addition to the assumption that players will not intentionally violate the rules, players are similarly expected to make every effort to avoid violating them

So I am left with this: I assume loosing because an opponent knew the rules better hurts one's basic joy of play, but I also assume that being criticized for trying to play the game by its rules hurts one's basic joy of play. What are we to do? Please leave a comment.

"This isn't 'Nam, this is Ultimate, there are rules"


Torre said...

I loved this post. I actually laughed out loud when i read some of the scenarios.

Why do so many players not know the rules? I'm all for following the rules(even if that means taking advantage of the other teams ignorance of the rules). The rules are readily accessible to (almost) everyone.

RE: calling a violation on your on team(in the stall count discussion), a player can't call a violation or foul on themselves or their team. They can only let the other team know of the infraction and leave for them to call.

interested in seeing others responses to this as well. . .

PlasticBinge said...

interesting stuff.

Unfortunately, I don't know the UPA rules well enough (I play WFDF rules) to appreciate every scenario fully. I do think the difference in the rule sets with regard to these situations is interesting. Well - some of the situations don't really exist under WFDF rules- although there might be others.

For instance in WFDF rules, a live disc doesn't get checked in - once a pivot foot is set - its game on - and that might eliminate some of those scenarios.

Aside from that - it seems for most of them it could be argued that your're going against the etiquette : "It is the responsibility of all players to avoid any delay"...arguably includes telling a guy the disc isn't in yet if he hasn't put it in to play and doesn't know this.

The timeout one seems the worst thing to call there - but absolutely within the rules. I guess its just because it could make such a clear difference to the result of a close game that it seems so bad.

Stephen Hubbard said...

I think a lot of players don't know the rules well because of 4 things:

1. It doesn't seem that necessary - they get through 99.5% of their games "just fine" without that knowledge
2. Most players that are playing ultimate in the world have played for a shorter period of time than my little brother playing U11 youth soccer. In other sports people don't actually read a rule book until they have been invested in the sport for more than 7 years.
3. It actually is very complicated. It is long, some of the wording is non intuitive, and there are cross references all over the place and everything is in roman numerals which you gotta admit take 3 seconds each time to figure out what number it is.
4. Few people actually have a rule book. I don't know why this is. I think the UPA should give them away in droves at every tournament but they don't. I bought 140 for $140 last year to give out at the tournaments I run in San Diego.

Ive never really looked over the WFDF rules and only heard causally that they are different. Any place online have a side by side comparison?

PlasticBinge said...

all i know of is this brief document: http://www.wfdf.org/rules/WFDF_2009_v_UPA_11_Rules.pdf

which has the caveat: "It is
necessarily brief and incomplete. For a full treatment of the rules, refer to the relevant
section of the WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2009."

so...if you're playing outside north america (Prague?) you better be careful about using your 'rules knowledge advantage' :-)

Torre said...

1- if they are "fine" with not knowing the rules, they should also be "fine" with any disadvantage that puts them at.
3- i think the language of the rulebook is one of the main reasons people don't know the rules. i think this excuse is less acceptable the more competitive a team is.
4- even getting to the rules online is difficult(no link on the homepage!!!)
on your scenarios-
- tell the player(&captain of the player) that was under the assumption that they got to check the disc in they were wrong-on the sidelines/after the game.
- i've had teammates tell me this was a violation/travel for 4 years...where in the rules do they get this from?

- it doesn't matter if its drawing a foul or not...it's a foul.

- i've never played in an observed game, but if "A strip is a subset of fouls and is treated the same way." Why call one & not the other?

- if you're standing over the disc, or have it in your hands, you can be stalled after your two second warning.(i would love to see this done more)

-arguing with the words in the rulebook make it easier for the other person to look up the rules later on...my entire freshmen year i looked for "straddle" in the rulebook. :(

Jesse said...

Hey, I love this post :) Here in Europe we hardly ever play with observers and I didn't notice any at WUGC 2008 either (the only time I've played in North America) so I've never played with observers. However, here's my answers to your situations:

1) No
2) No
3) No, if 'drawing' results in an actual foul, not you calling something which really isn't a foul
4) Not unfair
5) I believe you are not allowed to stall bringing the disc live (correct me when wrong though) so I would say this situation should be avoided.
6) This is actually good, since stating the exact rules leaves less room for discussion. I've heard 'It IS in the rules' versus 'No it is NOT in the rules' on the field SO many times ...
7) Not unfair, it is the other teams' responsibility to know the rules. Not yours to tell them what the rules are (at comptetitive level ultimate that is).
8) Rules are rules, but I would always let this one slide. I think this should actually be adjusted in the rules.
9) Unsportsmanlike, because you are actively deceiving your opponent. That is where I would draw the line.

And in all of these cases, doing the 'right' thing would of course be the spirited thing to do!

Colin said...


Here are my unofficial thoughts on the matter – speaking for myself only. In short, you’re not a dick, but you’re contemplating dick behavior.

Causing extra stoppages of play by making dick calls based on dick rules interpretation (and then taking extra time to explain those interpretations) makes the game less enjoyable for everyone involved. So play by the rules, don’t be a dick, and you’ll be all set. Ignoring the purpose of rules and making calls strictly based on the letter of the rules runs the risk of falling into the “being a dick” category. If you really know the rules, you’re not going to be doing that crap. With great power comes great responsibility.

Things you have in mind:

Not offering a check on a live disc. Of course you don’t have to. But the point of the rules is for players to know when and where the disc is coming into play. I do not offer a check, but I do make sure my opponent and I are in agreement on where the disc is being put into play. Then I clearly establish my foot at the spot, touch the disc to the ground and start playing. I do not deliberately do this very quickly to surprise the thrower. I also don’t make focus downfield and make hand signals to try to make the marker think something was called downfield and then throw it once he turns around.

Running. When you are allowed to run, you may run as fast or slowly as you want.

Drawing a marking foul. You could do this all day long. I could fake slightly above your hand and call a foul whenever there was contact until you got so sick of it that you backed up completely out of my reach. The point of the rules is not to provide an offensive weapon. It is to establish the rights of each player and allow for the game to be played in a reasonable way. If the marker is not playing fairly, will I take advantage of his unfair play to reset the count? Yes. Will I simply draw a foul every time the count gets high? No.

Playing Smart with Observers. Telling your team the smart way to play with observers is fine. Bonus points for me I know why not to call strips. You have no obligation to tell the other team anything, but you should reiterate to their teammates that they can only go to the observer if they believe a contest is justified – mere strategic reasons are not enough.

Delaying putting a live disc into play. When XIX.B tells you to avoid any delay when continuing play in the previous sentence, how could you possibly interpret “reasonably necessary” as allowing you to wait around for cutters to get open? That’s an absurd, incorrect, rules-weenie-cheater approach to rules interpretation.
Using Rules Phrases. Fine. I think quoting rules is pretentious, but simply using the terms while communicating like a normal person makes a lot of sense. “Your arms were not completely stationary, so it’s a foul on you, marker.” Using rules phrases doesn’t make you a dick. Being a dick makes you a dick, though.

Stall Procedure. I don’t think you have had the privilege of watching me get stalled. It’s a rare treat. Allowing play to continue when both teams have implicitly agreed to continue playing and are clearly ok with it sounds alright. Keep the game moving, no big problem, big deal. Selectively allowing play to continue isn’t ok. Either you’re ok with play continuing when both teams implicitly agree, or you’re not. Your advantage should not factor into that analysis.

Time Outs. I wouldn’t call this. The point of the time-out procedures is to make sure that everyone is aware that a time-out is called, not to lay a trap for ignorant throwers. If I understand that a time-out has been called, then that’s good enough. Similarly, if someone yells “time-out” and doesn’t make the T, but does not have any time-outs remaining, I’d argue for the turnover.

I ran out of characters. But I figured you’d appreciate thorough comments – you’re asking for thoughts, not a poll. I’ll address personal favorites in the next comments.


Colin said...

Your Personal Favorite. It sounds to me like you’re calling a violation under II.R.2 The procedure is to establish the pivot, touch the disc to the ground, and put the disc into play. To put the disc into play at a particular spot on the field means to establish a pivot at that spot (II.R.1). Throwing/faking obligates a player to put the disc into play at the current spot in the end zone setting (X.A.1). In the case you described, you’re calling a violation under II.R.2, but the violation occurred when the thrower failed to touch the disc to the ground. However you could possibly imagine “put the disc into play” to be defined (whether establishing a pivot or throwing/faking or continuing play some other way), it has already happened. You needed to call that failure to touch it to the ground immediately or you can’t call it (XVI.A). Your “illegal throw” call relies on the failure to ground touch call, so if you waive the failure to ground touch call, you waive the illegal throw call (which is based on a little guiding language of the same rule!). Your personal favorite move is a dick move. Interpreting VERY questionable rules ambiguity very questionably like a dick in order to stop play and make a VERY questionable argument around your violation of XVI.A like a dick is a dick move.

My Personal Favorite. Crushing a weaker opponent in an ice cream eating contest and then crushing him again by even more when he talks trash about “next time.” Not a dick move. Raising his crushed spirits by setting yourself on fire – pure sportsmanship.


Anonymous said...

I need to preface my comments by explaining that I am an amateur Ultimate player. I've played for some travelling teams, but never played in such a serious tournament that most of the rules cited could be reasonably (read: without everyone, my own team included, thinking I was a huge dick) called.

That being said, I am going to react to this article as a provincial (...aspiring national) On-ice Ringette Official. Ringette is both the fastest and most complex game played on ice. The rules are at least twice as complex as ice hockey, and 99% of them are called (by officials like myself) with an advantage/ disadvantage philosophy. Example: Just this past weekend I held off calling more that a handful of perfectly textbook 'trips' because the attacking player knew enough not to pursue the ring after they tripped the ring-carrier while trying to get it (called a 'check' in Ringette), since they didn't get the ring, there was not advantage, so no call - even though the defender hit the ice.

This give me, I think, a pretty interesting position when I step onto the Ultimate pitch and interpret rules for myself. Naturally an absolute application of an advantage / disadvantage philosophy is not practical when players are making calls: of course you feel disadvantaged when picked! Meanwhile, Ultimate is like Ringette in having very complex rules to regulate player movement and contact that need the attention of a more developed approach then simple written rule application. In other words, just like in Ringette, knowing the rules well can allow you to gain an advantage while "not" gaining an advantage.

To answer the question posed at the top of the article, players need to be conversant in the rules of a game they expect to play. I call tons of penalties which I then have to explain to kids who've never seen that call before. Exploiting the rules is in no way gaining an advantage, since the rules are available for everyone to learn equally. If a player is ignorant of their right in a situation or how to effectively manipulate a situation to their favour, thats their own problem. You don't say that a team who runs sprints three times a week has an unfair advantage because they're fitter and trained harder, so why would you think so because those players took the time to learn the rules better?

Kudos to you for getting into your game enough that you *learn* all the ways *to use the rules* to your *advantage*.

Stephen Hubbard said...

Evan: I have been a soccer referee for 10 years so I have some of the same perspectives as you.

In soccer (it sounds like you are a Brit, so... in Football) there are certainly many no-calls to preserve an attacking team's advantage: better to have a breakaway than a free kick even if they have to play through a foul.

Also, what constitutes a foul changes WIDLY from one referee to another. We all us the same rulebook, but while a American ref sees a foul, a British ref sees good hard physical play. This differential application of "the laws of the game" (thats what we call them) IS OK BECAUSE THE REF AWARDS CALLS EVENLY. If the definition of a foul changes game to game, at least everyone is subject to the same standard because the ref remains the same.

In Ultimate, there are 14 different referees on the field which leads to calls that one referee would never think of calling while others think is appropriate. I think following the travel rules to the letter of the law is appropriate, some of my fellow referees don't. Ugh.