Sean-Patrick Malone

Ultimate RULES!

by Sean-Patrick Malone
March 25, 2006

As all ultimate players know, one of the hallmarks of our sport is self-officiating. No other sport is as unique or as spirited. With that in mind, the forthcoming 11th edition of the UPA's official rules of ultimate frisbee has some new proposed rule changes that will propel our great sport to the next level.

The first proposed rule change is a simple one, but bites directly into the baguette-like-crust of the problem. The 10th edition opens in the following way: "Ultimate is a non-contact sport played by two teams of seven players." What is wrong with that you may ask? Well the problem is so deep and institutionalized that it is hard for many of us to even grasp. We are not simply "players". We are full fledged players and officials. Therefore the first change in the 11th edition will be to strike "player" and replace it with "player-official" throughout the whole rule book. The UPA's official site recently posted the following concerning the change: "[this] may seem like an insignificant change vis--vis one word, but it is a huge step in the realization that we are all more than just players. Striving to be a great player and official is good spirit."

Often under the current set of rules it seems that there is little recourse for infractions. 'Back to the thrower' or gaining a few stall counts is the worst/best that can happen. The UPA has tackled this problem by putting more power into the hands of those who can best distribute it. The Flying Flag policy and More Cowbell Rules (MCR) are two of the major steps being taken to give player-officials more say in what happens on the field.

The Flying Flag policy was introduced by Ernie White, a 13 year ultimate player-official who transitioned to frisbee from soccer after 4 years playing as a semi-pro with the Scranton Squirrels in Pennsylvania. Heavily borrowing from the yellow and red card system in soccer, White has proposed a brown and pink flag system for ultimate that will allow player-officials to penalize a player on the other team, or their own, for minor to gross infractions of spirit. The flags will work just like the cards in soccer -- the presentation of a brown flag for a warning, a pink flag resulting in an automatic ejection, and two brown flags shown to one player-official in one game will equate to a pink flag.

"If a serious violation occurs," White explains, "any player[-official] can approach the offending party, pull out her flag, and wave it above her head while announcing 'violation, brown flag' or 'violation, pink flag' depending on the severity of the infraction. It is the responsibility of the player-official who receives the flag warning to adhere to the appropriate punishment."

It is obvious that this system allows for more recourse when an offence is committed, a fact that is particularly relevant with regard to dangerous play. White concludes, "of course each player will be responsible for bringing his own brown and pink flags, with minimum dimensions of 1.0m x 0.75m, along with his dark and white jerseys to each game."

The More Cowbell initiative is an interesting idea which will revolutionize the way ultimate is played. Each player-official will be equipped with a cowbell hanging from his neck or waist which can be used much like a referee's whistle in hockey. John Stockton, one of the main proponents for MCR explains: "The reason for a cowbell instead of a whistle is of course to avoid confusion with whistles on adjacent fields where soccer games may be taking place. Less whistles, less interruptions -- makes sense."

Under MCR, a player-official can raise her cowbell above head level and ring it signifying a stoppage in play. A two or five minute penalty may then be assessed to the offender of the infraction. "Two minute penalties can be given for 3 travels in one half, or 4 picks in a game. The specifics are not yet in place, but that gives you a good idea," explains Stockton. A good idea indeed.

All in all, the UPA is working towards a better game using simple and elegant rules to give each player-official all the tools to not only play to the best of his or her ability, but also to officiate to their full capacity. 'Ulti4Life317' sums it up best in an RSD post: "You wouldn't send a boxer into a ring without a mouth guard, you wouldn't send an astronaut into space without a space suit, you wouldn't send a general into war without his cavalry, and you definitely wouldn't send a player-official into a game without the proper rules and tools to play and call the game."