‘Stall Seven Incident’ Shows Need For Expanded Observer Powers

Late in the game between Washington, D.C.’s Truck Stop and Philadelphia’s Southpaw, Truck had the disc on offense with a one-point lead, 13-12. Southpaw’s Frederick Brasz got a big layout D on a swing pass, giving their defensive line an opportunity to tie the game.

The disc got moved around to Jibran Mieser, a Southpaw rookie and Rutgers sophomore, on the forehand sideline. After about two seconds, a pick was called downfield and play stopped. Tom Doi, the Truck Stop defender, indicated he would be coming in on stall two communicated information to his teammates by holding up two fingers; the observer took that to mean he was coming in on two. However, after that, the two players discussed it and — somehow — agreed that the disc should come in on stall seven, a clear violation of the rules.

Doi started stalling at seven and promptly got to ten; Mieser turned the disc over. The observer, unable to make any judgment without a call from a player, said nothing and ran down the field.


This was a bizarre moment in an already contentious game. We will reserve judgement about the motives of the players involved. The bigger issue is that it highlighted one of the biggest complaints about the observer system — they are unable to overrule a clearly incorrect call if a player doesn’t ask them to. However, it has long been required that players know the rules — it is a self-officiated sport, after all.

We think this game makes clear that observers need expanded powers in big games like this one. They are charged with knowing the rules and, with some exceptions, do indeed know them better than the players. Why not let them intervene in a situation like this that is clearly a violation?

Here are some of the best comments about the situation from our game recap.

Feetch:

[quote]I think it reflects badly on SOTG that a player in the game to go is unaware of some of the rules in ultimate. Education and some kind of enforcement needs to occur if we want to have self-officiating be considered a legitimate way of having our game regulated.

Unfortunately, at most levels of the sport, there are people with minimal knowledge of the rules willing to make ridiculous arguments (one i witnessed recently – the pulling team has to all have their foot on the line, not allowed to run up and pull)

It’s embarrassing that this level of ignorance can be displayed so prominently, but it really shows a glaring problem, that has an easy two fold solution.

Observers need to be available at more levels of ultimate. if 5 year olds running around playing soccer can have a ref, then summer league can have an observer. If you want to participate in the USAU series, you can read the rules – and we can enforce this with something like a 50 question multiple choice test when you sign up for your yearly membership.[/quote]

Guest:

[quote]This is NOT a situation where Spirit of the Game triumphed…Whatever happened, happened, but please do not make this about integrity and spirit of the game. I think this sport should be less concerned about honor and integrity and more concerned about making sure the correct calls are made. Two separate instances of the wrong outcome occurring, just because observers are not allowed to speak unless first spoken to? In a regional final that was decided by two goals? Give me a break.[/quote]

anon:

[quote]The sport would benefit greatly from having appointed referees to make these calls. At this high a level of competition, it is mind-boggling that the game is left up to the players who are in the game to decide the calls. Clearly there will always be a bias and mistakes are bound to happen.

USAU needs to change the rules and require referees at these tournaments. Spirit of the game is a nonsense term that might have made sense when this sport was not as competitive as it is now. Non-biased officials are the only way to ensure legitimacy.[/quote]

Bobo:

[quote]Why this push for the referees? I don’t understand. It’s important that ultimate remain referee less so that players who know the most about what happened in a play make the call and if they can’t agree go to a third party. The observer system is great. It means that players have to know the rules which is that way is should be. It sucks to make those mistakes but you have to know what the stall count should come in on, and if you don’t know, ask someone. The observers will help if you don’t know a rule, that’s in part why they are there.[/quote]

Dan:

[quote]…Referees suck. They miss calls and are generally a problem. Every sport that has a referee has a problem with them. The problem here isn’t with observers, referees or calls. Its with one team hacking that they lost and being man enough to take that.[/quote]

anon:

[quote]I wonder if ultimate will ever become an olympic sport without referees…

The answer to this question is no.

Let’s look at every other legitimate professional sport in the world, do they use referees?

The answer is yes.

What makes any of you think that self-officiating is a reasonable way to decide an athletic competition? Just because it is a system that may work some of the time and also might inspire players to play with more integrity does not necessarily make it a fair system. People should play with integrity regardless of the system that is in place to enforce the rules. There will always be players who abuse the rules and do not play fairly, but this is to be expected at the highest levels of competition. The best way to ensure people play fairly is to have an unbiased official that can enforce penalties to keep unruly players in line. If anything, a self-officiated system gives more leeway to players who are willing to abuse the rules in order to gain a competitive advantage.[/quote]

Guest:

[quote]I do not think we need to make this a referee vs. self-officiation debate. I just think the observers need to have more power. I think it is stupid that they have to remain silent, even when the wrong outcome is occurring.[/quote]

Let us know in the comments how this situation should have been resolved. Does it show the need for changes in the observer program? Do we need full-on referees for big games? Should this have been handled by players on the field, like the Truck captains intervening? We look forward to your thoughts.

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  1. Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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