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‘Stall Seven Incident’ Shows Need For Expanded Observer Powers

by in News with 34 Comments

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:

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.

Guest:

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.

anon:

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.

Bobo:

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.

Dan:

…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.

anon:

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.

Guest:

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.

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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About 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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  • Mitch

    Part of the problem here is that the observer procedures are written around players following certain procedures, and we can’t have a myriad of procedures for all the “mistakes” that could happen. Here, the players and observers agreed to 2 (assuming that’s true, it’s edited out of the video), then it got changed (agreed?) to 7. If the players would have communicated, the observer could have double checked that it’s what they wanted (ask a leading question.. “you want it in on 7 after a pick?”) and corrected it there (possibly TMFing the defender for shenanigans). Then you have the stall… that’s a stoppage and a required check, but, as commonly happens, the players just play on. Since it is a stoppage, then the observer could issue a TMF here (fast count, wrong count, etc). But the players kept playing, so that takes away the observer’s ability to stop play. Expanding the observers’ roles is one thing, but players need to educate themselves to rules, procedures, etc. Regional finals is not where you want to be learning the rules in game.

    • Charlie Eisenhood

      Just a note: this video is unedited and the observer indeed acknowledges the stall two agreement.

      EDIT: The Truck player was actually just indicating information to his teammates, not saying the stall would be two. The observer took that — incorrectly — to mean he was coming in on two. How this ended up on stall seven is still unclear.

      • Mitch

        Yes, this is the unedited video. Had watched the earlier full game video and was working from memory. Thanks for posting the full video.

  • Mortakai

    Is the problem the scope of the Observer’s power… or rather that the player(s) didn’t know the simple rule about where the stall should come in at? I suggest the latter.

    This is a sport where the PLAYERS are the REFEREES. And this situation is an example where the referee in this play did not know the rule.

  • Joe from NY

    The guy with the disc should learn the rules before anyone calls for referees or increased observer power. Especially such a basic one as stall count! Even with video replay and super-human refs, you’ll lose if you don’t know the rules.

  • Guest

    Big thumbs down here to the Tournament Director. He is right that arguments need to be keep “on the field,” but the power trip he goes through when pushing the Southpaw players back could have been directed partly toward the Truck captains to talk to their players about getting calls right.

  • anon

    (different anon than the one quoted) – I’m not sure that one game, that was particularly contentious, is clearly evidence for expanding observer roles. From accounts regarding this particular play the players BOTH didn’t know the rules and neither of them had teammates help them (Not to call out Southpaw but they were on top of the play and able to scream at the observer and the RC but couldn’t talk to Mr. Mieser about the correct count?).
    In fairness almost no restart of play comes in on “Stalling 7″ so Tom also should have known better and his Truck teammates should have corrected him. However, for both Jibran and Tom, when two people agree to something in the heat of the moment it can be hard to think straight and get it correct.
    To call out a seemingly honest mistake by two players as evidence that “makes clear observers need expanded powers” is both reactionary and presumptuous.
    Is this particular incident an example of a flaw? Sure. But one incident or even one game full of incidents (which this may or may not have been – there seems to be only 2 events in this game that call the role of observers into question) does not mean an entire system is flawed.

  • Joe Smash Anderson

    Refs are needed for top level games and nothing more. I appreciate the idea that ultimate is a special game and should remain referee-less to maintain its unique aspect. But this is the clearest form of why refs are needed. Because it IS about getting the call right. And while everyone can hoot and holler about how refs make bad calls (packers fans are still sick from a bad REF call) the idea that a third party dedicated to making the correct call makes players focus more on playing and less about being spirited or trying to separate competitive natural with the “right thing to do” . Whats sad is that this happened to a young up and coming player. What a shame that a season for southpaw came to a halt largely because of calls. The foul call that the young guy did not contest was not a HIGH LEVEL FOUL. I highly doubt that if a veteran defender was guarding him he would of received it at the goal line. The stall seven idea was RIDICULOUS and even as an observer I couldn’t imagine hearing what was in that conversation and simply thinking oh well they agreed to it. Its just sad. Lets keep refs OUT of games that aren’t the top 20 teams in the nation. for the teams that are top twenty LETS GET THEM IN NOW.

  • Guest

    Truck stop sucks and it turned it over like 2 throws after this anyway

  • Anon

    The fool who comes over and says “It’s doesn’t matter you’re not on the field” is a perfect example of someone who thinks SOTG is just using the rules at the time you think is best. I’d love to see how he would have acted if it were his team out there. If that little punk who said that is reading this, I hope you understand how worthless your actions are.

    • guest

      That “fool” is the TD and was doing exactly what he should have been doing – keeping people off the field. Kudos to him.

  • Bob

    It would be amusing if one day, many years from now, someone reading up on the history of officiation in Ultimate will learn about “The Stall 7 Incident” the way someone might come across “The Tuck Rule” if they were reading about the NFL.

  • Colin

    I also think that this is not an officiating issue. The thrower just has to know some very basic rules of the game for this not to be an issue. Or even not know them, but know enough to ask the Observer for a clarification. There are plenty of resources available for players to learn the rules. It is ridiculous to use this situation as a call for a change in the officiating system.

    If the thrower decided to attempt a skip pass, would we call of increased Observer powers to inform the thrower (in advance) not to try it? What if a receiver thought the lines were in (like in tennis), and proudly landed directly on the sideline after a catch? There are some obvious disadvantages to being totally clueless. The thrower in this case suffered one of them. Great incentive for his team captains to ensure their players know the rules.

    In fact, if the thrower had done the check properly, asked downfield players if they were ready, and announced the stall count before checking the disc into play, one of his teammates also could have caught the error.

  • Warren Wells

    I agree with Colin on all points. Part of knowing the rules is to protect you from other people who are either ignorant of the rules (“it’s receiver’s call!”) or (in rare cases) abusing them.

    I honestly don’t know what Tom was thinking bringing it in on 7, but Jibran ought to have known that (1) 6 seconds had not elapsed since he caught the disc and (2) picks can’t come in on stall 7.

    @Anon, if you had been the TD, what would you have done in a situation where no call is made and players from one team are attempting to take a (in this case very reasonable) argument onto the field during play?

  • guest2

    Most of the discussion here is centered around the young guy not knowing the rules, but has anyone even discussed that the veteran he was playing against has the responsibility not to make two bad calls to begin with? SOTG is taking those calls back when you know you did the wrong thing, ESPECIALLY when its clear your opponent is not in the proper position to make the proper call to contest.

  • Colin

    Guest2. Agreed that the defender has a responsibility, too, with respect to the call and also for the check. Really, if either player, marker or thrower, had performed the check right, one of the thrower’s teammates could have identified and corrected this mistake.

    1) Ask players downfield if they’re ready.
    2) Announce where the stall count will resume
    3) Count down 3-2-1 loudly
    4) Check the disc into play

    Every time. It’s really easy, and it’s a time-saver, in addition to preventing all kinds of other issues.

  • Guest3

    It looks like Doi could have gotten to 6 in the stall count fairly easily. Jibran caught the disc at about the 4 second mark in the video, and the stall was acknowledged at about the 9 second mark(I’m assuming Doi’s stalls aren’t exactly one second – god forbid!). If they used the rules correctly, yes, the disc should have come in on stall 6. That is the fault of both players for agreeing on stall 7.

    Also, from what it looks like in the video, after Doi called the stall, Jibran held the disc for another second or two at least, with no available options. From what I can tell, he would have been stalled out if it had come in on 5 or 6 as well.

    As many have also noted, Truck turned it over right after that as well. At this point both players probably feel awful about it, so I think the issue needs to be dropped. I like the observer strain of this discussion, but I think Colin nailed most of my own frustration best. Things could have been done differently, but it no way does this one incident signal that observers need more power. It clearly just shows that players need to be educated more effectively about the rules when they are changed/updated.

    • guest35

      It’s not when the pick is acknowledged… it’s when it occurred. That seems to have been around 0:06 or 0:07 in the video.

    • Mitch

      PMF guest3 for not being able to count a stall properly even with video replay.

  • Bobo

    This has been said many times before, it’s a player refereed sport so the players make the decisions aided by observers if so required. Saying that the observers need the powers to check the stall count is stupid. The players have that power, the guy on the mark should announce the stall count to the defense anyway and at that point it should be clear that the stall count is incorrect. The two teams failed in this scenario not the observers. This discussion is silly and a ridiculous attempt to create controversy where there shouldn’t be any.

  • http://www.ultimateargentina.com.ar Martin Gottschalk

    Treat rules knowledge as what it is: another skill, like throwing and cutting. Lost for not knowing them? Though break, come back next year better prepared. “Failing at knowing a rule is like dropping a disc.”

    So what if ultimate never becomes an olympic sport??? I like to play, wherever the setting, and we can have our own elite level competition without folding to outsiders rules (IOC).

    I like playing, the show comes from giving ourself in the field just for the glory, fans will appreciate that, not the “easiness” no be watched. If it takes longer, so be it. After all, there is nothing more slow and boring than baseball, and they have a couple of fans…

    No professional ultimate, no reefs, that´s the way to go.

  • guest36

    Re:guest35 “It’s not when the pick is acknowledged… it’s when it occurred.”

    As far as I can tell from the rules, the stall continues until the thrower acknowledges the pick, NOT when the call is made. In my understanding, players re-position according to where they were when the call is made, but play resumes with the stall count reached (or 6 if over 5):

    XIV.A.5: “If a stall count is interrupted by a call, the thrower and marker are responsible for agreeing on the correct count before the check. The count reached is the last number fully uttered by the marker before the call. The count is resumed with the word stalling followed by the number listed below:

    Pick: Count reached plus 1, or 6 if over 5″

    XVI.C.4.a: “If no pass is thrown or attempted before the thrower stops play by acknowledging the call, all players return to the locations they occupied when the call was made.”

    XVI.C: “Any time an infraction is called, the continuation rule applies. Continuation Rule: Play stops when the thrower in possession acknowledges that an infraction has been called. If a call is made when the disc is in the air or the thrower is in the act of throwing, or if the thrower fails to acknowledge the call and subsequently attempts a pass, play continues until the outcome of that pass is determined. For the purpose of the continuation rule, an uncontested stall that occurs after another call is treated the same as an incomplete pass
    [Thus, if you get stalled before you acknowledge a call, it is treated the same as if you ignored the call and threw a turnover.]”

    No where in the rules could I find anything that suggested that the stall went back to where it was when the call happened, just that players did. Given that, seems like the general continuation rule with acknowledgment applies, so the stall should have come in on whatever was reached, plus one (or 6 if that was reached).

    Happy to be proven wrong if you can find it in the rules, but that’s the way I read them.

    • guest35

      @guest36: It’s right there in what you quoted. “The count reached is the last number fully uttered by the marker before the CALL.”

    • Mitch

      Wow. Just wow. As guest35 said, and as you yourself quoted, time of the CALL. End of story.

      Cant accurately count even with video replay…. not being able to read the rule as plainly written.

      Come on people.

  • anon

    What’s the downside of letting observers call violations?

  • Dan

    Alright, lets talk about what needs to be talked about:

    Jibran Mieser

    Mr Mieser should know the rules and should know that if a pick is called on stall 2, it comes in on stall 2. The fact that he DOESN’T know the rules means that he hurt his own team.

    Let’s look at it, he has all the tools he needs. 1. He has access to the rule book. 2. He has players behind him saying “no way that was 7″. 3. THE OBSERVER IS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM! 4. Daresay his captain was somewhere on the field. He could have asked his teammates, the observer or his captain for clarification.

    Giving Observers any kind of expanded powers in this situation is a dumb idea. Jibran had a mad rookie brain fade and cost his team the match. This wasn’t a problem with observers, this was a problem with a rookie not knowing the rules.

    • Rob

      Well, OK, then the defender either also needs to know the rules, or is knowingly cheating — or possibly just had the violation of an egregiously silly fast count.

      It seems fair to give the d the benefit of the doubt (either ignorance or a bad violation), but it would definitely be interesting to hear from the involved players themselves.

  • John

    Below is an outline of all of the failures surrounding the “Stall 7″ incident

    Marker: Was in direct violation of 3 possible 4 rules set fourth in the 11th Edition Rules.
    XIV. The Marker
    A. Stalling: The period of time within which a thrower must release a throw may be timed by the stall count.
    1. The stall count consists of announcing “stalling” and counting from one to ten loudly enough for the thrower to hear.
    a. The interval between the first utterance of each number in the stall count must be at least one second.
    b. All stall counts initiated, reinitiated or resumed after a stoppage of play must start with the word “stalling.”
    5. If a stall count is interrupted by a call, the thrower and marker are responsible for agreeing on the correct count before the check. The count reached is the last number fully uttered by the marker before the call. The count is resumed with the word “stalling” followed by the number listed below:
    b. Specific Rules:
    1. Pick: Count reached plus 1, or 6 if over 5
    XIX. Etiquette
    A. If an infraction is committed and not called, the player committing the infraction should inform the infracted player or team of the infraction.

    Defenside Teammates: Failing to notify your marker that he was in violation of one of more of the above. Not one of the 25+ of you noticed?

    Thrower: Was not able to correct the call for whatever reason, shame on him for that. Its equally important to know the rules just as it is to know the teams sets/systems/plays.

    Offensive Teammates: Failing to appeal to their thrower to correct the call. Arguing with the Observer does no good as only a player(on the field) can ask for an observer to intervene.

    Event Organizer:
    Nowhere in the 11th Edition Rules does it outline that it is the Event Organizers duty to resolve any disputes let alone contain any sideline-teammates from talking to their players/observers.
    Why are you even in the 3/5 meter perimeter around the field. Have some respect for the teams playing and get out of the way, you have no business being there and the rules specifically prohibit you from being there.

    • Mitch

      “Why are you even in the 3/5 meter perimeter around the field. Have some respect for the teams playing and get out of the way, you have no business being there and the rules specifically prohibit you from being there.”

      To be fair, the rules actually specifically prohibit the sideline players from being inside the 3m line as well. I think it’s fine to say he has no business preventing any communication between the players, but I wouldn’t have a problem with a USAU tournament person at nationals telling players to get behind the player line. I’d probably thank them for doing so.

  • Liam Kelly

    Here is a video of a referee – in the biggest sport in the World, on the biggest sporting stage in the World – getting the decision wrong – and not stopping the game.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WML0aP4jo_g

    Having referees, or even giving observers more “powers” is not the answer for “fairness” – complete fairness will evade any situation; self officiating, or refereed.

    The answer to this one particular incident is that the player, who is responsible for knowing the rules, made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Even professional referees, as the clip shows, will make mistakes. If the player had the rules knowledge that is expected of him, perhaps the outcome would have been different. But perhaps not.

    I think that this article is a perfect example of why self-refereeing and SOTG is currently working well – just as well as refereeing works [or doesn't work] in other games.

    There are only a handful of incidents a season that make people question self officiating & SOTG – which is just as many (if not less proportionately to the size of other games to ours) that people talk about refereeing not working in other sports.

  • Liam Kelly

    In relation to the clip, the gentleman who states that it “doesn’t matter, you’re not in the field” – I would expect a coach, or even a senior player [captain, etc], to intervene with a clear violation of the rules.

    It does matter – what doesn’t matter, is that you’re not of the field.

    I’m glad the rules have changed to reflect this.

    • kbf

      Ha you called Slocum a “gentleman”

  • Liam Kelly

    In relation to the clip, the gentleman who states that it “doesn’t matter, you’re not in the field” – I would expect a coach, or even a senior player [captain, etc], to intervene with a clear violation of the rules.

    It does matter – what doesn’t matter, is that you’re not of the field.

    I’m glad the new rules have been written to reflect this.

    • http://twitter.com/ConorPhelan1 Conor Phelan

      Isn’t that one difference between USAU and WFDF? In WFDF you have to ask the sideline for their opinion, whereas in USAU the sideline can offer an opinion? I may be way off here!

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