Earlier this week, Major League Ultimate announced that they signed Ben Wiggins as the coach of the Seattle Rainmakers. The news came as a bit of a surprise since Wiggins has been outspoken about his opposition to referees.
We caught up with Wiggins yesterday to talk about his decision and his plans for the upcoming season.
“I’m excited to get involved for a lot of reasons,” said Wiggins. “I don’t think anything is changed from what I said in that article [about using observers in the professional leagues]. And so it’s not like every single thing about the MLU is perfect in my mind…But I guess there’s two sides to it.
“One is, it’s an opportunity to compete. I can’t compete and put the time in that USA Ultimate’s season takes. I can’t play tournaments, I can’t put six months into the season, and I can’t put up the kind of money it takes to play a season well. It’s thousands and thousands of dollars, and that’s not counting any of the time lost for work. I would love to compete – the MLU is supporting me so I can do what I love.”
The shorter season and single-game format makes it possible for Wiggins to balance his work and time with his family with his commitment to the Rainmakers. And he misses the competitive aspect of high-level ultimate. He may even play.
“I have an injury situation which is ongoing,” he said. “I don’t know if I will be physically able to play…We’re gonna work out a system where, if I do play, I’m gonna have a bench role. We’re talking, like, Sam Cassell in his last years in the NBA.”
Certainly the prospect of seeing Wiggins play again could be a big draw for Seattle. In many ways, the format of the MLU could offer many aging stars the chance to play competitively again, without fading into obscurity in the USAU Masters division. Wiggins agreed. “Maybe this is a way some of those top [older] guys can play but just one game a week,” he said.
But there is still the issue of referees. Why is Wiggins — who turned down an opportunity to coach an AUDL team last year because of the ref issue — joining the MLU?
“I could be that guy on the street corner yelling about how refs are bad, or I could get involved,” he said. “And maybe when the decision needs to be made, maybe my voice will be in there. You can either be involved or you can sit on the sidelines and watch. And there’s only so much sitting on the sidelines I want to do.”
“On the other side of things, I do think MLU and AUDL should use observers,” he added. “I think my arguments make sense. But I think that the people working on MLU really want what’s best for the sport and they listen to reason. Right now their reason tells them, go with refs.”
He mentioned that it was very important to him that Spirit of the Game remain a part of the ethos of the sport in the MLU. His contract with the Rainmakers says explicitly that he is to bench players who are not enacting the Integrity Rule. That helped alleviate his concerns.
This will also offer Wiggins an opportunity to play with his younger brother, Seth, who signed with the Rainmakers earlier this month. “He told me that he wouldn’t play unless I coached, but then he signed up before I did,” said Ben. “So what are you gonna do?”
At the end of our interview, I asked Wiggins — widely respected as a top strategic mind — if he had given thought to how he would tweak his offense and defense on the wider MLU field.
“I’ve thought of some things,” he said. “I’m not gonna share anything right now…I think defense is going to be more challenging, and we’re going to have to learn how to use double teams at the right time. Our blitz packages will be complex.”