On Skyd Magazine this morning, Andrew Roca, the head coach of Central Florida, wrote an op-ed about the T-Town Spike incident. The piece responds to commentary here on Ultiworld about the larger implications of the layout, spike, and minor scuffle that followed.
Roca points out that the video clip “failed to show…the events that followed” the incident, instead showing just the heated moment without context.
“It did not display the ensuing apology and explanation from Chris Browning to me about his intent,” he wrote. “Apologies and hand-shaking were also shared between Brawley, Chris, and Mike Hickson.”
Roca went on to make the point that “what everyone has claimed to be an aggressive case of bad spirit’ in a game of college ultimate turned exactly into the opposite: a heated moment…readily diffused with apologies and handshakes.”
It’s a well-argued piece and worth reading in full. But Roca misses a key point in his argument — this is not about the ability of players to calm down after a heated moment; it’s about enforcing rules and ensuring that we do not tacitly allow dangerous bids or disrespectful actions (e.g. spiking on or near an opponent) to be an accepted part of the sport.
In our podcast this week, we discussed how other sports handle similar situations. There are many tools at the disposal of referees faced with situations where competition “overheats” and there is a particularly hard foul or unsportsmanlike conduct: flagrant fouls, fines, ejections, yardage penalties, penalty boxes, etc. Of course, in an observed game, there are Team and Player Misconduct Fouls (which no doubt would have been given out in this situation).
I believe that if ultimate is to continue to progress as a legitimate sport, it is not good enough to accept incidents like what happened at T-Town. Of course players are going to have unsportsmanlike moments, as they do in all sports. But there are penalties for those moments for a reason. It can be literally detrimental to the players safety.
In basketball, a hard shove from behind on a player going up for a layup is always going to be at least a flagrant, and potentially an ejection; fouls like that are dangerous. Often times, you’ll even see the perpetrator helping up the player he just fouled. That doesn’t excuse the foul.
If there are going to continue to be high-level, physical tournaments played without observers, there should be a better way to police games. USA Ultimate could easily use available game video to apply PMFs, suspensions, or other penalties they decide upon. This will immediately discourage this behavior (much like observers discourage it), which should be the goal.
Furthermore, as more and more game video becomes available and interest in the sport continues to grow, we have to start thinking about the implications of our on-field behavior and rule enforcement more than ever before. There is no place for unpunished flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct in legitimate sports. We shouldn’t teach younger players to play like that, and we shouldn’t want fans to see it as an accepted aspect of our game.
Yes, what happened at T-Town was a minor incident along the spectrum of dangerous bids, aggressive spikes, and fights. And kudos to the players for quickly resolving the issue and continuing the game without incident. But the argument that spirit prevailed doesn’t really hold water — good spirit means that the bid and the spike never happened.
Of course there will be moments in the heat of competition when spirit will break down. That’s why there are rules and penalties in place. There should be an increased emphasis on enforcing those penalties at tournaments without observers.