Rethinking The Rules: No More Running Out The Clock

This is a guest post by Steve Lienert in our Rethinking The Rules series. He has been playing Ultimate since 1988 and won back-to-back college national championships with the ECU Irates. He also played at Open nationals twice with the Philadelphia Rage. He currently is an assistant coach at Radnor High School in Pennsylvania. He’s also an AUDL timekeeper. Follow him on twitter at @fromthebarstool.

Last Monday, at the 2012 USA Ultimate Grandmasters National Championship, Minneapolis’ Surly GM defeated Philadelphia’s Scrapple, 14-11, to win the title.

Surly won fair-and-square. Everything they did was within the current rules of Ultimate. However, their use of timeouts at the end of hard-capped games in both the Semifinals and Finals left a bitter taste in the mouths of their opponents and spectators alike.

Both Boulder Gun Club, who Surly defeated in the semifinals 12-11, and Scrapple scored the final goal in their respective games against Surly.

Both walked away losers.

According to the USAU recap, “With one timeout to burn, Surly ran out the clock to the cap and Boulder’s last huck scored in vain…” Before BGC scored on that huck, Surly took a timeout. After Boulder scored, Surly took another timeout to secure the win. That’s not cheating, but it doesn’t make it right.

A Scrapple player explained, “On the second to last point of the [Championship] game, a Surly player called an injury timeout. After a lengthy conversation, Surly’s substitute took his time getting on the field before immediately calling timeout when he tapped in the disc.”

Sounds like blatant foot-dragging to me.

This is not how games of Ultimate, especially championship games, are supposed to end. Frankly, scoring that last goal to win a championship is the single-most difficult goal to convert. How can a team win a big game without having to scale the entire mountain?

USAU’s recap explained more: “All weekend long, the implementation of the cap seemed to confound teams and the lack of a soft cap or pre-cap warning of some other kind, created a few disappointingly anticlimactic endings.”

The same sort of thing happened at the Pennsylvania High School state championship tournament in May. Fox Chapel defeated Lower Merion in part because Fox Chapel had a timeout to burn within two minutes of the time cap. That was that for LM. The Aces stood by helplessly as the clock ticked on their state title hopes.

Ultimate may be the only sport where teams can take a timeout to burn the clock! Time management is an important part of many sports, but it’s always to slow the game down at the end — teams still have to win on the field.

It’s clear: the rule needs to be changed.

Ideally, the quarters, semifinals, and finals of tournaments would simply be played to a predetermined number of points, with no cap. Capping the other games would be fine.

But if you need caps to keep things moving, here’s a second idea: observers already keep a clock of 70 seconds between pulls. If a team takes a timeout that will essentially give them the game, what is stopping the observer from adding the two minutes taken for the timeout onto the end of the game?

In other words, if a game is approaching the hard-cap and a team takes a timeout within, say, five minutes of the cap, the observer adds two minutes onto the end of the round. The cap time is shifted by two minutes, sort of like extra time in soccer.

Yes, this does mean the tournament director would have to factor in an extra five minutes per round in the Championship bracket, but that’s a small price to pay to make sure the games are decided on the field instead of on the sideline.

As the rules stand today, what Surly did was a savvy, veteran move that helped earn them a championship. But would Surly have scored that all-important 15th goal if the game came down to that? We’ll never know for sure.

What is known is that taking those timeouts is not within the spirit of the rule.

Since Ultimate is the only sport with Spirit of the Game written into the rules, it’s important that that concept govern all the rules, including when timeouts are taken in relation to the cap.

Let’s look back at USAU’s recap. It reads: “Perhaps a clearer communication of what time standard we wish to adhere to is needed, though it’s anyone’s guess as to what that will look like. As it stands, with a rigid hard cap applied abruptly, time management will continue to be an element of the game that will be open to tactical use.”

This has to change.

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