March 28, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in News with 111 comments
Jonathan Hoffman, the Ohio Valley Regional Director for USA Ultimate, wrote this open letter resigning his post in protest of USAU’s semi-pro position.
I am writing as the current Ohio Valley Open College Director. I have been a member of USA Ultimate for 15 years, coached a college team for 10, and volunteered as either a Conference Coordinator or Regional Director for the past 4 years.
The definition of Spirit of the Game, as written by USA Ultimate, includes the following line which to me exemplifies what it stands for: “Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.” In all of my experiences, Spirit of the Game has never been truly about self- officiation, but instead about respect for your teammates and opponents. For several years I have felt that the Ultimate Players Association, and now USA Ultimate, have lost sight of that mutual respect in favor of championing self-officiation. A self-officiated game is not inherently a spirited game; it is the responsibility of the players to ensure that spirit is upheld.
Earlier this season I coached at a tournament where a player picked up the disc at the wrong spot on the field. His opponent informed him of this and he immediately went to the correct spot to check the disc in. As this occurred, the opposing coach on the sideline yelled that next time, his player should allow the thrower to check the disc in at the incorrect spot and call a violation once it is thrown. In addition, anyone that watched or attended the 2010 College Championships when Florida won against Carleton saw a game filled with intentional fouls on the marks. These are just two of many examples of individuals intentionally violating the Spirit of the Game in an effort to gain an advantage over their opponent. Spirit of the Game is not fostered exclusively through self-officiation but instead through a conscious effort of every team and every individual to ensure that sportsmanship is held with a higher regard than winning. I feel that USA Ultimate should be encouraging and teaching that at every level, rather than simply preaching the merits of self-officiation.
In recent years, I have watched with interest as the new professional leagues have formed. Several former players and teammates of mine have been involved with both the AUDL and the MLU. Each of these leagues not only uses referees to officiate the game, but also include clauses in their rules regarding the Spirit of the Game. I was extremely disappointed, although not surprised, at USA Ultimate’s official position of these leagues. Instead of embracing the opportunity to spread the sport and helping to foster Spirit of the Game at all levels, USA Ultimate is choosing to wage a battle that does not need to take place.
I was first struck by this last year as the tournament director for Steakfest, an annual regular season college tournament. We were attempting to work with the Philadelphia Spinners to have a showcase game at the event. I believed this to be an opportunity for younger players in college to experience the game first hand at a higher level. As a sanctioned event, not only did USA Ultimate not allow a showcase game, but also we were not allowed to have any mention of the MLU or the Spinners on any official event guides, e-mails, or publications. The MLU slogan at the time included the line “This is Ultimate,” and I was specifically told that since they use officials USA Ultimate does not even consider them to be playing Ultimate. I voiced my objections, but ultimately we were not allowed in any way to coordinate with them.
This self-righteousness only serves to hurt the sport. Casual fans watching ESPN 3 will not see a real difference between an observer at College Nationals and a referee at an AUDL or MLU game. What they will see, however, is what I consider to be one of the best sports in existence. USA Ultimate has an opportunity to ensure that Spirit of the Game remains at the forefront of the sport, but by refusing to partner with these leagues they are instead creating conflict and endangering that which they say they’re trying to protect.
Partnering with these professional leagues could alleviate the other concerns that they bring up. Promoting local leagues at the professional games, showcasing a girl’s high school game at half time, having club and youth teams recognized at events – all of these are ways to foster a spirit of inclusion while still partnering with these professional leagues. There are countless other creative ideas that could be implemented if the leadership of the USA Ultimate worked together with these professional leagues, rather than actively working against them.
Later in 2014, USA Ultimate will hold nominations for their Board of Governance. This is an opportunity to choose candidates that will support Spirit of the Game along with the coexistence of the professional leagues and USA Ultimate. This next election will be the most important yet, as our sport faces a crucial point in its history. Spirit of the Game is the cornerstone of Ultimate and we need to embrace that while allowing it to evolve and grow with the sport itself.
It is because of this vast difference of philosophy and approach that I am resigning as the Ohio Valley Regional Director. I hope to continue to remain active within USA Ultimate to foster change, however, in my current role I am unable to do so and am instead complicit in their misguidance.