The Future of Ultimate: Can We Have The Best of Both?

By Mike Petersen

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of Mike Petersen in his capacity as Mike Petersen.  He’s not intending to represent the views of Drag’n Thrust or any other person or entity.

I have played ultimate for 14 years at just about every level and every style. I started, as most do, playing pickup games for fun. I have learned to love every facet of this game more than I could possibly have expected. And it is changing, more quickly now than ever before. Most high schools now have at least a rudimentary team, ESPN is covering Ultimate games (and getting in #SCtop10), and people are playing for stadiums full of screaming fans. These things simply weren’t happening 10 years ago. It is a very exciting time in our sport!

However, there is a rift in the major factions promoting ultimate today (USAU, WFDF and the 2 Pro Leagues – and don’t forget the International Olympic Committee). The main point of contention seems to be how different people/organizations want to see ultimate grow. There are those who cherish the history of the sport, firmly rooted in self-officiation and spirit of the game. There are others who think that the sport cannot truly grow to its potential or be taken seriously without having referees and the increased publicity that comes with professional sports. In my opinion, this is an unnecessary rift.

So, what is the right way to go? Which side should win? Why not both?  I don’t think any one organization has the right to decide what the future of our sport holds. That being said, they all have very valid points. There are good qualities of both sides of the discussion. Refs inevitably make the game appear more legitimate to the outside world, make it more watchable (by speeding up the sport), but spirit of the game is also an integral aspect of the game I have grown to love, and the IOC is definitely attracted to the self-officiation and spirit of the game. The point here is that both sides need to talk it out. I think there is a very good probability at least one of the pro leagues (or maybe they’ll merge) will continue to prosper into the future. They’re not going anywhere. When you can get 2000+ people out to some games for a sport that a majority of the world doesn’t know about/fully understand, it’s obvious that there is a strong future there. The two sides need to sit down and figure out a compromise for the betterment of the sport, as we can all agree that fighting between the major factions can only hurt Ultimate as we know it. I don’t know what compromise would best fit the sport, and no one person or organization does either. That requires open lines of communication.

Ultimate is one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now. It is very important to me that the sport both grows in popularity and legitimacy, while retaining what makes it so special and different from other areas of competition. I thoroughly believe that if USAU, the AUDL and MLU all got together to discuss the future of this amazing sport, they would be able to effectively learn from the other. I can definitely say that there are great parts of both professional leagues and club, having played under both systems. Hopefully in the near future they will be working together closely, furthering the growth of the sport.

**Authors Note: There are a few other people who have weighed in on this topic recently, and have fine points to bring up:

Beau’s Blog: http://skydmagazine.com/2014/04/catdog/

Ultiworld’s Blog: http://ultiworld.com/2014/03/19/usa-ultimate-work-pro-leagues/

 

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