Monday, April 16, 2012

My AUDL Experience

After my league game, I drove up from Washington, DC to Philadelphia to watch the professional Ultimate league's inaugural night game. This night game under the bright lights featured Philadelphia Spinners hosting the visiting Buffalo Hunters at Franklin Field (on UPenn's campus) on Saturday, April 14. There were 3 other scheduled games - Connecticut at Rhode Island; Indy at Columbus; Detroit at Kentucky on this inaugural AUDL day.

Game time stated 8:05pm. Nearing 8pm, the queue swelled giving security more than they could (seem to) handle. Attendees sat on the bleacher style seating positioned behind the benches which were on the same sideline. After a few announcements about delaying the start so as to allow those in line to enter, the game finally started 30 minutes late (8:36pm) - just like a rec league game, except a curfew replaces the time cap. The game ended at 10:50pm.

Players for the home team were announced, and after the National Anthem was sung, one of the Spinners players addressed the crowd and asked the Hunters to join him in a cheer of "Ultimate!" before the game start. The two teams huddled at mid-field, and the audience couldn't hear the rest due to an audio fail. Assume the cheer went something like this: 1-2-3 - Ultimate!

The feel-good moment was felt by the entire burgeoning crowd (announced as 1,600). The first pull of the game was off and began an ULTypIcal find-your-legs first point. Buffalo scored first which set off the crowd with boos. Hearing boo-ing at Ultimate toward a bad call, maybe; toward another team; not very "Ultimate."

Some other observations:

Field size: Endzones are too large - maybe 5-10 yards too big. As a spectator, it was disconcerting to see someone score at the 5 yards away from the painted end zone. For defenders, 20 yards is a large area to cover, let alone to know its location by a sideline cone.

Offense: Too many 50-50 throws. Granted, when the offense worked the disc up, it was sorta boring to watch. When the offense tried to huck it deep, it seemed kinda unnecessary. I couldn't tell whether the huck-and-hope was due to the 7-second stall count, or just out of habit. Soon, teams will realize the 'value' of possession over the 'need' to score.

Penalty: If/when a penalty is called, the ref stops play and the disc advances.  The advantage of advancement is curious since the handler with the disc moves 5 yards closer to the endzone while the rest of the offense stays put, which may put the offense out of sync. The advantage of a new stall count is more apparent.

Self-rule: There was a moment in the second half when a Spinners player bobbled the disc out of bounds near the Spinners sideline, and the ref made the hand signal of "in". The crowd grumbled in disagreement with the non-call, while the Integrity Rule didn't play out; from neither coach, nor player. Instead the player re-established a pivot foot and threw a score on his subsequent toss.

Defense: The defense was more athletically impressive than the offense. Knockdowns seemed to get a bigger rise out of the crowd than any other play.

Cheerleaders: They were distracting in a 'what-are-they-doing?' way. I understand the rationale for them as a promotional tool for team awareness and for rah-rahs. But, if they weren't there, I would not have necessarily missed them.

Venue: The stadium was outrageously huge for an Ultimate game. Granted, the 1000+ crowd was impressive, but humbled by the 52,000 capacity stadium. Oh, the concessions were ill-equipped for the crowd where a very good looking stack appeared for most of the game. 

Teams: The Philadelphia roster outnumbered Buffalo, which benefited the Spinners. The Spinners showed more cohesion with an offensive strategy, and better second half adjustments; not to mention a vocal home crowd.

In the end, after watching 48 minutes of a professional Ultimate game, what I wanted to do the most was: Play More Ultimate. As for the AUDL, time will tell its impact on Ultimate -- is it competing at a higher level, or having competition on a bigger stage? There were definitely some SportsCenter top plays from this game, though I think there are impressive highlights from every Ultimate game. I probably won't drive 141 miles again to see another 2012 game so my next AUDL game will be when the league expands to Washington, DC in 2013.

Highlights of the game, which Spinners won 26-14:

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