Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stephen "Franchise" Presley for Callahan

For any Ultimate writer, April 27th, 2009 was one of the juiciest days in our sport's history. Arizona's romp in Vegas last February was a big one, as was Furious' 0-3 showing at Nationals back in October of 2007 but from Oregon to Colorado to Minnesota to Texas to North Carolina, last Sunday proved to be one of the most compelling days of Ultimate that I can recall and I think we are all still feeling the after affects.

However, rather than being filled with elation and excitement, the Ultimate community seems to be wrapped up in a lot of negativity with feelings of rage and/or embarrassment. Oregon's disqualification has stunned us all, not only because of the amazing lack of judgement, but also because I think we are all curious to know what kind of ripple effect this will have. The last time I can recall a single Ultimate event making it on Deadspin was when Beau jumped over David "Runner" Flock at Southwest Regionals back in 2006 and we all know what kind of lasting impact that had. The pursuit of credibility in this game took a major hit this past weekend and what's worse is that Oregon is such a great program. Had this been a smaller school or a non-UPA sanctioned tournament, no biggy, but having such an established team do this...yikes, I don't need to say anymore.

And then there is Florida. I don't think I have ever seen such a hateful backlash on RSD, but in all honesty, Florida set themselves up for it. I'm sure they thought boner checks and taunting highlight clips were funny and what not, but now they will get no sympathy from the faceless masses. It is hard to feel sorry for a program with two National title game appearances, a National Championship and a Callahan award winner in the last 4 years, but I think the one thing to take from this is that it seems that outside a few incidents at Florida Warm Up and RSD, Florida actually isn't that bad. They may have asked for poor spirit scores at Nationals last year, but in all seriousness, their bark is much worse than their bite. I also liked what Dar had to say about the situation, especially "they are just college kids -- if it's the worst thing that ever happens in their lives, they're a very lucky bunch in my opinion".

Despite the fact that the two biggest stories in the sport right now are not what I would call "feel good", a lot of amazing things did happen this past weekend. Carleton has played as well as billed and de-throned Wisconsin from the Central Region after a three year term. Cornell continued with their stellar season by taking the Metro East and could earn a 1 seed in Columbus, especially with Florida and Oregon out of the picture (the bar has been set Middlebury). Virginia beating Florida was epic but the real story is the fact that they made Nationals for the first time ever, not to mention took the AC. As for the Southwest, Colorado took the Region again, but my squiddies are headed back to Nationals after a 2 year hiatus, hopefully I can make it out to Ohio for the festivities.

However, the story I am most interested in revolves around the South Region and Texas' Stephen "Franchise" Presley, hence the title. When all the events surrounding Florida and Oregon came out, not to mention other topics from the other Regions, I was immediately compelled to jot down my opinions. I was hesitant though, because almost everything that came to mind was either rooted in ridicule/shame or stuff that wouldn't be all that exciting to the masses.

That is except for Franchise. Much like the competitive field at College Nationals this year, the Callahan race seems to be wide open. Last year there were several names at the top of the list but realistically, the award was either going to Gibson's skill or Kershner's hype and we all know how that ended. However, in 2009, things seem to have gone back in time. Most Callahan campaigns this year have revolved around RSD threads and in-Region opinion because in the absence of Nation-wide chatter or media coverage, there isn't much else.

As it stands now, there are a variety of contenders that could get the top spot at the podium. Jimmy Foster from Wisconsin is easily a frontrunner, and with two National Championships and a formidable Club career with Sub-Zero, he makes a good case. He's also a class act and a damn fine Ultimate player. However, much like what happened with Mark Sherwood of Stanford last year, having your team gutted and slipping from the top spot in the Region does not help in the vote department.

Rusty Ingold Smith is also another popular candidate. He was one of the only male college players invited to Team USA tryouts, which is certainly an honor, and for the last two years or so, Rusty has brought considerable spotlight down upon UNC-Wilmington. However, the Seamen didn't even make a game to go and considering the fact that they didn't leave their time zone this season, I don't think Rusty can count on a ton of Nationwide support.

Will Neff is also a possible contender, and I say this because I've been saying it for a year or so. He is an exceptional player and team mate by anyone's standards but with the Cultimate schedule the way it is, a 12-2 record at Centex and Huck Finn didn't get them anywhere near a Finals appearance. Unlike a year ago when they handed Wisconsin their first loss at Centex, a ton of Nationwide hype isn't swirling around them. Plus, Notre Dame could snatch the Region away from Magnum and that won't help Will's campaign.

I hadn't heard of him until this weekend, but Robert Runner from Virginia has definitely gotten himself some ink. Florida lost to two other teams at AC Regionals, but I think Night Train deserves the most praise because no one expected them to dismantle the Gators 14-9, much less win the Region. However, I wonder if this National attention is a bit too late. With only a few weeks until College Nationals, I'm willing to bet most folks aren't ready to cast their ballots for such a new face on the National scene.

The next name on my list is Mac Taylor and with Colorado owning the Southwest Region the last 5 years and their tournament win at Centex, I think more than enough people are aware of #40. His leadership on CU is exceptional and his exposure with Bravo is also top notch. A seemingly impervious candidate, no?

Well, personally, I think what has made Mac strong as a player, makes him weak as a Callahan nominee. In 5 years, Mac has gone from newbie to superstar but in reality, I think it has less to do with him as a person and more that he is simply the product of an amazing system. His Buff of the Week article is a great piece on his abilities and progression from never playing Ultimate to the player he is now, but in my opinion, he is just another in a long line of Mamabird greats. Mickey, Parker, Richter, Chicken, Beau, Rabbit, Jolian, Martin....there has been, and probably always will be, someone amazing from Colorado every year and Mac is just next. In the 5 years he has been with Colorado, Mamabird has taken the Region every year, made the Finals in 2007 and made Semis in 2005, 2007, and 2008, not to mention having several top 5 Callahan vote getters. But what did Colorado do the year before he came to school? They won a National Championship and Richter won the Callahan. Does this sound like Mac has made Colorado the contender they are this year? Or does it sound like Colorado has made Mac the Callahan contender he is this year?

In my mind, I think despite Mac's hype and abilities, he is just not the best Callahan candidate. He may be very instrumental for Colorado this year and will undoubtedly have a great Club career but had he not been around the last 5 years, Mamabird would have found someone else to fill his shoes, CU is just that good. This isn't a knock on his abilities, but to me, he seems like Mark Sanchez or Graham Harrell, a reasonably talented athlete that benefits from a GREAT program.

When I think Callahan candidate, I think Josh Zipperstein or Tim Gehret, two players that were at the heart of their team's success. Without them, neither Brown nor Florida would have won Nationals in 2005 and 2006. One could make the same case for Richter in 2004 and Dan Heijmen in 2007, and there is no way Arizona beats Florida, has a chance against Wisconsin and makes Nationals without the 5 year effort that Joe Kershner put in.

With this in mind, I think it is more than obvious that Stephen "Franchise" Presley should be the Callahan winner this year. Over the past 5 years, no player has been as consistent and instrumental to his team's success than #22. In the last 5 seasons, Texas has taken the South Region 5 times. They are 24-0 in that stretch and have won the Finals in everything from 15-6 blowouts to Universe point finishes. This is insanely difficult because Regionals is easily the most emotion filled tournament of the year with so much on the line and so many rivalries running rampant. But with so much at stake, Franchise has never faltered. Sure Mac has been part of 5 consecutive Colorado Regional titles as well, but they've only had 1 close game in that stretch and they had two Team USA players on that roster.

The Callahan award is not about a single season because realistically, what can a single player do in a single season? If you walk onto a National contender, what have you really done? Florida's 2006 National title took years to build. Arizona's sole shot at Nationals took half a decade of training, recruitment and focus.

While it is true that Texas has had greats like Matt "Skip" Sewell, Michael "Tank" Natenberg, and David "Salad" Melancon, the Texas alums I know all tip their caps to Franchise. A prominent Texas player once told me that Franchise was born with a disc in his hand and as such has been a standout for TUFF since his freshman year. Unlike Colorado, Texas wasn't even at Nationals in 2004, but like Colorado, they haven't lost a game at Regionals since.

Reading the recap of the Final game against Kansas was exciting but the performance from Franchise is more or less expected. In watching him the last few years with Texas and Doublewide I, and others, have come to expect nothing but greatness from him. His fundamentals, form, athleticism, and leadership are second to none and 2009 is his year.

He had his own little thread on RSD like every other Callahan nominee, and I won't waste your time discussing his talents because odds are, they are not too dissimilar from many other nominees. However, what is different is Franchise's body of work. He has been Texas' Callahan nominee for the last 3 years, he was FOTY in 2005 as well as South All Region '06-'08 and he is the only returning player from the top 5 Callahan MVP list last year.

He has also been part of Doublewide for as long as he's been with TUFF. Much like Oscar Pottinger and Dylan Tunnell, Franchise was right there with his local Club team after his first college series. With the exception of Will Neff (Twisted Metal) Franchise is the only Open College player I can think of that was at Club Nationals back in 2005, but unlike Will, Franchise hasn't missed a Club season yet. Aside from 2006, Franchise has made Nationals every year in both the College and Club divisions, meaning he has qualified for a total of 8 National tournaments in 9 opportunities, 7 of which were Regional victories. Are you kidding me?!?

However, much like any player, Franchise is not without weakness. One talking point with respect to Texas that comes up often is that they never seem to make it past quarters. In 2005, 2006, and 2007 they finished tied for 5th, losing in quarters to UCSD, Florida, and Stanford, respectively.

None the less, I think this a foolish approach to determining the merit of a team or player. For years I used to poke fun at Stanford for making Semifinals and no further, but in retrospect, I completely underestimated the value of such an accomplishment. Aside from 4 other teams in the Nation, no one else gets any further than quarters and I seemed to forget how amazingly difficult it is just to get to Nationals. We all witnessed Arizona's rise to stardom and with just one trip to quarters Kershner earned the Callahan, why can't 3 do the same for Franchise?

What is also paramount, but horribly cliche, is that unlike most of the nominees I have discussed, Franchise is not your stereotypical 6'2" COTD highlight machine. He is a 5'8" work horse who's defining moment is not the epic sky he had in the first half, but the overall tournament performance he puts together. In those god awful 5th round 17-16 scorchers with major heat, wind, and/or exhaustion going against you, Franchise hits his stride. When most college players lose focus and fail to complete their 100th break throw or stay with their man through his 11th cut of a point at 13-12, Franchise's true character reveals itself as he digs deep to execute when it matters the most. Sustained performance under such grueling conditions is the truest test of an Ultimate player's ability and when Texas has to fight Universe point after Universe point, Franchise never waivers.

And come on, the guy is on the cover of the latest UPA Magazine. A better Callahan nominee there isn't.

I remember very vividly last year when Joe Kershner was announced for the Callahan. Once Jolian, Kurt, Sherwood and Franchise had been called up, everybody knew who was #1. At that moment, the entire field in Boulder swelled with emotion and everybody, including the 4 runners up, were happy for Joe. No one was upset to see him win because everybody understood what he meant to his team and most of all to his sport.

I had the privilege of talking with Joe after he won the award and I can say with no hesitation that he was the perfect player to win the award. He was speechless, his heart filled with emotion and joy. Much like when Halle Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress, there was no expectation on Joe's part, just sheer shock. The trip to Nationals was all the reward he needed, but the Callahan was just icing on the cake.

I'm here to tell you that Franchise is that player. No one who plays the game can deny his contribution to every team he has played for over the last 5 years and you will never find a better poster child for the sport. However, despite all his talent and success he is as humble as it gets and would receive the award with as much awe and respect as one could hope for. Unlike many elite players, Franchise doesn't really like the spotlight but rather simply enjoys the opportunity to compete.

As I write this, I can already envision the applauding crowd and feel the emotion at the fields the evening of May 23rd when his name is called. Perhaps some teams at Nationals will have a faster or a taller or a flashier player on their roster, but when Franchise wins the award, everyone's heart will swell. Every player in attendance will close their eyes and whisper to themselves, "He deserves it".

There is no better candidate than Stephen "Franchise" Presley and I sincerely hope I will be there to shake his hand when he wins.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

District 5

Remember The Mighty Ducks? District 5 Pee Wee Hockey? Gordon Bombay gets a DUI and has to take care of a bunch of misfits that aren't the best hockey players. At one point in the movie he raises a stink because the best team's superstar, Adam Banks of the Hawks, doesn't actually live in the district he plays for. Adam actually lives in District 5 and should be a Duck instead of a Hawk and Gordon wants his talent. Coach Bombay gets fired over it, but he gets the superstar and along with some financial help, turns the Mighty Ducks into Champions.

Sound like anything in Ultimate? Well, probably not because this isn't exactly a requirement in Ultimate. I'm not sure how many people actually have to deal with this, but recently, the frustration of having in-house players not play in-house reared it's ugly head in my little corner of the Universe.

Let me explain what I mean. Let's say you live in a city that is trying to start a club team and we'll call that city Hartford, CT. You are in the Metro New York Section but you neighbor a high quality section, East New England, mainly Boston area teams. You are doing your best to make it as a program, but as I'm sure most understand, this is really challenging, especially in a non-Ultimate hub. You don't have a ton of college talent with which to draw from, but you do your best and make due with what you have. You hit the track, you train, you take a cerebral approach to the game, and hope for the best.

The first year of your existence you are a laughing stock. In the first round of the series you get rocked 11-3 by the best team in the section, you don't make the next round, and you more or less feel like every other short lived club team. But the following year, you pick up a few committed players, one amazing All-Star and sure enough you improve. You make regionals by climbing out of the backdoor bracket on Sunday at sectionals and you're stoked that you made it to the next round.

In your third year you develop some synergy and give the #1 team in the section a close call, 14-16, and take second. Now that's what I call progress. You go to regionals and even win a few games. Wow, what about year 4?

Well that's a problem. See Ultimate is not exactly a sport, it's more of a hobby because there are no contracts or money associated with the game and loyalty is conditional. You can commit as much or as little time as you want to it and you can also make whatever choices you want, regardless of what others might think/do. In essence you are only bound by your passion and likewise, are free to go where your passion takes you.

What am I getting at? See the issue with having a city like Boston near, but not in, your Section is that it has a tendency to magnetize talent. I'm not confident everyone will appreciate this, but sometimes a player finds that their talents could land them on a better team and if they are comfortable driving 2-3hrs or more to practice, talent pools can start to drain. I'm not going to get into particulars but lets just say about a half dozen or so players that have and/or could really help us out this year are all headed out of state and I can't help but feel a little frustrated.

I don't blame these athletes for playing elsewhere, they have a lot to gain by heading to Boston. Some have a chance to win Nationals this year, not to mention earn a spot at Worlds in Prague next year, and most, if not all, will be headed to Sarasota. If I were in their shoes, I'd probably do the same thing. However, I can't help but question whether or not this is good for the sport and I feel that this "out of Section" play should not be an option for players.

Connecticut has this problem in both the Open and Women's divisions but this is not the only example of significant talent playing out of Section, or even out of Region. Chase Sparling-Beckley lived in Oregon while he played for Sockeye, Kurt Gibson lived in Dallas while he played for Boston, and Gwen Ambler and Robbie Cahill are in Seattle but play for San Francisco teams.

What's also interesting is that a lot of these players leave town to play for programs that don't really need them anyway, or at least would be very competitive without them. Chase is/was amazing but Sockeye already has three Callahan winners. Ironside has two college MVP's themselves not to mention all of Boston to draw from. Fury has won Nationals the last 3 years and Worlds, in addition to having San Francisco as a talent pool. It's fairly obvious that each out of Section/Region player probably wants to suit for a great team, but I wonder if their individual gain is worth the performance hit they leave behind. Rhino misses Nationals. Doublewide continually struggles to make it to/past quarters. Riot collapses in the Club National Finals, at the hands of Gwen no less.

Still not convinced this is a problem? Not only does this situation hurt for the obvious reasons, but when amazing talent plays elsewhere, local teams develop an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. It establishes an inferior state of mind that infects current players and potential tryouts. Current players feel incredibly disillusioned because as soon as they start to succeed, they feel like it is only a matter of time before the rug gets pulled out from underneath them. In addition, they can't help but feel like a AAA baseball team because their best players take off as soon as they have the confidence to tryout for a more estbalished contender. But this isn't baseball, we are not a farm system. We are a sovereign program that gets nothing from the teams that siphon talent away from us. Ultimately, we are left feeling as though our efforts and passion for the game are simply misplaced and we are be better off hanging up our competitive cleats, switching to mixed or simply jumping ship as well.

As for potential players, the propensity to pass up said team, or half ass the process, is through the roof because they think "hell if (such and such) won't play for them, then why should I" and who's to call them out? It's not like struggling teams have a bargaining chip. In the end, the level of play suffers, frustration runs rampant, and we become spectators watching our neighbors head off to Nationals and tear it up on Ultivillage. And this completely omits the downstream affect this has on the community as a whole, ie seasonal leagues, youth programs, etc... I feel like the situation is fairly easy to understand but for those needing further clarification, read up on the Gentrification phenomenon of poor urban cities and affluent suburbs.

The UPA does recognize the propensity for players to abuse Sectional/Regional lines, however, and in 2002 laid out series guidelines with regard to this topic. As it stands now, 50% of a team's players must live in the competing Section and 75% must be in the Region. But I wonder if this is sufficient. Our sport has moved by leaps and bounds in the last 7 years and I believe much like College Eligibility requirements, Club Eligibility needs to be more heavily scrutinized.

This topic is prevalent in mainstream sports in the form of a salary cap. Some sports do things better than others, but at least there is a system in place for most American sports, ie baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. In each case, the overall idea is to keep talent form aggregating via superior economic power and thereby maintain parity. This doesn't always work because in basketball and baseball, there is simply a luxury tax to punish teams that go over the cap, but punishing a wealthy owner by making them pay more isn't exactly an ideal system.

However, in the NFL, the salary cap is a big deal. If you go over it, owners face severe penalties and contracts can be canceled. I personally believe the NFL has the most parity, but with the Steelers winning yet another Superbowl and the Phillies winning the World Series for the first time in a long time, one could make strong counter arguments. Be that as it may, all governing bodies recognize the ability for teams to horde talent and try to prevent it in one form or another.

So what am I clamoring for? What is the improvement I seek? In my mind there are two possible solutions. The first option would be to go the Mighty Ducks route and require that players live in the Section they compete in. This rule may seem simplistically fair but it would reflect the real talent distribution across the country and peripheral to a few select outliers, I am uncertain how it hurts players. However, I am very aware of my own personal bias and the controversy associated with this type of idea, or maybe just the level of talent it would affect.

The second option could be the development of a promotion and relegation system where teams move between competitive tiers depending on series results. I believe that this system would be complicated to establish but it seems to fall in line with the Farm System/Combine examples that are showing up in places like Boston and Seattle with Ironside/Sons of Liberty and Sockeye/Voodoo respectively.

Each system has their own sets of pros and cons and are each equally interesting, complicated, and un/likely to come to fruition, but I want to discuss them anyway. Lets start with in-Section requirements. First off, I believe this to be the easier of the two because it utilizes existing infrastructure, and could possibly be a stepping stone towards a promotion/relegation system.   According to the UPA:

"The purpose of the UPA Championship Series is to provide UPA members a framework for quality competition for locally-based teams and to serve as a vehicle for the promotion and support of the sport of ultimate. All levels of the Series share certain principles, but the focus changes as the series progresses from one of participation and inclusiveness to the crowning of a champion and the showcasing of the sport at its best.”

In my mind, the existing system has been utilized to establish the competitive backbone we currently utilize as Club players, but I believe in order to continue this mission, more needs to be done. As it stands now, many elite players have a loose interpretation of what it means to play for a "locally-based" team and limitations associated with "the promotion and support of the sport of ultimate" are very significant. Rather than enrich and develop Sectional programs, stagnant Regional powerhouses seem to maintain their stronghold and the competitive growth of the sport is limited.

A 50% in-Section requirement is/was a good start, but it is not good enough anymore. Hubs like Seattle, Boston, and San Francisco have some of the deepest talent pools in the country, but when they need to take players away from up and coming Sections/Regions to compete, there is something wrong. I believe in this instance, the second half of the UPA Club Series mission statement conflicts with the first in that "showcasing the sport at it's best" means sacrificing "locally based teams". Personally, when a team wins or contends for a National title with players that do not live locally, I feel immense sorrow for the teams that are left behind. I can only imagine the frustration/humiliation of facing off against "should be" team mates and when it comes to these sorts of players representing my country, well....

As for promotion/relegation, I think it is time for the UPA to come to grips with the ceiling that most club teams have to deal with. In the last 10 years, the 40 teams that have played a semifinal game in the Open and Women's division are only represented by 11 teams: Open - Jam, Bravo, Chain, Boston, Sockeye, Furious, GOAT, Condors, Pike, Ring, and Sub-Zero Women's: Fury, Riot, Ozone, Lady Godiva, Brute Squad, Traffic, Rare Air, Backhoe, Prime, Schwa, Women on the Verge. Does anyone else think that this is too tight a circle? For a parity comparison, in Football and Baseball, 40 semifinal teams in the last 10 years are represented by 21 different teams in each sport. Regardless of whether or not players are required to play in their own Section, it is fairly obvious that most teams have no shot at winning a National title and it is almost foolish to try.

Much like Div III College Nationals, creating separate competitive spheres for teams of similar abilities might be optimal, for the elite and the not so elite. Pointless sectional games will potentially be eliminated and all programs will have attainable goals to shoot for. If you have what it takes to compete at the next level, your team can be eligible for promotion and if you can't cut it in the division you are in, relegation. At the very least, more than a handful of teams will get the chance to end their season with a win and more programs will be able to play at the National level.

In the end, much like most of my ramblings, the sport needs to mature in order to maintain fairness and parity. Each policy, each regulation, each rule is in place because at some point, some one abused it and things were adjusted accordingly. Everything from picks to college eligibility to alcohol at the fields had to be taken advantage of for a rule or policy to be put into place and now I think it is time for out of Section play to be addressed. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen or so players that this sort of policy would adversely affect, but in reality, I think it would help a thousand players I will never know and those are the ones that really matter.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Monday, April 6, 2009

Back Behind Closed Doors

I'm not certain how the rest of you out there feel, but for me, 2009 seems to be very different than years past for College Ultimate. This doesn't really come as a surprise considering how much has changed in the last year. The economy has been rocked, Cultimate has drastically changed their tournament organization and my investigative efforts in this game have more or less ceased. With this in mind, I believe that the information with respect to College Ultimate is now, sadly, back behind closed doors.

Closed doors? No, I don't believe College Ultimate is the subject of a conspiracy but I do believe that the information pipeline has dried up. Because our sport only flirts with professionalism, a solid information pipeline is a luxury not a right. If we want pictures, stories, scores, or information from a tournament, we either need to be there ourselves or have a friend hook us up. For the last few years, people like Rob, Matt Lane, Scobel Wiggins, Alex Peters, Chad Borer, Gwen Ambler, Hector, the Count, Parinella, myself, etc.. have attempted to capture the tournament experience in our own little way and bring it to the masses. For the participants, much of this information isn't necessary because "they were there" but for the bulk of the Ultimate community, UvTv,, and RSD are the only sources of data, true or otherwise. However, considering the level of difficulty associated with this kind of hobby/work, maintaining the media pipeline is not a given.

With that in mind, I feel like the game has taken a step backwards this year, as far as media exposure and fanfare are concerned. With Cultimate more or less controlling the entire regular season, it seems like the bulk of information regarding the sport is only held by a select few. Schedules and scores are only known by participating teams and organizers, and while they may be the only ones that matter, I have found it incredibly difficult to formulate any solid opinions or predictions this year.

This isn't to say that anyone is being malicious or deceitful, it's just that it seems that very little information is making it past the parking lot at major tournaments this year. Skip asked me to write about Stanford Invite a while back and I declined because I didn't really know what to say. The schedules seem to involve a lot of thought but they don't follow any sort of historical algorithm and without well orchestrated score reporter updates, those of us at home are at the whim of RSD, something I'm sure none of us enjoys. Bottom line, we are not as informed as we once were, which goes to show you that we can't take information for granted.

It was only a few years ago that Rob attempted Fantasy Ultimate at Centex and with seedings and pools posted a week or so before tournaments, discussions spread like wild fire on blogs and RSD. Vegas was always a bit weird, but pool play predictions and point differentials were discussed in great lengths, but only because the information was available.

However, without said information making the score reporter, a lot of the data associated with our sport seems to be behind closed doors, a situation that eerily resembles Ultimate of yesteryear. When I first got started, keeping up with teams was impossible. You were lucky if you caught a top 25 from the UPA every other month or so and if a tournament was on the score reporter you stared passionately at the screen until the bracket results were burned into your brain. At the time, many college players were of the opinion, "if you weren't playing, then why do you care?" but I cared and I get the feeling a lot of you out there do as well.

I'm not entirely sure how the players feel about this year, but I doubt Kansas enjoyed watching Florida bagel St. Louis. From what I've read on UCSD's tournament blog, it looks like they are ok with things thus far, but I can't help but feel a little disappointed with the level of discussion this year. It just seems like there is not a whole lot to talk about.

I mean lets take a look at a major talking point every year, the Callahan. Can anyone give me a clear candidate? Has anyone been talked about much this year? Last year Joe Kershner's hype lasted from February to May, not to mention guys like Jolian Dahl, Kurt Gibson, Mark Sherwood, and Stephen Pressley. Mac Taylor has been talked about off and on the last few months, but Colorado has been anything but consistent and with a clear drop off in discussion this year, a bunch of red on your score reporter page does not help in the voting process.

Personally, I think Brodie Smith is easily the front runner. I mean who else is playing better than Florida? And better yet, who is known to be playing better? I thought Will Neff would runaway with the award this year but I get the feeling people are a bit indifferent at the moment. Rob doesn't seem to be as active as he once was and Cultimate TD's haven't done the best job articulating their tournament structure to the masses, so it is hard to even know who the best teams are, and this is coming from a NUMP member.

A year ago, I was at Centex balls deep in the game but everything I saw and discussed made it online faster than I could sober up and jot down my drivel. I can remember Reid Koss with his iPhone updating scores and Dale, Skizip and Rob scrambling around trying to get round by round coverage online for UvTv.

However, this year has come and gone and I've only got a handful of talking points. Hector had a nice little piece about two Wisconsin Women (Courtney Kiesow and Georgia Bosscher) but active player/writers like Ryan Thompson have been anything but vocal. I mean The Pulse hasn't been updated in almost a year. Michigan has gotten on the blogsphere as have a few others but consolidated discussion seems a bit absent. I suppose this just goes to show you how difficult it is to stay active as a writer in this sport. Passion will get you far but it does run out once the cleats are off. It just gets hard to stay motivated when winning isn't on the table.

I can't help but think that the economy has something to do with the situation. Last year I bought plane ticket after plane ticket and now I look back and scratch my head thinking "How did I afford that?". I had some help from some supportive family members, but I can't help but feel like the game has suffered from tough times.

Bottom line, all of this has me a little scared. I really enjoyed following the game, not only for my own personal interest, but because it kept people paying attention. With constant dialog and discussion, whether it be rooted in 100% objective fact or just rumors, we pay attention and where there is attention there is scrutiny. This year's Nationals will have two huge changes (potentially) and I wonder how a lack of discussion will affect things. Four more teams will be at The Show but without a lot of chatter this year, I feel like no one even really knows/cares who is on the bubble.

In addition, the whole Active Observer idea is a great one, but I wonder if it will come to fruition. I know that Florida is a big fan of them but having Virginia and Middlebury decline observers in the Finals at Easterns shook my confidence that AO will be voted for this May. These two teams are not what I would call Nationals powerhouses, but having teams make these types of choices is a little disheartening. I'm not certain why they went this way, but I wonder if other programs would have done the same. Active Observes seem to be an important form of scrutiny but with a clear drop off in 3rd party analysis this year, I wonder if AO will disappear the way fanfare has this season.

For those that followed things last year and for the last few years, I think it is pretty obvious how inconsistent exposure in this game is. With this in mind, I now appreciate how unoriginal people like myself are. At Club Nationals I met this old school Ultimate guy that was brought on as a videographer for Rob. He was telling me about how he filmed Club Nationals back in the Ken Dobyns' days and he was telling me that they had announcers/commentators. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me because I thought live commentary for Ultimate was a relatively new concept, but apparently it has come and gone and come again, as has tournament discussion, online magazines, and general media exposure. I know that the UPA was looking for a permanent media director which would be nice but with the volatility of UPA positions, I wonder if this is just a pipe dream. In any event, a stable media entity would undoubtedly be helpful.

Ultimately, I get the feeling that fanfare in this sport is a little bit like the "1" from the Matrix. There is a steady progression of people interested in following the sport and hype/media exposure picks up momentum. We reach a pinnacle of interest but such an emotional high cannot be sustained indefinitely. Once this moment comes and goes, things cool off and because college players turn over so fast, the proverbial "reset" button gets hit. I'm as guilty as any for not fully appreciating our sport's past, but with transient "historians" instead of permanent media personnel, it's very difficult to remain informed. The information just isn't passed on particularly well, or at least not for long. After a while in the information doldrums, someone is inspired to get back on the media horse and bring the game to the latest population of college masses. He/she may believe they are conducting groundbreaking work, but in all seriousness, it's all been done before.

I get the feeling the reason behind this is simply the sport vs hobby nature of Ultimate. There seems to be a faceless, yet extremely powerful, force keeping Ultimate from becoming mainstream and while there is significant sacrifice in becoming a full fledged sport, we are currently nothing but gold fish. We see our present as something new and fantastic but in reality, it is nothing new at all. Few talking points are unique, very little is remembered for more than a few years and history undoubtedly repeats itself over and over and over.

just my thoughts

match diesel