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USA Ultimate Issues Statement of Official Position on Semi-Pro Leagues

Posted: March 18, 2014 04:01 PM
 
 
Boulder, Colo. (March 18, 2014)—Several weeks ago, the USA Ultimate Board of Directors convened in Denver, Colo. for its annual winter meeting where a discussion of the semi-professional leagues was on the agenda. During that meeting, on Feb. 22, USA Ultimate established an official position regarding these leagues which is described below.
 
We believe in and are committed to our mission, which emphasizes three areas: community, character and competition. We, together with the sport’s international federation, the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), and the international ultimate community, believe the way our sport is played is very special and contributes to a long-standing and critical value – Spirit of the Game. We believe character is best built through the self-officiated component of our sport, in leaving control in the hands of the players and in requiring mutual respect and honesty. We believe the tournament structure and gender-inclusive nature of the Triple Crown Tour contribute significantly to the community aspect of our mission – a component that will only strengthen and grow as our strategic plan calls for plans to emphasize and catalyze community through local partnerships we forge in every state and region throughout the United States in the next few years. We further believe the tournament model and our many championship events provide exciting opportunities for world-class competition.
 
While there are certainly elements of what the semi-pro leagues are doing that we find interesting, intriguing and fun, both the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) and Major League Ultimate (MLU) are in conflict with many of the things we value about our sport and conflict directly with some of our programs. USA Ultimate has never prevented nor discouraged anyone from participating and having fun in either of these leagues and will continue to act in what we feel are the best interests of the sport of ultimate and USA Ultimate’s programs and mission. However, if players wish to compete in our competitive structure and championship series and events or represent the United States internationally, they will need to follow certain guidelines and rules – a fundamental and basic requirement in all sports. Because of USA Ultimate’s ongoing programs, priorities and goals, there will almost certainly continue to be conflicts between playing opportunities that may require players to make tough choices. USA Ultimate reached out to the AUDL as soon as we learned of its formation and described our plans and the many potential conflicts we saw coming. We asked that the information we provided be passed along to investors and owners, so they would have an accurate picture of the potential conflicts and problems and encouraged any of them who had questions to please call us. Since then, we have had professional and cordial discussions with both leagues. None of what follows should come as a surprise to them.
 
For the many reasons outlined below, USA Ultimate will not promote, partner with, or otherwise formally recognize or endorse the AUDL or MLU at this time. This decision is based on several fundamental and philosophical differences and operational conflicts between USA Ultimate and these leagues.
 
One such determining factor in USA Ultimate’s position is the significant variation in officiating systems. USA Ultimate does not believe in, nor support, the fundamental changes that are being made to the sport by these leagues, as outlined in long-standing policy. Along with WFDF, the international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee and of which USA Ultimate is a proud member, we remain committed to the self-officiated nature of the sport and the principles of Spirit of the Game. The use of referees and a different set of rules by these leagues represents a significant contradiction to the values and mission of USA Ultimate, and it is our belief that much of what makes ultimate unique in a very positive way is lost in and devalued by the models of both the AUDL and the MLU.  We are working tirelessly to expose our sport to youth, and we are not comfortable confusing them and their families with significantly different versions of the sport.
 
Also, as both a long-standing value and an organizational policy, gender equity continues to be very important to USA Ultimate. Neither semi-pro league provides any significant playing opportunities for women, and we believe providing equal playing opportunities for both men and women is the best way to both grow and show off our sport.
 
Another important factor in our position is that both of these leagues operate in conflict with USA Ultimate’s Triple Crown Tour – a competitive structure designed to be very inclusive for the thousands of men, women and mixed division athletes and hundreds of teams who play club-level ultimate in North America as members of USA Ultimate. While it is an ongoing challenge, and frankly an impossible one, to create the perfect program that makes everyone equally happy, we do our very best and always with direct input from our members. After spending nearly three years gathering feedback from the ultimate community as part of our club restructuring efforts and spending countless hours refining the Triple Crown Tour alongside division councils, player-elected club working group representatives and national volunteers, we believe that sacrificing in any way the playing opportunities created for thousands of athletes for a small number who want to play in a semi-pro league is irresponsible and fundamentally unfair to the thousands of athletes who compete in the Triple Crown Tour. 
 
Currently, we carefully coordinate with WFDF on the timing of multiple international events, while also juggling and scheduling the tryouts and training camps necessary to field competitive national teams that are always prepared to bring home gold medals. Furthermore, the Triple Crown Tour serves as an important element of our strategic plan and provides the entire club division with a valuable playing experience while creating visibility for the sport of ultimate. With both the AUDL and MLU currently operating schedules from April to July and the Triple Crown Tour spanning from June through October, conflicts between event dates and athletes are inevitable. Together with local tournament directors, it is extremely difficult for USA Ultimate to schedule around these leagues for a variety of reasons, including venue availability, viable bids and conflicts with other USA Ultimate events and programs.
 
Scheduling conflicts are going to be a major challenge, both on the domestic and international calendars, as well as in the preparation of U.S. National Teams for international competition. Selecting and preparing teams to compete on the international stage is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a national governing body and a significant component of our strategic plan. And as the world catches up to us in terms of talent, we’ll have to constantly adjust to maintain our edge on the rest of the world. Playing on a different-sized field with active referees and a significantly different set of rules is far from the best way for athletes and teams to prepare for international events like the World Games and World Championships.
 
Also, without any knowledge of the economic viability of either semi-pro league, it would be irresponsible of, and risky for, a national governing body to endorse or support them. With a short and rocky history of lawsuits, folded franchises and sparse attendance in just two years as the only track record, it is our belief that these leagues are unsustainable unless owners and investors are willing to lose a lot of money for a very long time. Therefore, it does not make sense for USA Ultimate to make any changes to what we believe is best for our sport, now and in the future, in order to accommodate leagues operating in direct conflict with us and that may or may not exist in a few years.
 
USA Ultimate is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that typically runs at a slight deficit or breaks even each year. It would be irresponsible and a conflict of our fiduciary duties for us to use any of our thinly stretched budgets or resources to promote or support for-profit enterprises that directly conflict with our goals, mission and programs. 
 
Furthermore, we believe the tournament model, the Triple Crown Tour, and the way in which we stage our premier championship events is financially sustainable and very fan friendly and encourages boys and girls, parents and families, and everyday casual sports fans to learn about, enjoy and follow the sport of ultimate and hopefully aspire to play at the game’s highest level. And for the athletes who have the opportunity to compete on the sport’s biggest stage, we’re committed to continuing to provide financial incentives in the form of prize money while also exploring additional opportunities for players to offset the cost of participation. Also, as the Triple Crown Tour evolves, we will continue to experiment with various tournament structures, including single-game formats, if popular and financially viable. Currently, our partners are most interested in the tournament model as it keeps their production costs low and more efficient. Our hybrid observer system is also highly entertaining, as proven by successful broadcasts with our media partner, ESPN. The notion that our sport needs referees to be on television, or to be entertaining, has been disproven.
 
Over the course of our 35-year history, we have seen many other leagues, organizations and sponsors come and go. Throughout, USA Ultimate has never wavered in our commitment to provide the framework for our sport to grow and thrive, as it is doing today. We remain committed to our membership of 47,000+ players, coaches and observers, as well as our affiliate organizations, and are equally committed to the thousands of men’s, women’s, mixed, youth, high school, college and masters teams that compete in USA Ultimate events each year.
 
USA Ultimate has served as the national governing body for the sport of ultimate in the United States for 35 years, and we are proud of the many playing opportunities we have created and fostered for both males and females at the youth, college, club and masters levels, both nationally and locally. We are very excited about and confident in our future plans to continue to advance the sport of ultimate in the United States through character, community and both local and world-class competition. If athletes can find playing opportunities offered by other programs or leagues, that is certainly their prerogative; everyone is free to do whatever they choose to enjoy those opportunities. But USA Ultimate will not promote, accommodate or support these semi-pro leagues as long as they are in conflict with our values and programs.
 
 

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