Photo by John King – Ultiphotos.com
While the MLU observes the same fouls as the rest of Ultimate, it differs in who officiates and what those fouls bring about. Fouls, as recorded statistically, are split into nine different types. These nine types are as follows: Downfield, Delay of Game, Marking, Offsides, Pick, Stall, Strip, Travel and Unsportsmanlike Conduct. In the 2015 season, 572 fouls were committed, breaking down as follows:
On an 80-yard field, these fouls have accounted for 5,470 yards of movement, up and down the field of play. For our purposes we’ll break all of these fouls into three categories: No movement, Negative movement and Positive movement.
No movement fouls are generally offensive fouls that result in spot turnovers. Of 105 no movement fouls, 99.05% of them were either stalls or travels. In previous years, travels were split into two different categories: Receiver or Handler. In the event of a receiver travel there would be a yardage penalty. In 2015, however, any type of travel is a spot turnover. With this, 34 turnovers were caused directly by a travel. Similarly, 55 turnovers were caused by stalls.
Negative movement fouls are also generally on the offensive team but can extend to the defenders, most notably between points or during the pull. The smallest of our three categories, only 90 negative movement fouls were committed. However, 68 of these were picks, making that the third most frequent foul in the league. As a 10 yard foul, offenses lost 680 yards to picks alone. The second largest part of this category are delay of game fouls. Sixteen delay of game fouls were called, but the foul itself has two different forms. 3 of them were between points when a team was unable to pull or receive the disc in a timely manner. This resulted in either pulling from farther back or allowing the other team to pull from closer, depending on which side committed the foul. The second type of delay is unique to officiated ultimate with yardage penalties. When an offensive player is directed to a new spot on the field following a foul they can generally resume play upon arriving. However, 13 times these offensive players either stopped short of their penalty or took too many yards from their opponent’s foul. When this happens, the player loses 10 yards and generally all of the benefit the defense gave them. The final two fouls in this category are offsides and unsportsmanlike conduct. Similar to our first delay of game subcategory, offsides can be called on either team during a pull if a player is passed their starting line before the disc is in the air. In 2015, 5 of these were called on the team receiving the pull, resulting in a loss of 20 yards. Finally there are the two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Both of these took place between points and resulted in a band for the offending player combined with a loss of 20 yards on the ensuing pull.
Our third category, positive movement fouls, are easily the most numerous (377 in 2015) and are committed exclusively by the defensive team. These fouls alone account for 3,550 yards of the 5,470 total. Most of these come from downfield fouls and defensive offsides calls. As mentioned earlier, downfield fouls don’t give a base 10 yards to the offense but instead bring the disc directly to the spot of the foul. With this, downfield fouls could theoretically award anywhere from 79 yards to -79 yards. In 2015, downfield fouls ranged from zero to 60 yards. With 30 of these fouls resulting in more than 10 yards, they combined for 927 yards alone. Defensive offsides also work in a unique way as the offense is awarded the disc at midfield regardless of what the disc does in the air. Therefore, each of these fouls is technically worth 40 yards to the offense. With only 8 committed they still amass 320 yards of foul yardage. Next we have marking fouls, the most numerous of all committed fouls. Although these also vary in yardage, they only range from 0-10 yards, and only under certain circumstances. While a marking foul is a 10 yard foul by definition, it can’t put a player into the endzone. Therefore, there are instances where a marking foul is committed within 10 yards of the endzone and the disc is moved up to the line resulting in a foul distance less than the earned 10 yards. With 222 marking fouls committed, a total of 2,130 yards were given away by the defense. Finally, we have strips. Able to be called on a downfield catch or on the mark, 16 strips were called in 2015 for a total of 163 yards.
Ultimate, like many sports is a game of yardage. Every play broken up on the goal line could change the story of the game. A few yards here, a few less there. The disc moved over 5,000 yards in 2015 due to penalties, undeniably shaping the outcome of the season. What is also clear is that at the professional level, mistakes can cost your team significant yardage.