On Re-framing Dangerous Play

I’ve talked before about the differences between WFDF and USAU rules on dangerous play. But there are more fundamental problems common to both rulesets, and in my opinion we need to look at the whole question of dangerous play in a new way. If we’re serious about reducing it, then we need a closer analysis of what it is and why the current rule doesn’t always prevent it.


Currently, dangerous play is a foul by the person who could see it coming but does not pull out of it. It makes no difference who would have got the disc first  only who had the opportunity to see the collision coming.

That’s completely reasonable, when dangerous play has actually occurred. But what we need is a rule that encourages people to pull out of dangerous plays, so that they never happen in the first place.

At the moment, the same rule is used for actual collisions as is used for the occasions where someone pulls out of a bid. Really there are three situations:

  1. Actual dangerous collisions
  2. Situations where someone chooses not to bid because they themselves might cause a collision
  3. Situations where someone gets out of the way because someone else is being reckless (under USAU, they need to leave a hand in there so that there’s some contact – madness, in my opinion, but that’s not today’s topic).

Situations 1 & 3 are well covered by the existing rule. Someone is doing something reckless and should be ‘punished’ by not getting the disc.

But situation 2 is very different. It’s not covered. And by not dealing with it explicitly, we’re encouraging people to make dangerous plays.

Let’s look at a common situation, where a handler is running from the reset space, up the line, aiming for power position, and looking back at the thrower and the disc. Offence isn’t being particularly reckless, just playing normally. At the same time, a defender has peeled off from somewhere downfield and has a bid at blocking that disc – but at the risk of blindsiding the offence.

The incentives are dangerously skewed:

  • The player with a full view of the play  – the defender in this instance – is being asked to not go for the disc, and allow the opponent an uncontested catch, even when they would have got there first. So if they believe there’s even a chance of a clean play, there’s an incentive to try. Maybe they are just able to get the block and get out of the way, or maybe they hope that the blind player won’t bid for a reachable disc. But if the blind player does bid, for a disc she’s unknowingly second-favourite to reach, it’s going to be a foul by the player who could see it all coming.
  • Players with eyes only on the disc are not incentivised to check their blind side it’s someone else’s responsibility to pull out, and if there is a collision then the ‘blind’ player is going to be the one who was fouled, no matter who got the disc first or who had the better bid on it. When you’re playing blind, you are sometimes allowed to get discs that you would not be allowed to get if you looked where you were going.

When I pull out of a bid because my opponent was unknowingly (and un-recklessly) going to attack that same space even though I could get there first it makes no sense to me that I’m unable to call a kind of ‘nobody’s fault’ dangerous play and still make a claim to get the disc. My slight chance of getting the disc if I can miraculously make a clean play is higher than my 0% chance of getting it when I pull out under the current rule, so I’m facing some very wrong incentives.

By almost any logic, the defender in the above situation, who has both a better view of the play AND a better bid at getting the disc first, ought to get the disc when the play is resolved. He’s done nothing wrong in getting to this position, and has played the game well much better in fact than the offence, who have thrown a bad pass and made the receiver bid blindly into potentially occupied space.

Player safety obviously trumps fairness, but only when there is no way to reach a fairer outcome and still be safe. Is there a way to ensure safety without unfairness?

Clearly what we need is some kind of ‘DANGER!’ call which stops play, and stops the dangerous play occurring, but which does NOT assign blame and does not automatically award the disc to one player or the other. A ‘Danger!’ call just says: “This situation just happens to be dangerous. Instead of diving in to find out who gets the disc first, let’s both protect our careers and discuss who we think would actually have gotten the disc first if we’d both bid.”

In an ideal world, it should have no more stigma than something like a pick call, either for the person calling it or the person who was unaware of the impending collision. We’re not assigning blame. Rather, we’re protecting each other.

The disc then goes to the person who would have got it first if both had bid. Of course, there will be times when the players cannot agree, and the disc will be sent back. A blind player in particular will need advice from team-mates if he’s to make a good call on his ability to get the disc first. But what we’ve done is remove the incentive to make speculative dangerous plays.

  • could get the disc if I dive in and just happen to get it cleanly.
  • But I could also get the disc if I pull out for safety reasons and persuade the opponent that I had the better bid.

My incentive to take silly risks has disappeared. I don’t have to give up any hope of getting a block, even if I completely pull out of the play.

Overall, we need to separate the resolution of dangerous situations from the responsibility to avoid them. Avoiding a collision must always be the responsibility of the person who can see it coming – but there is no logical reason why they should also be penalised for playing safely, or should be implicitly encouraged to take risks when the chance of a collision is high (but not certain).

And once we have a rule that allows a fairer resolution, then the fact that the existing dangerous play rule has such a stigma attached is no longer a problem. You definitely SHOULD be expecting pretty serious censure, if you’ve done something dangerous, once the rules have explicitly been set up to allow you to claim the disc without a collision.

If we’re serious about reducing dangerous play, we need it to be called much more often BEFORE something dangerous has actually happened — and the current rule is not designed for that job.


Some thoughts of my own:
1 The obvious downside to a new rule that some people will immediately think of is how easy it is to abuse it, and stop play every time you think you might brush someone’s arm gently.
There are two equally obvious rebukes – 1) that the same is true of lots of other rules – nothing stops you calling bogus things all over the field, so why would this be different? and 2) what’s your preference – a sport that is too safe or one that is too dangerous?
It’s possible you prefer the occasional collision, and are prepared to risk the odd horrible play to maintain the excitement of that physicality. I don’t agree personally – there are lots of other sports you can go and throw yourself around in – but it’s not an illogical position.
But if you’re the kind of person who complains about dangerous plays, but is also worried about the game being too ‘soft’, then you need to ask yourself how seriously you wish to prevent those dangerous plays. If you really want to cut down on the really nasty incidents, then it’s inevitable that some borderline cases are going to be removed too. And yes, once in a while someone will stop play when you don’t think it was dangerous. Is that a price you would pay for a potentially large reduction in dangerous collisions?
2 A related thought about the wording of the rules — a moving player has reserved a space in front of them, defined as the space that they cannot avoid. But the WFDF definition of ‘cannot avoid’ includes ‘line of sight’, which means players who are running blind have MORE rights than someone who is looking where they’re going. That makes sense from a safety point of view – those blind players should be protected. But they shouldn’t have their possession protected. That definition of reserved space makes sense in a safety context but not in a fairness context, and the rules should be revised accordingly to make that distinction.
3 If we allowed the ‘Danger!’ call to be made by any player, not just those directly involved in the play, we could potentially also avoid situations like this one.
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13 Responses to On Re-framing Dangerous Play

  1. Hildo Bijl says:

    Interesting point! I totally agree with the suggestion. I’ve had this situation more times than I can count.

    What I always teach new players is that players have a responsibility to see where they’re going. If you run into someone that you didn’t see coming, then it’s not their fault. It’s your own fault, because you should’ve checked. (Not sure where I got that from though.) I also teach handlers, when making up-the-line cuts, to briefly check up-field for anyone who might contest your cut. If there are any, adjust accordingly, for example by angling more towards the line for a shorter cut instead of angling up-field for a longer cut. It’s not only for safety, but also to improve your chances for the disc.


  2. Wilson says:

    https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsWhilst I agree that the vagueness of the rules surrounding situation 2 is the reason for these plays occurring I do not think that the “Danger” call that you have outlined here is going to fix this issue.
    I am also unaware of how much this type of play occurs within a game and how often collisions that result in? I have played for 6 years and streamed countless amounts of games and I have maybe seen 1 or 2 occurrences of this issue. Others may have experienced it more would be great to hear?
    In the example you have shown the “Danger” call would have only come to late, the defender only notices the collision is coming right at the last moment, you would be relying on sideline and the handler who threw the disk to call this. How many travel calls / pick calls do you miss in an outdoor game? Sometimes this call has to be repeated 3/4 times before the play is stopped. The danger call would have come they would have still collided then the discussion would still be the same as a ‘Dangerous play’ call as it would be after the fact.
    The only use for this call would be as you have outlined above, when someone makes that up the line cut and a defender is coming straight down towards the disk and has full view of the field. As they will be stopping the play prior to making the bid and will be close enough to the disk to immediately stop play. However this creates a lot of assumptions and you cannot decided the fate of the disc on an assumption:
    1. Did the defender even have the ability to get the disk (e.g have they judged that they could layout far enough to get there first?)
    2.How does the attacker know / trust the defender that this is true? if the ‘Danger’ call is made the defender is just making an assumption that they would get there first and a lot of high level players are always going to back themselves. You mention the pick call but this is an collision that is hard to dispute (I know the this is not always the case but just generalising)
    3. There are a lot of other variables to take into account before the defender would have even got there. Speed of the attacker, wind, speed of the throw, accuracy of the throw.
    Although there are a few situations where this may stop a dangerous play in some occasions where the defender is thinking / has time to think but it doesn’t do is improve the 0% chance of the defender getting the disk if they call ‘Danger!’ there are still far to many variables that the attacker can use for the disk to go back. Rarely would you see a turn in the defenders favour so they are still going to bid for the disk.
    I am going to be one of those people that comes with discussion / criticism but does not have a solution but this point creates good grounds for discussion. (if this happens more than I am aware of)


    • Anonymous says:

      I stopped reading after the first paragraph, but right of the top of my head plays like in this link couldve been avoided with a “Danger” call.


  3. Ash says:

    I don’t know about USAU rules, but if you’re referring to WFDF rules, then your explanation of the Dangerous Play foul is not correct.
    A dangerous play foul (rule 17.1) does not mean “if you have the better view of a play then you are penalised because you’re not allowed to go for it, otherwise you’d be causing a dangerous play foul”. It is made very clear in the official annotations to the rules (section 17.5 of that document) that it’s actually the opposite: the person with the better view of the play can call the dangerous play foul on their opponent who is not looking where they’re going. Section 17.4 of the annotations also makes extremely clear that a player not looking where they’re going should be considered reckless, and that player is the one at fault (they do not in fact have a rules advantage as you describe). And if the dangerous play situation would really have been an offsetting foul had it been allowed to continue, then 17.10 should still apply, since self-reffing’s guiding light is to “[resume] play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach.” (Rule 1.2; which is essentially the “DANGER” situation you describe).
    So I’d say the WFDF rules actually do *exactly* what you’re describing.


    • I don’t agree fully. Wfdf rules certainly say all of that when someone is running egregiously blind and not paying any attention. But when someone is blind to a defender despite playing in a normal manner, it’s not clear that a dangerous play call against them would be valid. Dangerous play specifically accuses them of being reckless, whereas what we really want is ‘hey, you didn’t know I was coming from your blind spot, but actually I would have got there first’.


      • Ash says:

        Section 17.5 of the annotations: “Dangerous Play fouls can be called before an event to avoid a potential collision e.g. a
        defender runs/layouts in a way that an accident would occur if the offence were to

        I think that pretty clearly covers what you’re describing.


  4. The problem comes from the definition of reserved space. By rule, a defender diving in from the offence’s blind spot is the one initiating the contact, and thus the one playing dangerously, because the offence who could not see him coming was the first to reserve the relevant space. The clash of reservations, as the rules put it, was caused by the defender, even though he both had the better view and got the disc first.

    17.5 ‘extra’ in the annotations makes it clear that you cannot call dangerous play if you are initiating contact, and as long as the blind player is not being reckless you would be the one initiating contact.


    • Anyway – it’s just semantics, because we know in practice that dangerous play is almost never called in these situations, and we also know that it is accusatory in a way that other calls are not. Accusing the opponent of recklessness is a much more severe thing than we want. What we have isn’t working, even if you were right.


    • Ash says:

      Okay, rereading I see what you’re saying. I think I misinterpreted your argument because of the line “dangerous play is a foul by the person who could see it coming but does not pull out of it”, which is definitely not true. Dangerous play is a foul *called by* the player who could see it coming.

      I also disagree with the assertion that we need to add a new rule like the “Danger” thing you’re describing. That’s covered by offsetting fouls already, which dangerous play can be used in conjunction with. It’s made pretty clear in the rules: “17.1… If uncontested this must be treated as the most relevant Foul from Section 17”; (Section 17 includes offsetting fouls).


  5. Seamus says:

    A comparison with picks might be enlightening. At some levels of the game, there can be a certain misunderstanding about picks. Some inexperienced players imagine them to be just a random thing that happens.(you may have heard the honest question ‘can the offence call a pick?’). In an effort to reduce the number of occurrences of picks, the last rules update clarified and emphasised the responsibility with the offence to avoid picks.

    I worry that creating a ‘no fault’ dangerous play call lessens the personal responsibility associated with collisions. It could turn any collision into ‘just a random thing that happens’. Rather than something that people have a personal responsibility to avoid.

    I welcome the efforts to de-escalate the dangerous play call, but I think personal responsibility is a central tenet of the rules for good reason.


    • I’m not sure I agree. I think, if anything, it adds even more oomph to an actual dangerous play call. It’s then a conscious decision to call dangerous play rather than the no-fault version, whereas at the moment you can only call the one thing.

      Whenever an collision occurs due to someone doing something dangerous, the no-fault rule isn’t going to apply.

      What I wouldn’t want is to assign the blame to a bad throw; and we already have a rule that assigns the blame to one or the other of the colliding players when they’re actually at fault. So all that’s left uncovered is the no-blame-at-all option – I don’t think adding that would detract from an actual dangerous play call.


      • Seamus says:

        Thanks for the response. It seems there’s still something about your proposal that I just don’t get.

        If we’re saying nobody’s at fault, the chance of a turnover resulting from the discussion seems basically nil, right?

        If I’m on O, and a defender pulls out of a potentially dangerous bid but maintains she could have bid without being in the wrong. And furthermore is not suggesting I’m at fault in any way, but yet is claiming possession, I’d be very confused indeed. I might even laugh.
        After she pulls out of a bid, I catch the disc, and she says ‘you’ve done nothing wrong, but this is a turnover’. It sounds ridiculous. What am I not getting?

        With zero chance of a discussion turnover, the defender might generally go with the slim chance they make a clean play. And if they don’t manage that? Well… “It’s just one of those no fault collisions” they might say.

        I commend you for making proposals to make the game safer. It’s certainly more difficult than shooting down ideas and I hope I don’t come across as that. Someone on the Reddit thread suggested using a shout of ‘danger’ or ‘safely’ to alert players to potentially dangerous situations even in the absence of that word having an official rules effect on live play. Maybe that could be useful?


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