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:
- Actual dangerous collisions
- Situations where someone chooses not to bid because they themselves might cause a collision
- 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.
- I 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.