Better Know a League: The American Ultimate Disc League

Ah, to be a young adult in the 70s. Great music, great cars, cheap drugs, and of course, no AIDS. Things were wild and free, but not like how they were in the 60s. People stopped taking part in the sexual revolution and started just having sex. In an ironic twist, though, the so-called “Me Decade” saw the explosion of one of the most odd, yet lovable team sports out there: ULTIMATE.

Ultimate what, you ask? Why, ultimate frisbee of course! Or ultimate disc, if you’re all hoity-toity about it. How can anyone have the gumption to refer to it’s sport as ultimate anything? Let’s hear it from one of the founders of the sport, Jared Kass: “‘I just remember one time running for a pass and leaping up in the air and just feeling the Frisbee making it into my hand and feeling the perfect synchrony and the joy of the moment, and as I landed I said to myself, 'This is the ultimate game. This is the ultimate game.’”

The ultimate game is throwing frisbees? I know, hard to believe, and in truth, I don’t believe it. There’s something very different about the atmosphere and personality of the game, however. For those unfamiliar with the rules, they’re relatively simple. On a rectangular field, there are two teams. The objective is to throw the frisbee to your teammates and progress down the field into the endzone. The biggest caveat in the game is that once a player catches the frisbee, they cannot move or run anywhere. The only way to progress down the field is by throwing that dang frisbee.

Rules aside, ultimate frisbee (I refuse to refer to it as just “ultimate”) attracts a very certain type of person: the hippie-bro. The hippie-bro combines two worlds which seem very different: the laid-back, go-with-the-flow nature of hippies mashed together with the competitive, athletically-gifted ways of the bro. Basically, you end up with a bunch of hairy, stoned guys running around and competing in a very physical manner for a gently thrown plastic disc. Or at least, that’s how the prototypical hippie-bro behaves.

The AUDL has attracted more of the bros than the hippies, and the league takes itself very seriously, with distinct uniforms, clear-cut rules, referees (apparently rare for ultimate frisbee games), and rapid expansion on the mind. After starting out in 2012 with just eight teams (five of which folded after the first season), the league has now ballooned to 25 teams, with another three entering the fray in 2016. We’ve seen rapid expansion outright kill leagues before, but so far, the AUDL seems to be far from any financial trouble.

The league isn’t alone in the world of ultimate frisbee, however. There is one big competitor: Major League Ultimate. The MLU had its inaugural season in 2013, though it was founded in 2012, and unlike the ever-expanding AUDL, the MLU has just eight teams, with one of the original teams having come from the AUDL: the Philadelphia Spinners.

How can a league of just eight teams that was founded a year after the AUDL be considered competition? Well, to put it bluntly, the MLU just does some things better. For starters, their website is much more frequently updated, and filled with the most recent stats and video of full games. The AUDL, while it’s frequently broadcasted on ESPN3 (oh excuse me, WatchESPN), only has sparse clips available on individual team sites and on their YouTube channel. The MLU is also regarded as having better players, and more parity between teams, whereas the AUDL’s massive league creates a vast separation between the haves and the have-nots. 

The AUDL ultimately (no pun intended), is still the league to watch. It’s hard to argue when a league has a national audience, has teams spread out over the US and Canada, has the best ultimate frisbee analyst on commentary (Evan Lepler) and even has its own theme song. The AUDL might not have the highest-quality ultimate frisbee around, but these days, its easier than ever to fake it until you make it. Money hasn’t become an issue since the five of the founding eight teams folded in year one, and if the AUDL knows how to get sponsors and national exposure, we might start to see the league on television, like a big boy league. Truly, that would be the ULTIMATE goal. Pun intended.