Why ultimate frisbee should be NCAA sanctioned

Charles Lieberman, Contributing Reporter

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James Xiang | Contributing Artist

Sitting on a Southwest flight headed to Santa Barbara for a tournament with 27 other teammates, I can’t help but wonder why ultimate frisbee has not been legitimized as a sport by the NCAA yet (as well as the general public). 

Tulane Men’s Ultimate, considered a club sport on campus, practices three to four times a week year-round with over eight out of state tournaments, including sectionals, regionals and — if we qualify — nationals in May. 

These tournaments range from Tallahassee, Florida to Santa Barbara, California, and just about everywhere in between. If there were only a handful of colleges with ragtag teams like in the 1970s, sure, I wouldn’t be making the claim that Ultimate should be legitimized. However, this argument doesn’t hold true: there are over 450 men’s and 300 women’s teams. 

These teams aren’t just located in one part of the country like some sort of weird, culty phenomenon – they are all over. Just look at our pool for this past weekend: Cal-Poly, USC, Utah, Dartmouth, and Tulane. Someone tell Mike Fitts that this is more geographically diverse than Tulane’s student body. 

Honestly there are times when I have been surprised that a school had a team, but I think that’s actually telling of something bigger: when Tennessee-Chattanooga has a high level team you think, “holy cow the widespread growth is nuts.” 

But it gets crazier: a handful of schools have begun offering scholarships for Frisbee players, like Syracuse and UNC. There has been a pro league in the USA for the last seven years called the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) with 21 teams – and yes, Brodie Smith, the frisbee trick shot guy from DudePerfect, played professionally in this league. 

There are 80 countries with national teams that play in a Olympic-style tournament called “Worlds,” broadcasted on ESPN, and set in a different city each year. A member of our team this year, Kai Durvasula, made the U20 US national team this year and will be representing the country in Stockholm, Sweden this summer. 

So why hasn’t Ultimate been legitimized yet? 

The argument I have been hearing from many – friends, people on social media, and strangers – is that it’s not really a sport, so clearly it shouldn’t be sanctioned as one. This argument is by far the easiest to rebuke, and I encourage you to just watch this highlight video from the AUDL. 

If those full extension layout catches and 80-yard bombs didn’t check the box of athletic, consider what a typical tournament looks like: You play four 1.5-hour-long games in a row on a 115 x 45 yard field to 13 points, typically with one bye game somewhere in between. A teammate of mine wore his FitBit at a tournament last year – he ran over 13 miles in just the Saturday of pool play. Add on four more games on a more competitive Sunday, and congratulations, grab your ribbon because you just ran a marathon.

I played varsity sports in high-school, as a lot of current college frisbee players did, and let me tell you: not once have I ever felt close to what I feel like after a tournament. I walk like a 50-year-old with tendinitis coming out of his yearly colonoscopy. Doing this on back-to-back weekends, as all teams do for sectionals and regionals, takes stamina and athleticism. 

The sport won’t make that much money right now, but that shouldn’t stop it from being sanctioned. Do you really think fencing or rifling are money-makers? After all, many NCAA sports don’t actually generate profits for their respective universities, but they are still legitimized and thus funded by the school, rather than with out-of-pocket dues. 

As one of the fastest growing sports in the world involving athletes of the highest caliber, it only makes sense that the NCAA should incorporate ultimate frisbee – if not directly, at least in some way, then as a subsidiary. 

Start at the baseline NCAA requirement with 28 colleges – likely the top 28 in the country, as they are pretty consistently the same big names each year — sponsoring ultimate as a university-branded varsity sport, and go from there. It would be a great investment to add on an emerging sport like ultimate – a sport played competitively here at Tulane, as well as hundreds of other colleges throughout the United States, and on every continent besides Antarctica.