hung out at the captains meeting for the USAU Championships. Fairly remarkable, in my opinion
New director of the USA-U, Tom Crawford, basically confirmed that the mainstreaming of ultimate has fully been set in motion. Changing the name from the Ultimate Players Association to USA Ultimate was a clear step to make the sport more appealing, less cult-ish, and more in line with Olympics sports.
What surprised me was how fully behind the name change Crawford (and by extension, ultimate) really is. So far this year he's tackled just about every major issue head on and he's done so with vigor.
Last week USAU announced the Beach was going to be a division within ultimate for 2011. Thats a pretty big step.
At the captains meeting, he presented the fact that USA-U is actively enticing sponsors (he named but didnt name a confectionary company, a sports-beverage company, and others), that the numbers of Youth participants has, for the first time, out-numbered all others combined, has convinced CBS Sports to come down and take a look at the Club Championships with an open eye towards acquiring broadcast rights, signed an extension with CBS College Sports to continue and increase the coverage of College Nationals, and announced that the USA-U would host the "U.S. Open" which would invite international teams to compete against (presumably) top U.S. teams.
All of this, frankly, is a long time coming and all of this makes perfect sense. But it's being ramped up now, super-fast and it's impressive.
There are two things now in play which haven't been in play for ultimate in 20 years at least.
First is the Olympics -- this is a long-held dream of many an ultimate player. It makes sense on the most basic level: the Olympics sell the idea of sportsmanship and fair competition for all men and women from all countries. Sort of a basic principle of humanity thing.
Yet the Olympics has been about much more than that, it started as a geopolotical event and remains so. The Olympics is concerned with money and TV ratings, money to feed the every-hungry revenue stream for Olympic cities and the worldwide media coverage. And ultimate, we knows, has no truck with money (or advertising, or any of that).
But I will say this: Crawford has that dream of Ultimate in the Olympics wrapped inside his head. As he and members of the new USA Ultimate team have for a long time served on Olympics sports boards (Volleyball, Cycling, others) the Olympics is more a reality to them than to us.
And they are trying to bring it to the sport and they seem to really mean it.
The Olympics was debunked by the head of the UPA in 1990 (Nob Rauch) who sat in on USO meetings and actively pursued what it might take for ultimate to make it. All signs pointed to "no chance" (for various reasons, the most prevalent being -- its a team sport and the IOC cant pay for team sports, it doesnt have refs, it isnt in enough countries, it doesnt draw revenue or advertisers and other team sports are "ahead" of it).
So can Crawford revive, for real, the dream? It's in his head and he's running at full speed. It's interesting.
Second is the holy grail/cursed sword of ultimate: money. We've never had it, we never will. That's my perspective and and it's been tried trued and tested for 40 years.
But everything here has a subtext. Beach Ultimate. The US Open. CBS Sports, increased advertisers and sponsorship. All this either needs money or creates money.
It's there somewhere, the money. Paid athletes? Maybe just maybe something is happening and we don't even quite know what it is.