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Stall Count

I bet of all the off-the-wall thoughts on these pages this is the one that gets the biggest reaction. In Minnesota I was kicked off the Terrapins twice for refusing to call stall (and each time invited back on with an apology when they remembered that, stall or no, I was their best defender).

There are several reasons I dislike calling stall, none of which is convincing by itself, but together make me reluctant to call it.

The basis is that I don't like the evolution of the rule. For those who don't remember, the stall rule dates back to when games were played to time, so that a team could not get one point up and sit on the disc until time expired. In 1977, I think, games were changed to points, and the rule became something of an anachronism. In the 4 years I was at Princeton I can only remember stall being called one time.

Around 1980 everyone started to call it. As near as I can tell, someone went over the rules and said, "Hey! Here is a rule I can use to gain an advantage!" To me, that is a misapplication of a rule, and poor spirit.

This is not to say I don't like the general speedup that it brings, or that I think anyone who calls stall is showing poor spirit. Most people who play now learned that calling stall was part of marking. But for someone with my understanding of the rule, it is not really spirited to call it unless you believe the opponent is stalling.

Second is that I don't think it is very effective. It makes very little difference in a game - any team that consistantly cannot get off a throw in 10 seconds is not a winning team anyway.

Third is that I think the speedup favors the offense. One of my offensive goals is to have each person hold the disc for no more than a count of 4: a look upfield, and a swing. Much longer than that and the offense has broken down. To this thinking, if the offense wants to hold the disc they are welcome to, it allows the defense to get set, and makes the offense's job that much harder.

Fourth, it makes for uglier ultimate, trying to win by making the other team play badly. I prefer to win by playing better. For instance, on a very windy day a stall count forces people into making unnecessarily poor throws. 10 seconds on a still day is very different than 10 seconds in a force 7 gale. On a still day it can be argued anyone who takes 10 seconds must be stalling. When the wind is really blowing that is not much time.

One of my fond memories of the zone played at Princeton was watching teams melt down when they could not get off a throw for 20 or 30 seconds. The cutters start yelling at the thrower (er, make that "the guy with the disc"), he starts yelling back, the cutters start muttering they won't bother running if he won't throw it anyway, and the offense dies. Meanwhile the defense gets more and more psyched.

As a front in the zone and a marking specialist, I loved doing this. After going to Minnesota, the first time I did this it probably would have been up to about 8 when my own teammates on defense started yelling at me for not calling stall. The defense got frustrated, and the offense took advantage. I think of defense as half the game, and quite as much fun as playing offense - it is not the punishment that you have to put up with to get to play offense.

One of the funniest things I have seen on the field is when I mark someone who tucks the disc under his arm and, when his teammates call for a pass, he explains "There is no stall count". I think the intent is to punish me, but the result is the offense gets angry, and it often ends in a turnover.

Saying this, I do find myself calling stall more than before. For one thing, the stack often does stall. It is intentionally a slow offense, and if the intent is to take advantage of slowing things down then I see no reason not to make them pay.

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