Should Mixed Ultimate Be 6v6?

Let’s talk about Flatball’s 3:3 ratio tournament…

USA Flatball Logo

It was recently announced that Flatball’s College Mixed Championships would, this year, be played 6v6 with a 3:3 gender ratio.

Outside of the occasional mixed summer league I don’t believe this variation of the rules has been tested at a competitive tournament before, so it will be extremely interesting to see what the game looks like and how the players feel playing this varient of the rules.

The debate around “how mixed is mixed ultimate?” has been going since the dawn of mixed ultimate itself but no major mixed tournaments have changed from a 4:3 ratio. WUGC, WUCC, Mixed Nationals – in every country in the world that has them – are all played 7v7 with the 4:3 ratio.

Ultiworld published an article with some statistical analysis of 2013 US Mixed Nationals which claimed to show that women are contributing far less than should be in elite mixed ultimate. The article itself admits to some fairly large shortcomings in the data but I feel, on top of that, that the analysis itself is somewhat misleading and I don’t feel that we can conclude all that much from the results.

Even so, there is a community wide feeling that mixed is still male dominated.

Outside of the realms of elite ultimate, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the game is male dominated as, certainly in the UK, the game is played by far more men than women (just look at the size of open tour compared to women’s tour, as well as the number of teams with very few women in mixed tour…). So the talent pool for male ultimate players is much deeper meaning that we can expect the average ability of the male players on a given team to be higher than the average ability of the female players, giving us this “male skewed” game.

However, this should not be the case at elite level. The top teams have the pick of the best women in the game, so the only separating factors at this level are physicality.

Now given the style of ultimate which is most commonly played at the moment, physicality is a huge deal. Especially in the US, ultimate is all about who has the best throwers and the best receivers. Being tall, fast and jumpy are extremely important attributes for players wanting lots of goals, lots of Ds and even assists come with this in the form of catching hucks just short of the endzone.

So should we really be surprised that the analysis the aforementioned Ultiworld article shows that men are dominating the game so much?

Will 3:3 Ultimate Solve The Problem?

Of course, the Flatball fields will be smaller than regular 7v7 fields which makes big isolation plays a little more difficult as there is less space to throw to and less space for the defense to cover. This might promote a slightly different style of play, favouring teams who work the disc with shorter passes more often. Or it might just see the college teams who haven’t spent much time adapting to smaller pitches just turning over a lot more…

Imagine if mixed was always played 3:4 male:female ratio. Do you think that the game would be female dominated? From my experience watching elite level mixed played with 4 women on each team, the men on the pitch are still having a larger impact on the play than the women. Again, this probably shouldn’t be a surprise as it only takes two people to throw and catch, but with more women on the pitch the number of female touches does increase compared to male touches (I image, I don’t have any data to back this up).

Now if we have a 3:3 split I imagine that the number of touches each gender gets will be more equal than the usual 4 male 3 female team composition but in terms of the stats which the Ultiworld article referred to (particularly goals, assists and Ds) I find it hard to believe that we will see 50% of those stats shared by women and 50% by men. Although, Flatball is not an elite tournament, and it a fairly new enterprise so it is difficult to predict what will happen.

Should We Even Be Striving For An “Equal” Game?

All this theory-crafting about the nature 3:3 mixed is all well and good but we have not yet addressed the question of whether or not striving for an equal game is even a worthwhile pursuit.

As I said above, given the current favoured style of play, it is no surprise that men are potentially getting a disproportionate amount of goals, assists and Ds. Even if we had stats on the number of touches each gender gets, if teams are trying to set up big isolation plays as quickly as possible then there is no reason to think that the gender disparity will not show up there either.

The issue lies with play style.

Until the tops teams start playing a small-ball orientated style of ultimate — which does not rely on pure physicality — we will always see a gender disparity in the stats.

Therefore, we should be evaluating the impact of the women on a mixed team using alternative methods.

Looking at the number of touches women get compared to men would be one example of this. Also, the above Ultiworld article shows that women were causing far fewer turnovers than they “should be” if they are contributing equally to the game. So this would suggest that female players should be getting the disc more as they turn over far less?

To Conclude

I am very interested to see how Flatball’s 3:3 experiment goes but I do not see it making enough of a difference to change how USAU and WFDF conduct their mixed tournaments, or for it to dramatically rebalance the game.

It is worth, however, considering what mixed ultimate would look like to the viewers around the world if most teams are ignoring their women and just hucking to their guys. Of course that is an exaggeration but maybe even the current play style wouldn’t put our sport in the best light…