Ultimate Not a Fad, Here to Stay
Michael Cipriano | 10/28/14 7:34pm
When most students hear the word “frisbee” thrown around, there’s a good chance all they’ll think of is a bunch of people on the quad tossing a white disc. What many don’t know, however, is the word goes far beyond the 175-gram piece of plastic they’re throwing around for fun.
It’s a competitive, organized sport with the non-stop action of soccer and the throwing and end zone-scoring aspects of American football. Developed in 1968 by a group of high school students in New Jersey, ultimate frisbee is expanding beyond its reputation as a game played by bare-foot hippies and stoners to becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the country.
There were about five million ultimate players in the U.S. in 2013, according to a report by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. This new number marks a 27 percent increase in participation over the past six years. USA ultimate, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., has also seen nearly a 50 percent spike in membership over the past five years.
The game has grown especially popular among students, with approximately one-third of 2013 USAU memberships coming from the college level. There are currently more than 700 universities across the country with ultimate teams. What makes the sport unique at the college level is that it’s not yet sanctioned by the NCAA. Therefore, playing on a school’s club team is the highest level possible to represent the university.
But the once small talent pool is growing, and it’s growing quickly. Youth memberships for USAU have grown over 50 percent since 2009, according to the website. More grade schools start up teams every year, creating opportunities for to learn the game as kids, rather than not starting, or even hearing, about the sport until college.
Although the NCAA has yet to sponsor ultimate, there has been increased chatter about the possibility. With growing participation levels, a number of petitions have circulated in recent years to make it the next NCAA sanctioned sport.
ESPN and USAU also struck a multi-year agreement in 2013 to air the sport’s major events. The deal includes the broadcasting of College Championships, giving the sport a national viewing audience. Additionally, two professional ultimate leagues have been created over the last two years. The American Ultimate Disc League had its inaugural season in 2012, and Major League Ultimate made its debut in 2013.
It may be a while before the talent pool becomes wide enough to sanction the sport, but all signs are pointing in that direction.