2017 Season Preview & Review: The Defunct Ultimate Disc (DUD) League

A few months ago it was announced that the Cincinnati Revolution ended their five year run as a franchise, after enduring their first winless season in 2016. Slightly more surprising is that the Charlotte Express are folding as well, after a 4-10 campaign this past year where they notched upsets over both Austin and Jacksonville.

Of course, neither of these franchises closing their doors is a huge shock. Both teams had trouble putting fans in the stands and though at times both franchises showed they were capable of playing with the top teams in the division, neither ever came close to the playoffs. This is the way of the franchise model in the AUDL. The strong franchises survive, and those that don’t are forced to close their doors.

There are now nine[1] defunct AUDL franchises. That’s more defunct franchises than active franchises that the MLU has ever had. Hell, these defunct franchises could come together to form their own league come to think of it. A league with massive travel costs, inferior quality product, and sketchy ownership, but a league nonetheless. In some ways, it kind of sounds like the AUDL in 2012. Come to think of it, what would that look like?

The DUD (Defunct Ultimate Disc) League

Charlotte Express

Cincinnati Revolution

Columbus Cranes

Connecticut Constitution

New Jersey Hammerheads

Rhode Island Rampage

Rochester Dragons

Salt Lake Lions

Seattle Raptors

It seems unlikely that these nine franchises will resurrect themselves when they all folded because it wasn’t financially feasible to stay up and running, but given that there are still two semi-professional ultimate leagues what’s one more? And granted, nine teams isn’t the ideal number for a league. It’s not easy to split into divisions with nine teams. And this set of nine teams isn’t conducive geographically to divisions either.

Despite all that, if these nine teams decided to come back and make their run at 2017 they could just decide to scrap divisions. Every team would have one home game and one away game against every other team in the league, the AUDL would return to its roots with a 16 game season. In that event, how would these teams stack up? What would the season play out like? Who would come away with the crown? I’m glad you asked. Let’s talk regular season first.

Charlotte Express

Main Rotation Players: Jesse Lieberman, Micah Hood, Shane Sisco, Jeff Nordgren, Jakeem Polk, Charlie Muniz, Andrew Cohen, Jacob Fairfax, Jon Stone, Eric Olson, Ken Porter, Mason Gardner

At first glance the Express look like one of the heavyweights in the entire DUD League. With their all stars like Micah Hood, Shane Sisco, Matt Bode, handlers like Jesse Lieberman, Jon Stone, Eric Olson, and defensive presences like Jakeem Polk, Ken Porter, and Mason Gardner the Express are a well-rounded team.

This is a team that played relatively well at home in 2016, going 3-4. Even in 2015 when the Express weren’t nearly as strong they still took teams like Atlanta and Jacksonville to overtime before coming up short. Given the talent top through bottom of the roster[2] and how far teams would have to travel to play Charlotte, it’s tough to see the Express dropping any games at home.

The road is a different story. Other than the two Ohio teams in the league[3] the Express would be logging some major miles on the road. In 2015 the Express were a terrible road team, but they were much more respectable in 2016. They played the Roughnecks very close in the first half and only[4] lost by ten in Dallas, took Jacksonville to overtime, and played Atlanta close too. Since this team takes the best from both years, and given the lower level of competition, Charlotte would do well on the road but it’d be unreasonable to expect an undefeated season.

With one of the top teams in the league, the Express would probably have a viable MVP candidate on their hands too. This isn’t a team that’s as reliant on one player to do everything as some other teams in the league, but there’s a good chance that Micah Hood could emerge as one of the favorites in that race.

Projected Record: 13-3, 1st in the DUD League

Cincinnati Revolution

Main Rotation Players: Jeff Kula, Mike Ames, Nate Botti, Eddie Mack, Phil Cherosky, Tim Settles, Mark Fedorenko, Chris Powers, Evan Boucher, Matt Muhlenkamp, Isaac Jefferies, Scott Schriner, Gus Misleh, Ryan Gorman

The most important competition for the Cincinnati Revolution would come before the first pull even went up in the inaugural DUD League season. With Columbus less than a two hour drive away, the Revolution would be competing with the Cranes for many of the same players. And if there’s one thing we know about the AUDL, it’s that talent follows talent. With a five year window to take advantage of instead of just one season, the Revolution have a higher ceiling and would end up retaining the best players that came over to Cincinnati after playing for Columbus.

This would essentially be an all-star team of anyone that’s ever suited up for the Revolution. And before you sneer[5] remember that this team hasn’t always been a doormat. In 2012 the Bluegrass Revolution went 9-7 in the regular season, losing their only playoff game in franchise history to a talented AlleyCats team 20-24. In 2013 the Revolution moved to Cincinnati, and won games at home against both Minnesota and Madison. In 2014 they beat Chicago, and dropped close one point losses to both Indianapolis and Minnesota.

Admittedly, since 2013 of the 10 games Cincinnati has won 7 of them have been against a somewhat hapless Detroit Mechanix team. And in 2016 Cincinnati went 0-14. But this iteration of the Revolution takes the best players from every year. And to be a championship threat in the DUD League you don’t need to have a club nationals semifinals contender talent either. Plus, this team features plenty of players that have played at club nationals before.

With players from Madcow when they were still a force in the Great Lakes, High Five, Temper, Steamboat, and a player that won a club championship with Revolver (Evan Boucher), there’s a lot to like on this roster. Nate Botti, Mark Fedorenko, Chris Powers, Scott Schriner, and Ryan Gorman have all lit up the stat sheet individually in the AUDL before and now they’d be playing on a team with a lot more depth.

It’s tough to project any individual MVP candidate without really knowing how all the different roles would shake out, but Mark Fedorenko seems like a good candidate. He’s been known as a d-line player for years but was one of the most integral parts of the Pittsburgh o-line in 2016. Given the steps he’s taken since leaving the Revolution, and an abundance of strong o-line handlers preventing any single one from standing out in particular, a top five finish in the DUD League MVP race seems like it wouldn’t be a bad bet.

Projected Record: 12-4, 2nd in the DUD League 

Columbus Cranes

Main Rotation Players: Kieran Kelly, Ben Sage, Jordan Rhyne, David Valentine-Elam, Kevin Reichert

Honestly the Cranes would barely be able to pull together two lines with Cincinnati taking many of their best players. But Cincinnati wouldn’t be able to steal everyone, and Kieran Kelly never played with the Revolution to begin with. He would obviously be the standout on this team, with former Revolution players like Valentine-Elam and Reichert picking up some slack, but this would be a tough year for the Cranes. Honestly there would probably be games where they’d have to play savage. They probably wouldn’t make the road trip out to Seattle and Salt Lake, and opt to forfeit those games.

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A look at the starting line for Columbus on their road trip to Seattle and Salt Lake

The Cranes were respectable in 2012, going 7-9. But in 2017, with such little depth things would be a lot tougher. That said this isn’t the AUDL, this is the DUD League. So if you don’t think they’d get a couple wins at home you’re fooling yourself. Especially since it’s not a guarantee that every team scheduled to make the trip to Columbus would actually get there.

Projected Record: 2-14, in the DUD League

Connecticut Constitution

Main Rotation Players: John Korber, Chris Mazur, Brent Anderson, Lucas Murphy, Joe Anderson, Izzy Bryant, Misha Horowitz, Husayn Carnegie, Seth Canetti, Kamil Skwarek

Connecticut_Constitution_logo.jpg

All these years later and I still don’t know what throw this was.

Ah, the Connecticut Constitution. The forgotten AUDL powerhouse of yesteryear. Look at those names and you’ll see players that have played on teams not only like PoNY, but also Johnny Bravo and Sockeye. Players with semi-pro ultimate experience not only with the New York Empire and New York Rumble, but also the Boston Whitecaps, Seattle Cascades, and Dallas Roughnecks. This is a good team.

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Honest to god the Constitution had a mascot and this was it.

At one point in 2012 the Constitution were 9-3, and looked like they might be the team to threaten the Philadelphia Spinners for the inaugural AUDL Championship. Connecticut was 1-3 against Philadelphia, but the Spinners only lost two games during the regular season, so that wasn’t a bad mark. Of course the season ended ignominiously for the Constitution, with the team forfeiting its four final games, including their Midwest road trips. If Indianapolis was too far to bring the team to play, it seems unlikely that Connecticut would go to any games as far as Salt Lake, Seattle, Charlotte, Columbus, or Cincinnati. They’d end up forfeiting all of those games.

With five forfeits on the season the Constitution wouldn’t be able to field any credible MVP candidates, but unlike the AUDL in 2012 in the DUD League in 2017 they’d wouldn’t be disqualified from the playoffs. And they’d have a good enough record to get there, no problem.

Projected Record: 10-6, 3rd in the DUD League

New Jersey Hammerheads

Main Rotation Players: Marques Brownlee, Jibran Mieser, Albert Alarcon, Scott Xu, Frank Harris, Eric Ela

Remember the New Jersey Hammerheads? No? That’s probably for the best. Despite featuring some exciting players at the top of the roster this team didn’t play a particularly pretty brand of ultimate, and the players had to endure one of the worst regarded owners in AUDL history. From what I’ve heard not only were the Hammerheads players not paid, they had to cover their own expenses for travel, forking over gas money. The AUDL has come a long way since 2013[6].

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Do you at least remember the New Jersey Hammerheads logo? It’s a top five DUD League logo for sure.

In 2013 the Hammerheads were inefficient and huck happy on the field, with the vast majority of their players completing under 90% of their passes. They only went 2-14, and 0-3 against the DC Breeze. And in case you don’t remember, this is pre-Dutchy DC Breeze. One of their two wins came against a Rochester team that didn’t have its college players and was featuring some week one only pickups from Rochester league teams, and the other came against the New York Empire, and I really can’t explain that one. The East was bad in 2013, and the Hammerheads were the worst of it.

With the Hammerheads players having to cover their own expenses for travel, there’s no way they make the trip to Salt Lake and Seattle, or even the teams in the Midwest. They only end up playing three road games, losing each of them. It won’t be a pretty season for New Jersey, but they end up getting a couple wins at home. And rest assured, Jibran Mieser would score a bunch of goals and Marques Brownlee would make some highlight plays for the weekly DUD League highlight video.

Projected Record: 2-14, in the DUD League

Rhode Island Rampage

Main Rotation Players: Brandon Malecek, Matt Smith, Brian Zid, Cody Rebholz, Seth Reinhardt, Shaun Doherty, Chip Cobb, Terry Roth

It’s kind of crazy to realize that the two teams that played in the 2016 AUDL Championship had players on their roster from the Connecticut Constitution (Chris Mazur, Husayn Carnegie), Rochester Dragons (Zack Smith, though he didn’t make the trip to Madison), Columbs Cranes (Kieran Kelly, also didn’t play in Madison) and the Rhode Island Rampage (Brandon Malecek). The next time somebody tells you the AUDL was a complete joke in 2012 you can pull that fact out in response[7].

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If anybody has one of these discs I’d be willing to pay above market price for it.

The Rampage had quite a few future Boston Whitecaps on the roster in 2012, and this is a respectable group of ultimate players. You’ve got Malecek sending huge hucks to space for Matt Smith to chase down and a solid group of really good defensive players.

The Rampage would not be bad enough to be funny nor good enough to be relevant. But hey, they’ve got the best Twitter account in the game, so it’s all good.

Projected Record: 7-9, in the DUD League 

Rochester Dragons

Main Rotation Players: TJ Burns, Dave Ferraro, Kevin Quinlan, Zack Smith, Max Rick, Matt Cameron, David Wheeler, Mike Pannone, Rob Dulabon, Greg Wakeman, Doug Urbino

The Rochester Dragons all time team isn’t that bad really, but compared to some of the other top teams in the DUD League Rochester lacks depth. And to be fair we’re talking about a team with an all time record of 11-49, with just two of those wins coming after 2013, both against the just as hapless Philadelphia Phoenix.

In the DUD League the toughest weekend for Rochester would probably be their opening weekend two game road trip in Seattle and Salt Lake. After arriving with a skeleton crew in Seattle, just 9 guys to save money on airfare, Rochester is surprisingly resilient, losing respectably 17-23. The game finishes at 9:45 and the team immediately hops in the rental van. After a short 13-hour jaunt to Salt Lake, the Dragons arrive just 15 minutes before their afternoon game against the Lions.

The game is close in the first quarter, with the Lions running their trademark offense of jacking up hucks to stationary receivers. But Rochester can’t hang tight. Injuries take a toll, and the Dragons start the second half down 8-18 with just seven players. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around the score is 11-30, and Rochester only has four healthy players. Not wanting to let the rest of the team down back in New York, the Dragons refuse to forfeit. In the final seconds of the game Kevin Quinlan puts up a huck. Rochester has been held scoreless the entire fourth quarter, down 11-45, but this one looks like it has a chance. Dave Ferrarro has his man beat and casually catches up with the disc in the end zone. Rochester scores its 12th goal, and avoids becoming the new record holder for biggest loss in semi-pro ultimate history. It isn’t a win, or even a respectable loss, but it is something.

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Hundreds of fans watch the Salt Lake Lions first franchise victory over the Rochester Dragons, whose jerseys looked suspiciously similar to the Vancouver Riptide for reasons that are never made clear.

With their heads held high the Dragons walk off the field to a surprisingly full stadium, with 700 Lions fans in the stands. At first the Dragons think the fans are cheering on the first win in Salt Lake franchise history, but then they realize the cheers are for them, for going the distance. It’s a touching scene, but in the exact moment that Zack Smith begins to shed a real human tear another Rochester player gets a call from the team owner. It turns out he’d only purchased one way plane tickets to Seattle. The Dragons have no way to get home.

The Rochester players are faced with a choice. They can buy their own plane tickets back home, or start a new life at the Crossroads in the West. The Salt Lake owner overhears half the phone call, and offers contracts to all the Dragons players on the spot. Not really thinking things through and just choosing the path of least resistance, all nine choose to accept. The Dragons they figure will still be able to field a team, and now they’ll be able to play ultimate in front of real live home field audiences, just like real semi-professional ultimate players they’ve always seen in the movies.

After the opening weekend debacle, the Dragons have a tough time recovering. Their playoff hopes go up in smoke. Rochester is still able to field a team, and they even win some games. But head coach Bryan Jones, who wasn’t allowed to go on the opening road trip due to the limited budget, is never quite the same.

Projected Record: 5-11, in the DUD League

Salt Lake Lions

Main Rotation Players: Isaac Conley, Trevor Harper, Zack Smith, Kevin Quinlan, Dave Ferraro, other people too

After their home opening 33 point victory where they not only notched their first ever win in team history, but also managed to steal a few of the better players away from a rival DUD League team, the Lions are riding high. They’re thinking playoffs.

Reality kicks in though. The Lions were not starting from a very high baseline. In 2014 Salt Lake went 0-14, losing by an average 15 goals per game. They lost four by 20 or more points, and two by 25 or more. This team was not a Rochester Dragons line away from becoming a championship contender, not even in the DUD League. And traveling to away games from Salt Lake is not cheap, and the team often ends up sending 14 men crew on two game road trips to the east coast.

That said, picking up those Dragons players definitely makes a difference for Salt Lake. It makes them the favorites playing at home, and gives them a chance, though not a big one, playing on the road. The game circled on the Lions calendar from the start of the season is the away game in Rochester and they win it on the final day of the season.

Projected Record: 7-9, in the DUD League

Seattle Raptors

Main Rotation Players: Evan Klein, Cam Bailey, Matt King, Peter Bender, John Quandt, Ky Lewis, Matt Neeley, Mike Cavanaugh, Brad Houser

Though the Raptors only went 3-11 in 2014, with all three wins coming against Salt Lake, this wasn’t a bad team. This Seattle AUDL team wouldn’t compare to the Cascades, but there was some talent here even if it didn’t always translate into wins. Despite dropping 11 games only four losses came by more than five points. You can find a few former Seattle Raptors playing for Seattle Mixtape these days. They weren’t so bad.

seattle_raptors-AUDL.png

This was the Raptors logo.

And don’t forget that the AUDL West in 2014 was pretty good, though not quite what it would later become. In the DUD League Seattle would have to commit to an insane amount of travel, with their second closest opponent being located in Ohio.

raptors_ultimate.png

These were their jerseys. Kinda shocking the Titcomb family felt the need to rebrand, right?

But this is a team with some talent, in a league that doesn’t have a lot of it, so they’d be a contender for sure.

Projected Record: 11-5

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND!!!!!!! 

Charlotte Express 13-3

Cincinnati Revolution 12-4

Seattle Raptors 11-5

Connecticut Constitution 10-6

Living up to the excitement of the 2016 Championship Weekend for the AUDL in Madison wouldn’t be easy, but there was one thing many DUD League veteran teams thought could do it. Run it back all the way to Championship Weekend 2012. Detroit. The Silverdome. Promises of tens of thousands screaming in the stands. The same field that Barry Sanders once graced with his presence, carrying the Detroit Lions to several remarkable 7-9 seasons.

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A fitting venue for the DUD League Championship (Photo by Johnny Joo)

Now reader, I know what you’re thinking. Are we sure that the Silverdome is still standing? Wouldn’t that be a hazard to the players? Is this certain to end in disaster? The answers to those questions are yes, yes, and absolutely yes.

With the Connecticut Constitution refusing to travel to Detroit for championship weekend, citing player safety (but really ownership didn’t feel like spending that kind of money), the Charlotte Express earn a bye to the finals. Saturday is left to the Cincinnati-Seattle semifinal. Both teams invoke the captain’s clause to skip the first half of the game, in an effort to save legs and minimize potential injuries. While the referees aren’t happy there’s nothing they can really do, and they watch haplessly as Ryan Gorman holds onto the disc, unmarked for the whole first quarter. Matt Neeley returns the favor in the second quarter, as the Raptors invite the tens of spectators to join in their teams spikeball tournament. Of course spikeball in such hazardous conditions isn’t much safer than ultimate. Several Raptors players end up getting injured, and over half the fans in attendance leave before the the first stall count is even set.

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Brodie Smith earned his appearance fee by watching the game from the VIP box, wondering if he could get a trick shot video filmed in between games. (Photo by Johnny Joo)

Before the second half starts the DUD League, having a somewhat better sense of timing than the AUDL in this one particular instance, reveals its MVP. Evan Lepler, who was announcing play by play for the weekend, had declared his support for Micah Hood of the Charlotte Express. Lepler saw it as a simple and clear choice, after all the Express had the best record in the league, and Hood led Charlotte in the goals plus assists plus d’s minus turns. Simple. How could anybody mess that up? Meanwhile Adam Ruffner was adamantly in favor of Mark Fedorenko on the Cincinnati Revolution. Ruffner cited Fedorenko’s VICDFQSSAORP (Value In Clutch and Disappointing Fourth Quarter Scenarios on Saturday Afternoons Over Replacement Player) as the best in the league. The fans were the ones to decide this race though, Marques Brownlee won in a walk after just one tweet from MKBHD[8].  Brownlee, somewhat embarrassed by his association with the DUD League, had opted not to attend Championship Weekend. Fedorenko and Hood stood awkwardly next to Commissioner Semrau as he praised the fans decision to choose an MVP from a 2-14 team, saying that it captured the very essence of the DUD League.

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Evan Lepler, the consumate professional that he is, called the half of the Cincinnati-Seattle like it was Game 7 of the World Series from this booth, despite all the chaos, injuries, forfeits, and lack of any sort of video technology or even a working power outlet. All the man needed was a megaphone. (Photo by Johnny Joo)

The second half of the Seattle-Cincinnati game was fairly unremarkable. The Revolution threw zone, forcing Seattle into areas of the field with giant holes and walls blocking their path forward. The Revolution win fairly easily, 11-6. After the game, Ryan Gorman of the Cincinnati Revolution had seen enough. “Listen, I know it’s not easy to organize tournaments, especially championship level events. We should thank those that take the time to bring the game to more people, it’s not a job that anybody goes into for the glory. But this is at least as bad as the 2010 and 2011 College National Men’s Finals. I mean, maybe not that bad, but it’s close. My point is, we refuse to play here tomorrow in the championship.”

When Commissioner Semrau refused Cincinnati’s proposal to “play on literally any patch of grass that’s 120 yards long and 53 yards wide, or hell, just 110 yards long and 40 yards wide” the inaugural DUD League season came to an unceremonious end. Charlotte won the championship by default, despite the fact that nobody from the Express ever made it to Detroit, instead opting to play in the Select Flight Invite with Turbine that weekend.

In the aftermath of the first DUD League season, the ultimate community started to see a lot of formulaic think pieces on semi-professional ultimate, its future, talk of how ownership probably isn’t a wise business investment, and whether or not it’s really sustainable to have three[9] different leagues that are all essentially trying to accomplish the same thing. But with all nine owners committing to another year, just a month later the DUD League announced it would return in 2018. Because what the hell, why not?

[1] There are different ways to count this, but for these purposes I’m counting the Seattle Raptors (who were rebranded as the Cascades but under new ownership and new players, it was a whole new franchise) but not the Philadelphia Spinners, who don’t really count as defunct since they’re still playing in the MLU.

[2] Compared to other teams in the DUD League

[3] Columbus and Cincinnati are both within about a seven hour drive

[4] This is the Dallas Roughnecks we’re talking about here, so “only lost by ten” is actually a fair statement

[5] Ok, after you sneer

[6] Ok, so it hasn’t come that long a way, but it has come a short way. You’d almost have to agree that there’s been some progress. Really it varies from team to team. Anyhow, my point was that nobody really waxes nostalgically about the days of yore when the New Jersey Hammerheads graced the field with their presence.

[7]They’ll still be right, but at least you’ll seem smart. And crazy. You’ll seem crazy for sure. People don’t just go spouting off at the handle about 2012 AUDL rosters, that’s not a thing that happens. I can tell you that because that’s what people have had to tell me.

[8] Several weeks later Lepler would write a brief 7000 word piece on why he was right. Just cuz.

[9] Three, because the MLU is still around. That’s still a semi-professional ultimate league. It counts. At least as much as the DUD League! Maybe more? Maybe. And on the off chance anyone came here looking for something real from me on the AUDL, go here instead. I’ll be writing and/or podcasting about the AUDL in the not too distant future.

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One comment

  1. Instead of this, please write a plan for AUDL and MLU and all these DUD teams to re-organize into a soccer-like multi-tier table relegation system.

    Thanks!

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