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Monday, November 25, 2013

Outside the Cones: Expansion Crisis in the AUDL

The 2013 AUDL off-season has been marred by troubling news, as new information has come to light about the dangers of the frequent expansions that are an unfortunate reality of playing in the league. 

Many are now asking what the league knew, and when it knew it.  Players, fans, and parents of aspiring young athletes are all seeking answers, in what has become a public-relations disaster for the league.  Today, Outside the Cones investigates the expansion crisis in the AUDL. 


The NFL has concussions.  The AUDL has expansions.


Toronto.  New York.  New Jersey.  Philadelphia.  DC.  Chicago.  Madison.  Minnesota.  Each team represents another on-field expansion suffered during the 2013 AUDL season.  Each expansion brings unknown, potentially long-lasting consequences to the players involved.  Even relatively low-impact expansions that go almost unnoticed, like the Minnesota Wind Chill, can cause serious problems, like headaches, lowered self-esteem, a sharp drop in GPA or work productivity, and a cynical and defeatist attitude about the future of professional ultimate.  

Expansions have long been a danger of playing in the American Ultimate Disc League.  Even back in the AUDL’s early days as an 8-team league, the lasting effects of expansions often left players in dire straits.  

John Korber, former captain of the now-defunct Connecticut Constitution is one such player.  He sat down with Outside the Cones for this story.

“The AUDL was a great experience at first,” said Korber.  “In a lot of ways, it was a dream come true: playing professional ultimate.  Seeing the way those kids’ faces would light up, being part of this new, exciting way of playing this game, it was great. 
An expansion cost this former AUDL star his career.

“But then…the expansion changed everything.” 

In the middle of the 2012 AUDL season, Korber endured a gruesome and devastating expansion.  The AUDL sold the rights to a Boston franchise, the exclusive licensing territory of which collided forcefully with the established licensing radius of the Constitution.  The collision, and the ensuing legal battle, ended the Constitution’s season, and Korber’s AUDL career.  

“It just knocked me completely out.  Out of the season, and out of the league, I mean,” said Korber.  “It’s just like, one day you’re doing fine, the season’s going great, you’re playing well, and then…BAM!  Out of nowhere, someone infringes on your contractually guaranteed marketing potential, and it’s over.  Just like that.” 

A year and a half later, Korber has still not returned to the professional ultimate field, and it’s increasingly unlikely that he ever will.  There is no timetable set for his recovery. 

(Note: A chilling photograph of the actual expansion incident can be seen here.  The image was not embedded, because it is fairly graphic.)  

And yet, despite the obviously damaging effects of expansions, the AUDL has done nothing to abate the surge of expansion-related incidents.  The league added eight new teams for the 2013 season and saw a corresponding rise in the number of players voicing their dissatisfaction with the league’s handling of the issue.    

One outspoken player is Brodie Smith, the All-Star face of the Windy City Wildfire.  Smith has suffered an expansion-related injury in every AUDL season to-date. 

A devastating expansion head-shot.
“Of course I’m frustrated,” said Smith in a Skype interview on Sunday.  “Expansions are a serious problem.  They shouldn’t be taken lightly.  But I keep getting the sense that the league isn’t doing their job here.  They knew about the risks of expansions, and they allowed just as many new teams last year as the first season.”   

In fact, the AUDL is adding even more teams for the 2014 season, bringing San Jose, Vancouver, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Montreal, and Seattle into the fold.  Rumors of a 30-team league in the near future have expansion experts on-edge.

“What feels really dishonest about it is that the league office hasn’t issued a single warning to players about the risks of expansions,” continued Smith. 

“So I wonder how many guys out there are signing contracts with no idea that they could still end up out of work, or injured, or even worse…playing for the Hammerheads.” 

Only time can tell how the league will address players’ concerns, but this much is certain: the controversy isn’t going away.  And, apparently, neither are the expansion teams.  

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