6400: Buzzer Beaters

June 14, 2019
By Grant Lindsley

Buzzer Beaters – How to Set Them Up and Whether to Have Them at All

The inaugural AUDL All-Star Game last weekend highlighted many things – player skill and athleticism, Madison’s dedicated fan base, a new tradition for the AUDL – but perhaps most notable were the Hail Mary passes at the end of the third quarter, fourth quarter, and overtime.

When there’s a timer, players shoot to score before the buzzer. This brings up two questions.

First, how can a team set up good shots as time runs out? The answer, in a phrase, could be: throw one more pass.

Check out the end of the third quarter, when Team KPS’ Jonathan “Goose” Helton unleashes a huck with 22 seconds left on the clock, overlooking a wide-open Henry Fisher in the red Flyers jersey at the bottom of the screen and giving the other team enough time to complete their own Hail Mary as time expires. Team KPS could’ve thrown one more pass – maybe two or three – to increase their chance of scoring and to prevent their opponent from even trying. But they didn’t, and Team Rowan threw their own Hail Mary to Cam Harris for a goal as time expired – that’s a two-point turnaround.

Or notice Jay Froude at the end of the 4th quarter, standing unguarded in the white Roughnecks jersey with arms outstretched in the middle of the field while Rowan McDonnell throws a dicey hammer incomplete over traffic with a full 11 seconds remaining on the clock. Rowan, too, could’ve thrown one more pass.

To see this strategy carried out well, watch Pawel Janas at the end of overtime. He recognizes that he isn’t in a power position on the sideline and – with only seven seconds on the clock – throws one more pass, a reset to Kevin Brown, who is in a better spot in the middle of the field. Brown angles a flick to Antoine Davis in the front corner of the endzone as overtime expires, forcing double-overtime and setting up Team KPS for the win. Janas threw one more pass, and it kept his team in the game.

Of course, strategy for buzzer beaters doesn’t apply to anyone who plays non-professional ultimate, where games are played to a point total – usually 15 – rather than to time. Which brings up the second question.

Should ultimate be played to time (four 12-minute quarters), or to points (first to 15, with a cap at 90-120 minutes)?

Buzzer beaters don’t make sense if there’s no buzzer. In a game played to a point total, someone throwing a jump ball to a pile of receivers might be thrilling, but it would also be a mistake, because those passes have a low chance of success. While there’s an undeniable excitement to Hail Mary shots, there’s also a reasonable argument that they encourage, at best, sloppy play and, at worst, injuries.

Rules and regulations adapt to improve the competition experience for players and fans. Even well-established leagues alter their rules. This season, for example, the NBA, a 73-year-old league, dramatically shortened the shot clock after offensive rebounds.

At seven years young, the AUDL also continues to adjust its formula – one such successful change being the first-ever All-Star Game.

Teams evolve in response to league changes, and vice versa. The two adapt in relation to each other, and progress occurs like two legs walking forward. Right now, teams throw jump balls in response to the decision that games are played to time. But maybe that team strategy will become irrelevant if the league adapts toward playing to points, as all other Ultimate games are played, instead of to time. Certainly, jump balls are only one type of highlight among many, as Kevin Brown showcased with this layout catch-block. For now, all-star game number one is in the books, and the players seemed to have had a ball.