USAU Approval: A Step-by-Step Process
The ARIA disc has arrived. You can hold it, toss it, drink out of it, eat off of it, or use it as an uncomfortable pillow. And you can play ultimate with it.
The answer is definitively yes; that’s the main goal and reason we made it. ARIA discs are designed with all levels of ultimate play in mind, from backyard to youth to college to club and everywhere in between. ARIA is game-ready.
But like the rest of us, the disc has to qualify for the highest levels of play before it gets its chance to shine on the main stage. That’s where USA Ultimate (USAU) and the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) come in. USAU is the national governing body for the sport of ultimate, sort of like the government for ultimate, but without the distracting politics and scandals. WFDF is like the UN, with over 65 member countries (and counting - welcome Armenia!) united in one congress.
Why do ultimate discs need to be approved?
While all discs are fair game in any pickup game, practice, and many leagues all over the world, there are some tournaments and events that are sanctioned by ultimate’s governing bodies and therefore require players to compete with one of a short list of approved discs. Over the years, USAU has developed a robust process for testing and approving discs for use in sanctioned and official play. WFDF takes USAU’s approval process and follows the rulings of their tried-and-true system.
The disc approval process can go one of three ways: a disc can be denied, receive General Approval, or earn Championship Approval (italics quoted from USAU website):
- [Denial - This category, while not listed on USAU’s site, is full of promotional checking account discs, chewed up dog discs, and anything with the word NERF on or near it.]
- General Approval - A USA Ultimate Approved Disc is defined as “Good enough for use by ultimate players (leaguers, competitors at tournaments, USA Ultimate members).” This means that the disc is good enough for league, non-championship tournament play, and for USA Ultimate member’s general use.
- Championship Approval - A USA Ultimate Approved Championship Disc is defined as “Good enough for use in high level ultimate competition.” This means that the disc is good enough for play in USA Ultimate championships events and associated qualifying events.
- Note: [Neither of these] imply that the disc will be used within the USA Ultimate Season at the Club, College or Youth levels. Determination of disc(s) to be used in official USA Ultimate competitions will be based on licensing and sponsorship agreements separate from the disc approval process.
How does the USAU approval process work?
While the process may seem bureaucratic, it’s necessarily thorough and detailed in order to ensure that USAU can set a good standard for our sport. The process essentially boils down to three stages.
Stage 1 involves a ruler, a scale, and a gut check. USAU requests a handful of samples from the manufacturer to ensure they weigh 175g (with a very small tolerance), and the height and diameter of the disc are within ‘spec.’ If you are curious, grab a scale, weigh your discs and be your own judge! This is also where an initial screening comes in. While it’s not overly formal, this step can help keep out the riffraff and not bog down the volunteers that sit on the Disc Approval Committee (DAC).
Once the working group (basically the kings and queens when it comes to the whole process) decides that the ARIA will pass the initial technical test, they send a disc out to the rest of the DAC members and the Disc Standards Working Group and the DAC get to work on stage 2 evaluation.
The DAC is essentially the high court. These volunteers apply and are chosen because of their history and experience in the sport, and the level of passion and interaction they have with ultimate in their past, present and future. They are trusted to give a high level evaluation of the disc on things like catchability, how it performs in different conditions, and if it's flight path is something that they think could work for the sport of ultimate at most levels of play.
When the DAC considers the ARIA disc good enough to move forward (stage 2 cleared), 60 more samples of the disc, disguised with a USAU logo, are sent to USAU headquarters in Colorado to then be distributed across the country to the Flight Test Pool (FTP) for... dun dun dunnnnn stage 3. The FTP is comprised of a variety of players, most of whom have significant experience at a high level of play and/or coaching. It’s then up to the FTP to take the disc out, toss it around a bunch, and judge it on its ultimate worthiness (see what we did there)! Technically, the FTP is 35 folks, with at least 15 men and 15 women. Realistically, there are more like 60 members, because the FTP voting process requires a certain number of responses to the questionnaire, and every single FTP member isn't always able to properly evaluate every disc.
And then we wait! It's not just 'yeah sure whatever feels good;' the FTP has a rigorous set of questions that they have to answer about the disc, so their job is taken quite seriously. Apparently, a surprising number of discs go through this process, and it is a big responsibility to ensure that their evaluation is fair and valuable for the future of the sport.
The disc approval process is very thorough and exact, but it’s impossible to include everything. Things that the process does not consider:
- How cool any logo is that we decide to eventually put on any of our discs.
- Layout Ds per capita per state at college sectionals in 1991.
- ARIA Ultimate’s 1 for 1 donation model to support the growth of ultimate.
- Any past success or failure of a product by a company submitting a new disc.
- How many times we thank USAU for all the great work they have done and do for the sport.
- Ratio of home runs Ken Griffey Jr knocked out in the second half of his career vs the first half.
So what does all this mean for ARIA Ultimate?
At the time of this article, we've passed stage 1 (wahoo!) but the ARIA disc’s approval is in the literal and figurative hands of the DAC, so we can only speculate on whether or not it will be approved for championship play.
In the meantime, the sun is out and there are unspoken-for hucks to run down, so we’re going to hit the fields while we wait to hear back. We’ll update you if and when approval comes along later this summer!
Source (and a great place to find more information!) :
USA Ultimate, “Disc Standards,” http://www.usaultimate.org/resources/disc_standards.aspx. May 4, 2017.
Inspired to do a test of your own? Our discs are available for purchase through our online shop!