In and out of bounds: ultimate's illogical rules

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I continually have the wrong hunch about what's in and what's out in ultimate. The league rules (, section IX, C) state:

C. A player contacting the out-of-bounds area is out-of-bounds.

C1. If momentum carries a player out-of-bounds after landing in-bounds with possession of an in-bounds disc, the player is considered in-bounds. For this exception to apply, that player’s first point of ground contact with any area must be completely in-bounds.

C2. A pivoting thrower may contact an out-of-bounds area, provided that part of the pivot remains in contact with the playing field. 

What this means is that a player who is visibly out-of-bounds (C) may actually be in-bounds in certain situations (C1 and C2). This leads to a great amount of subjectivity in calls (arguments about which foot touched first, whether you actually pivoted in or out, etc), and confusion for new players who are unfamiliar with the exceptions.

Other field sports like soccer and football, and other bounded sports like basketball, have much clearer rules. Out is out. You are not allowed to play the ball when it is out, and you cannot step out while making a play. This is easier to understand and enforce than the variations on what is considered in-play in ultimate.

C1 is more understandable, as running out after catching a disc is often unavoidable. However, C2 seems like an unnecessary complication of what would otherwise be a simple rule. Imagine a football quarterback who could step one foot out of bounds and make a throw, or a basketball player who could step one foot off the court and make a shot. I'm not sure what we gain by allowing it.

I know it's not likely to change, but it's one part of the rules that I find illogical and hard to apply on the field.


One big reason I can see for C2 is when bringing a disc into play from the sideline (such as in C1, or when a turnover occurs off the side of the field). In that situation, the new thrower has to establish their pivot just inside the perimeter line. If they were not able to contact the out of bounds area with their non-pivot foot, they would be restricted to throwing from one foot, or forced to contort their body awkwardly for any sort of upfield or downfield throw, a situation made infinitely worse by a mark forcing sideline.

I'm actually struggling to understand why you'd find C2 more difficult to apply between the two....

.C.1 is usually the rule that leads to the most difficulty, mostly whenever playing on unlined fields.  Mind you, the rule is not difficult because a player can potentially leave the field with the disc without stopping play; it's difficult because somebody has to make a line call.  It can mean having to watch players' feet instead of the game, which is the annoying bit. 

.C.2 is easy, though!  The thrower has to set his/her pivot in a legal spot.  And that's it.  Actually, all it's saying is that you don't have to watch players' feet like a hawk.  So, all you have to do is *not* do anything.  Just play.

The boundary lines are very hard to see on the field. Sometimes players argue if whether they are in bound, out bound, or on the line. Can they actually contest that and the disc goes back to the thrower,  or do we have to come to an agreeable conclusion between both players? I thought players can only contest whether the play is a foul, not on in bound and out of bound plays.

Yes, you can contest an in/out call and send it back to the thrower.

It is not a "contest" per se (because, as you've pointed out, only infraction calls can be "contested") but it amounts to the same.  This is in fact called a "dispute," and the scenario wherein "nobody has a good perspective on a catch" is specifically addressed as an example giving rise to a disputed call (XVI.D).

As Ninja says, this is the rule that prescribes that the disc should return to the thrower.