Friday, July 22, 2005

QoTW: College Divisions

Today’s Question of the Week comes from Johnny Chimpo of Atlanta who writes:
i have a question for you and your bloggers:

Do you think it would be beneficial to create two or more divisions for college ultimate? As noted in an earlier post (the one about eligibility), smaller schools and private schools have a much harder time competing with large public schools or private schools with a well established reputations. Do you take the risk of less competition and divide the college game into two divisions? Three divisions? For both men and women?

I know this has been discussed before, but at what point do we create the divisions.

As I mentioned in the post you referred to, I think it’s just a matter of time before ultimate goes to multiple divisions. I think the question of whenexactly to go to multiple divisions is interesting. I also wonder how it would be implemented – in other words, do you just let teams play in whatever division they want to?

Some quick googling shows that only a few NCAA sports have all of their teams compete in the same division (I think just fencing, rifle, and skiing). Those sports have considerably fewer teams than ultimate (between 30-50).

Rugby is probably a better example, since it is also outside of the NCAA. Here is a link to their eligibility guidelines. They have two college divisions and three club divisions. From my quick reading, I think teams can choose which division they want to play in. It seems like a team can move from division to division from year to year, but I don’t see anything specific so I wouldn’t swear to it. A somewhat interesting sidenote here is that rugby also allows college players five years of eligibility – maybe this is where we got the idea?

Anyway, fun question. Anyone have any thoughts about this? Should we just leave all the teams together in the same division in the hopes of the Hoosiers scenario?


Julia said...

While I think it's not a bad idea, your argument leaves something to be desired. You said small private schools have a disadvantage, but what about Brown or Carleton? Also, I can't remember the name, but there was a community college in California that was very successful in the early to mid-nineties.
Maybe the divisions could be based on newly formed teams versus high level teams. Something kind of like Rugby where you can move yourself up whenever you want, but you have to start in the bottom category your first competitive season (name a brand new team that ever made it to Nationals their first year).

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the original question said "or private schools with established programs", which I'd think both Brown and Carleton qualify as. Also, someone correct me if I'm wrong here, but some of the small Community College teams that found success in the early nineties would have a very hard time making eligibility requirements now that the UPA has much better ability to keep track of players and how many years they've been playing. You'll no longer see the group of seasoned club players all suddenly showing up on "Small Community U.".

For me, I really think it comes down to numbers; as participation in the sport outside of college increases (particularly at the juniors level), the larger universities will gradually gain more and more advantage. Particularly, in the states that have vibrant H.S. participation (MA, MN, GA, PA, OR, etc.) you’ll continue to see their large, state universities gain very experienced Juniors players to keep them playing at a high level year in and year out. For the average small, private school when a few key seniors graduate it can be very easy to not have more than one or two players come in the next year who have even played before, not to mention at a high level in juniors. At the large schools however, I can’t help but think you’ll get at least one or two every year.

So, I think the answer is two divisions, teams could choose or be chosen, doesn’t matter to me.

heacox said...

I believe Anonymous is correct about experienced club players all enrolling at "Small Community U" and making waves in the college division during the 90s. I think similar things happened at larger schools too, where someone would play for like six or eight years on the college team. But better eligibility tracking has impacted these behaviors.

I agree that divisions for college ultimate are likely to come about, it's only a matter of time. It sounds like it could mostly be up to the teams which division they choose to play in, but I imagine that someone will keep an eye out for teams sandbagging it in the lower division, and possibly force them to move up if the system is that fluid.

On a related note, it was mentioned in Jim Parinella's blog that this kind of thing is already beginning to happen in the club division, as the top teams are attending less tournaments and making sure those they do attend have high-level competition. It will be interesting to see how this stratification evolves on both the club and college level, and whether or not the UPA steps in to regulate it (or something like the NUA takes off and becomes the new top tier for the club teams).

mark said...

"beginning to happen in the club division, as the top teams are attending less tournaments and making sure those they do attend have high-level competition. "

I'd argue this already happens in college, although to a lesser extent. The invite tourney has greatly expedited this occurrence - a bid to Centex or Stanford is golden, because you get to play exclusively with top-tier college teams.

Similarly, Terminus had power pools this year. I think that's great for those teams in those pools, but it makes it much tougher for other teams to make stuff happen.

Two years ago W&M and Wisconsin both committed to Southerns fairly early (December?) and openly asked other teams to come and compete. Instead, most of the top teams went to Centex, and W&M and Wisconsin both followed suit.

In some ways, this process hurts up and coming college teams. As Tarr already pointed out, the Purdue women had a real eye-opener at Nationals because they weren't used to the more physical play that most of the other women's teams had been experiencing all year.

If you happen to play in a very strong section then you get a chance to play some top teams throughout the year, but with increased travel these opportunities are dimishing (Duke used to play UNC, NCSU, UNCW, ECU several times each year, no matter how good they were...they didn't see UNC once this year)

So are there actual divisions? No, but it's already pretty close, if you ask me.

Martin said...

Teams travelling to more competitive tournaments isn't divisions. Divisions seems to imply that teams only get to play in their division (which I don't like). Although I completely agree that more frequent travel (while increasing parity on a national level) has hurt the ability of the developing program to quickly catch up (a-la Duke in the late nineties).

It seems that the real impact of divisions would be at the championship level, allowing smaller programs to compete for their own championship much like the Div. II championships in the NCAA.

The NCAA has divisions based on number of sports funded, which obviously wont work for ultimate. Chimpo pointed out the distinguishing features "large public school" and "established reputation" as possible features to separate teams. While these would help to separate the University of Florida from New College, it wont change the level of competition at nationals. The teams at nationals are either large schools or ones with well established reputations, so I don't think that a "risk of less competition" is taken with divisions.

The problem is how to separate the divisions in a non-subjective fashion. Chimpo's separator of "established reputation" is too subjective, which leaves school size (or publicity, which also seems silly).

Separating on school size would immediately change the landscape of nationals. Brown (7500 students), Carleton (2000 students), Tufts (8000), William and Mary (7000) and Williams (2000) are all schools under 10,000 students that have made nationals in the past two years. Since 1999 the number of small schools at the big dance has been diminishing, but not that much. With the exception of last year (2005 - only two small schools) the number is usually 4-6 teams at nationals with an enrollment of under 10,000 students.

While the average enrollment of schools at nationals has increased by 0ver 9,000 students since 1999 (16,400 - 25,800), the reason for that is the redefinition of large schools at nationals. In 1999 the largest school at the show was Colorado with an enrollment of 30,000 students. There were 4 other schools over 25,000. This year two schools were over 40,000 (Texas and Michigan State) with 6 other schools over 25,000. The point of this is that the disparency of competition that Chimpo is talking about is part of the arrival of the large public school to the college ultimate scene. Large schools with large enrollments (and therefore talent pools to pull from) have caught up to the smaller (typically private) schools as ultimate has grown as a sport. Isn't that what we wanted for the sport, for it to be played more widely.

Back to divisions. I don't know if the solution is just let teams pick their divisions. It seems like most teams would want to play in the main division (win or lose) and so you would be left with a very small second division. Also, we have to think about what the point of this division is. The point in the NCAA is to allow schools without the same funding the ability to compete with a chance of winning a national title. Is that the point of a second UPA division? Can I look forward to New College hoisting a trophy someday?

Perhaps the separator between divisions should be performance based? Does a team have to earn it's way into the higher division with a good performace? That won't work because then you have a culling of the good teams every year.

Clearly the issue, as has been said, will be where the division lies. But I would also like to say that before we can ever decide that intelligently, we need to decide what the point of this second division is going to be. Is it to allow teams without the means to compete to do so (is that an alteration of the consortium) or is it another move to try to improve the quality of our sport?


Jon Palmer said...

Rather than splitting the 'Divisions' prior to the season as in the NCAA why not just have a multiple level Nationals tournaments?

You could have Div 2 Nationals for the next 2 or so teams below the Nationals qualifiers at regionals. Maybe even Div 3 Nationals depending on the interest/availability of venues. With such a system you don't have to allocate/chose the divisions prior to the start of the season. Instead the allocation gets done entirely on the performances at regionals.

Anonymous said...

Rather than splitting the 'Divisions' prior to the season as in the NCAA why not just have a multiple level Nationals tournaments?

At least in the areas with a decent number of teams, it would be more appropriate to have separate divisions for regionals. There are really a lot of teams out there that don't make regionals, and have a hard time getting bids to tournaments that are competitive, and I think they might benefit from separate divisions more than the ones that just miss Nationals.

The teams that just miss Nationals are teams that I would envision being in Div I. They're typically fairly strong, and getting good competition in the UPA series already, and it would be an insult to them to give them Div II status.

I wonder what people think about whether division status belongs to the school or the team. A bunch of schools have mens and womens teams that are fairly comparable in strength relative to their competition, but plenty of other schools have one team that has a history of success, and therefore recruits easily to continue that success, with the other team struggling to remain a team at all from one year to the next.

Tyler said...

In college, there was a definite shift for my team and I (Tulane). We had always attended Centex, even when it was Sintex for a year or two, but the year after Nationals in Austin, people loved the fields (but not the heat). So it became exclusive, and I'm guessing that was the last year Tulane will ever get in (we got in that year by a fluke, that michigan dropped out last minute and we jumped in with something like 3 days notice).

I was surprised at how we just couldn't play at a tourney because we weren't good enough, and was frustrated because the tourneys we Did attend, we did fairly well at but never saw a level of competition which I believe could have been an eye-opener and an inspiration to those players who saw a ceiling on their game.

It's a bit different now, with so much multimedia flying around that exposes more people to a higher level, but at the time it was difficult. Also, multimedia only shows so much, and it's quite a different story when you realize how fast someone can be when they take you deep, or how good a throw is when you can't defend it. That's the stuff we missed out on, I believe, which could've helped us to aim higher. It was a loss for us, but probably a gain for the better teams.

_dusty_ said...

Splitting into seperate divisions doesn't have to affect any of the pre-series tournaments. If I was suddenly in charge of the collge division, I would propose a split after sectionals. Equal number of bids for each section for Div I regionals, Div II regionals, (and in the ME Div III regionals). That way, low mid-tier teams (finishing 5-9ish at sectionals) can extend their season with some added meaningful games and feel like they got their $30 worth for their UPA dues. All teams would be in one division for sectionals and split afterwards. That way teams earn their spot in their division and can't complain that they were placed incorrectly. If you think your team deserves to play in D-1, earn it.

I'm not sure how you'd deal with teams wanting to move down. You'd want to avoid having teams throw games so they don't make D-1 regionals, only to lose 15-3 in their first two games. Maybe you could allow teams to move down only if they found another team from their section (region?) wanting to move up.

I think if seperate divisions was implemented, you'd have to go all the way and end up with D-2 nationals. I don't know if the women's division is big enough for this yet (don't some regionals have less than 16 teams still?), but the men's division definately is. Going to a 12-team regional format might not be a bad idea if multiple divisions are introduced. You'd still increase the number of teams that play past sectionals (24 vs 16), but each tournament would be more competitive. I don't remember the last time one of the bottom 4 teams at AC regionals scored more than 4 or 5 points in their first two games.

heacox said...

A few years ago there was a hyped tournament the same weekend as (club) Nationals to be hald in Savannah fo all the teams that made Regionals but didn't qualify for Nats. Not enough teams desired to attend and the tournament was cancelled.

If there is going to be either a Div. II Nationals or a split in the college series, it needs to be implemented in such a way that teams know what they are getting into from the beginning. This is whay I like Dusty's suggestion of making the break after Regionals.

I imagine it would be easier to do something like this in the college division where theyre are simply more teams than in the club division, and the players are young and stuff and just want to do ultimate any chance they get.