Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Preview + ReStructure Thoughts

I wrote a preview for USA Ultimate which you can read here. There were a couple of things I wanted to comment on that didn't make it into the article.

I hadn't yet talked to Whitman when I wrote the article for USAU, but I had been curious about their decision to not attend D-III Regionals and Nationals. Here's what their captain, Kelley Hall said:
"There wasn't a DIII regionals this year with the restructuring otherwise our decision may have been different. Unfortunately DIII Nationals is very far away and very expensive, and just wasn't feasible for our team. In addition, we collectively decided that we wanted to take on the challenge of playing some of the best teams in the nations just to test ourselves and grow from the experience."

I really like the idea of D-III. I think it will take off in 4-5 years, but right now it doesn't seem to be hitting on all cylinders yet. There is a level of commitment that teams have to cross to be a nationally traveling team and most D-III teams aren't there yet. It costs a lot of money to run a season that features a 5-7 tournaments. This commitment has to be fed occasionally by a return on investment i.e. a trip to Nationals. Most D-III teams (outside of Carleton and the New England) haven't in a position to compete for D-I Nationals and so they have never built up the financial commitment for a big-time season. As D-III teams experience success at the D-III level, we should see a slow increase in stability and participation.

The other team that didn't make the preview (because they declined their bid) was Utah. I had a long conversation with their captain, Cricket, who had organized enough women to drive the 16 hours (!!!) for a one day, 4-game Conference tournament. Had they accepted their bid to Regionals they would have needed to fly or to drive 21 hours to Burlington. Put Regionals in Vancouver (which will happen) and that's a 23 hour drive and a border crossing. Ugh.

The restructuring process was very good at managing and anticipating growth in the east, where there are a lot of teams and look to be a lot more. It did a much poorer job of managing the size issues in the west (which isn't getting any smaller.) In a lot of ways, our region only works because there aren't really any teams in the Big Sky. Should they ever get enough momentum, then we suddenly will have a pretty big (sky) problem. The men are already dealing with this; Utah is sending a team to Regionals. The South Central's version of this problem blew up on rsd a few weeks ago as Texas A&M was greatly indignant about the addition of Colorado to their region. (I can't find the link, sorry.)

Within these regions, it is very difficult to have growth when a new team is looking at a 16 hour drive to play. It just won't happen. They'll get a little momentum and then - poof! it's gone.

Here's a simple solution:
1. Two new regions: Big Sky North (MT, ID, WY, AB, SA) and Four Corners (NM, AZ, CO, UT)
2. Twenty-four team Nationals
You fix the geographic problems in the Northwest and South Central. You provide the extra bids to cushion the expansion. And three extra bids to further cushion the inaccuracy of results that will occur from time to time. (CO is going to send a team 90% of years anyway.)


  1. Speaking of CO, Kali is back in the South Central Regional line-up after Missouri State declined their bid. I'm really interested to see how they will do this weekend. They have a lot to prove and could either crumble under the pressure or respond and surprise the hell out of everybody.

  2. Inspired by some of your earlier commentary on college restructuring, I proposed a Four Corners region on RSD. Naturally, the easterners sh*t a brick. Of course, with extra bids to a 24-team natties, it shouldn't affect *them* at all, but people often react badly to change. But I played my college ulti as a grad student at Montana, and a bunch of club tournaments from my current base in southwest Utah, and am thoroughly acquainted with travel's dampening effect on growth in these areas. I mean, when I was at Montana the NEAREST college tournament we played at was 6 hours away. For college kids this kind of travel is an extremely heavy burden, more so when you're getting your brains beat in by the more established teams on the coast. Makes it very hard to retain players. When I was at Montana we had three Flycoons on the team (Nevin, Ken, and Hugh, outstanding all-around players) and we hardly ever won a game because we had no depth (example: we often had a woman on the line, which worked on offense but not so much on D). Anyway, breaking up the western regions a bit is overdue. People are worrying too much about having a "weak" team at natties, or not getting 16 teams at regionals (which should matter only to the people in that region) and forgetting that ultimate is still very much within its growth stage as a national sport.

    Love the blog.

    --Mike Lommler

  3. Mike - 24 team natties does impact teams in the following ways:
    1. Reduces potential sites for Nationals
    2. Reduces competition at Nationals

    Not that it's a terrible idea (it isn't) but there are impacts that should be considered.

    The fact is, no matter how much you slice up Regions, travel in the interior West is going to be difficult. I think the biggest aversion to adding more West Coast Regions is that a really small Region (say with 12-16 teams) doesn't *feel* legitimate. With fewer teams in the Region there is also a greater possibility that a really, terribly undeserving team makes Nationals.

    That said, the Metro East has proved time and again that even large (by number) regions don't guarantee good teams at Nationals.

    Over the year, I've been won over by the idea to *at least* add one additional region to get Colorado out of the SW, NW, SC, and NC and help those Regions w/ travel times. Big Sky is a bit of a tougher sell, I think.

  4. Ugh, Kyle, I had some long, thoughtful reply that Google ate. I'll try to be shorter but hopefully still thoughtful.

    1)and 2) I cannot dispute. Not being a current college player (though I'm friends with many, including Cricket from Utah) and certainly not an elite player, I guess I value "growth" more highly than "competition", but not everyone will agree.

    Travel would still suck. But it would be 10 and 12-hour drives instead of 14 and 16-hour drives. Those few hours make a whole lot of difference for poor college students--think how much less gas money!

    I agree that this isn't the time for a separate Big Sky. Moving Utah from the NW to Four Corners already helps a lot. A (current) Big Sky region only works with Colorado thrown in, and it doesn't work as well as Four Corners.

    --Mike Lommler