When talking to a lot of Alumni and people around the Fort Collins community they've ask me about how the college team is doing, and every conversation turns into an explanation of the how the new college series is working, and what I think of the system. So I've decided to do a blog entry that explains all that stuff so hopefully I can save us all some conversational time or have an easy resource for curious people to reference that's a bit easier than wading through the pain in the butt USA Ultimate site or going through RSD. Section 1 will be how the system used to be. Section 2 will be how it is currently. Section 3 will be my opinion on the changes. (note: these changes have been in the works for a couple years starting with the expansion of nationals to 20 from 16 two years ago).
Section 1 - The Old System:
So previous to this year, Colorado was in the Southwest region. This region consisted of Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. Every year the first tournament in the college series would be the Sectionals tournament, which consisted of a tournament with all the teams from the Front Range and Wyoming, usually some combination of CSU, CU, CC, UNC, DU, Wyoming, Mines, CU-B, Air Force etc. In previous years the number of bids each section received to the regional tournament would be based on the number of on-time rosters the section submitted. It was slightly more convoluted than that, but essentially, the more rosters from your section that got in on time, the more bids your section got to regionals.
After sectionals the qualifying teams from each section travel to regionals for the regional tournament. Each region got a certain number of bids to nationals based on the region's previous year's performance at nationals and the overall size of the region; then the top teams from the regionals tournament moved on to nationals. It was a fairly simple system, it rewarded strength from the previous year, size and expansion and being timely with your paperwork.
Section 2 - The New System (VERY confusing, bear with me):
The most sweeping of the changes to the College Series began by the changing of regional boundaries. Colorado is now a member of the South-Central region, which is Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The sections were reorganized into conferences, but these conferences are not the same as the sections were previously. The first thing they did was separate developmental (any B or lower squads from a school) and Divison III (enrollment of less than 7500), teams from the Division I teams (enrollment > 7500). So what was the Rocky Mountain Section was changed to the Rocky Mountain Division I Conference (CU, CSU, UNC, WY, DU and Metro State), the Rocky Mountain Developmental Developmental Conference (CU-B, Air Force-B) and the Rocky Mountain Division III Conference (CC, Air Force, Colorado School of Mines). For other sections, like what previously was the Texas section, they did the above separations, but also separated them geographically to be separate conference areas: South Texas and North Texas. So South Texas has a DI, Dev, and DIII conference, as does North Texas. (note: Division III schools that have attended nationals in the past 4 years, eg Carleton, are allowed to play in the DI conference)
The sectionals tournament was replaced by the Conference Championships for each separate conference, however since neither DIII nor the Developmental conference in the Rocky Mountains had enough teams for their own Conference Championships they were combined with the other DIII and Dev Conferences from the entire region. So instead of a Rocky Mountain DIII and Rocky Mountain Dev conference there was a South-Central Div III conference and a South-Central Developmental conference, which included all the DIII teams and Dev teams from the entire region. These conferences had no conference championship tournaments (due to the lack of numbers that led to the combining each division into once conference), and went straight to DIII regionals and Developmental regionals. (developmental regionals ended up being cancelled due to lack of interest and the dev teams all joined the respective DI conferences, aka CU-B is participating in the DI conference championships).
So now, theoretically, there are 3 different regionals for each region. Division I (schools with enrollment greater than 7500), Division III (schools with less than 7500) and Developmental (B-teams, this ended up being cancelled in the South-Central). There are also two different nationals: Division I and Division III (developmental regionals is the highest tournament for the developmental conferences, however, they are able to advance to division I regionals AFTER developmental regionals given certain criteria). Additionally, after DIII regionals, DIII teams are allowed to advance to DI regionals (similar to Developmental regionals' criteria) if they'd like a shot at DI nationals rather than DIII nationals (confused yet?). The bid allocation process for all the different conferences will be explained below.
The other sweeping change (this began last year), that came about this year was the bid allocation process. Now all regionals/nationals bids are based on the official USA Ultimate Regular Season Rankings. To be ranked a team is required to compete in 10 or more regular season games at a USA Ultimate Sanctioned Event against other sanctioned teams. So essentially, tournaments that are not sanctioned will not count towards your ranking.
After the final rankings are released, (the final weekend of sanctioned tournaments was April 2nd and 3rd this year) the bids to regionals and nationals are allocated. To start, all conferences except Developmental in a region receive one automatic bid to Division I regionals. So Rocky Mountain DI, Ozarks DI, South Texas DI, and North Texas DI and the South Central DIII (remember all the DIII teams combined into one conference) all received one automatic bid. Then based solely on the final USA Ultimate rankings the rest of the bids were allocated on overall conference strength, and individual team strength (these calculations include any Dev conference team rankings). I'm not going to explain in detail how the conference strength and team strength bids work but if you're curious you can check it out here: http://www.usaultimate.org/competition/college_division/college_season/guidelines.aspx
Nationals bids are allocated in the same way; overall region strength then team strength within the region based on the rankings.
Now where things start getting tricky is at Division III regionals. Bids to DIII nationals are allocated the same as DI nationals, except only DIII teams' rankings are taken into account. So, for example, the South-Central Division III conference ended up with three bids to DIII nationals and six bids to DI regionals. So first, the top three teams are going to decide whether they're going to DIII nationals or DI regionals. Based on what they decide to do, the bids for nationals and DI regionals will be trickling down into the rest conference and in the rest of the region. Also, there are guaranteed to be several unaccepted bids given both the desire to attend either DI regionals versus DIII nationals and the simple question as to whether the lower DIII schools want to even bother traveling to Colorado for DI regionals, given that they probably won't be competitive enough for a DI nationals bid.
So for all the unaccepted bids to DI regionals there is a "wait-list" in place, for which conferences are next in line, based on team strength in the USA Ultimate Rankings. But how exactly this will play out given the DIII conferences # of bids to both nationals and regionals is VERY convoluted.
Additionally, if a team's roster changes at all from their early season tournament rankings, to their final USA Ultimate approved roster. then their results are voided (as far as the rankings are concerned), for any tournaments where there were roster inconsistencies.
Section Three - My Take On It All
Please keep in mind, this is my perspective as a coach in one of the least dense regions, and my opinions are based on what happened and is happening in the South Central region.
On the whole, I think these changes are terrible. In the Rocky Mountain area the talent differential between the DI and DIII schools is non-existent. There was no reason to separate schools like Colorado College, Air Force and Mines from the rest of the schools, it has limited competition within the area. This is especially difficult for CC since they finished the regular season ranked 13th in the country overall, and are obviously a serious DI nationals contender, yet they are forced to first go to DIII regionals, putting more strain on them financially. They went to DIII regionals this past weekend in Tulsa, OK, beat everyone up as expected and now have to travel to DI regionals and potentially DI nationals. They're fortunate that DI men's regionals is in Denver and nationals is in Boulder (go Colorado conspiracy!)
I like the effort that USA ultimate is making efforts to increase competition for the younger teams and smaller schools, but the simple fact is that DIII schools are not necessarily disadvantaged from the bigger schools, and developmental teams of established programs are often better than young developing teams of schools that haven't consistently had a program (Texas B and C both finished in the top 5 at the South Texas conference championships).
The final big complaint I have is with the regular season guidelines. This was a response to people wanting to the regular season to be more meaningful and not to reward teams (strength from the previous year) that may have been undeserving. I find no fault in the IDEA of the system, however, there are currently way too many ways to manipulate the system (teams purposely getting bad regular season results voided by changing their rosters), or teams getting their results wiped due to unintentional circumstances.
The best example I have of a team getting it's results wiped is our women's team losing their ranking due to have a player play with them who ended up being enrolled with one less credit than was the minimum for a graduate student to be eligible to play. You can argue that they should have known that, and that their games with her playing shouldn't count, because she's not playing with the team for the series, blah blah blah, yes that's all true, but what it boils down to is that that the Conference lost a bid to regionals because of them losing their results. At their conference tournament the final standings were 1) Colorado College 2) CSU 3)CU. So Kali, who I believe has made nationals in all of but maybe one year in the last 10 years or will not be receiving a bid to regionals, because one player was one credit short at a tournament in February. I don't necessarily have a solution to this problem but I still think there are situations that have arisen like this one that have led to very quality teams not even making regionals.
Overall, I like the regular season meaning more. I like that there's a reason to do well in every game at every tournament. But, I don't think DIII and Dev teams should have been separated (there simply aren't enough teams to support each conference) and there has to be some other way to avoid teams rankings not counting when by all accounts they should.
I hope this answered some questions for people if they managed to make it all the way through.