The following article is written by Carleton GOP’s Rhys Lindmark and Scott Graber.
We are two of the three current captains of the Carleton Gods of Plastic (GOP). This article was preplanned, but is obviously now in part a response to Adam Lerman’s article on DIII College Ultimate (which we do truly thank him for writing). Like his article, we focus on Open division problems and possible solutions, although many of the issues also apply to Women’s.
Division III ultimate has an image problem. Although this problem has lessened each year that a legitimate DIII tournament has been in existence, it is still DIII’s greatest issue. This problem is exacerbated by outside observers, but even many DIII teams see the division as a B-team tournament. In the past, winning the DIII championships was merely part of a long-term path that teams took, not a consistent goal in itself. This image problem leads to a chicken and egg situation with two of the problems that Adam Lerman mentioned: 1. Some of the best DIII teams go DI because they don’t think DIII is good enough. 2. Other DIII teams then leave DIII because they don’t think enough of the top DIII teams are going to participate. How then do we solve this issue and create as many opportunities for DIII teams as possible?
In discussing Adam’s potential solutions, we will ignore the logistics of everything, because what we think is important is this: what is the goal of this solution? Adam’s solutions, to us, seem to be a search for more ways for DIII teams to go DI. Allowing DIII teams to compete in DIII and DI Regionals and sending the top team(s) from DIII Championships to DI Championships both would create more of these opportunities. While individual teams may like this idea, we believe that this is worse for DIII college ultimate as a whole.
Let’s look at the current progress of DIII ultimate. As noted, it is sometimes be seen as a B-team league, with DIII Championships a backup option for teams not good enough for Division I. It may have been seen this way in 2011, when the 2010 DIII semi-finalists all decided to try their skill at DI Regionals. But this image problem is changing drastically. Claremont and St. John’s, the 2011 finalists, returned in 2012, as did GOP, Kenyon and UPS (teams that went DI the year before). These teams are all returning again this year, as well as Middlebury, who returns from their foray into the DI scene (you heard it here first, folks). As DIII ultimate gears up for its most competitive series ever, how can we continue this improvement?
The answer is to make the DIII Championships valuable. In our experience, it is more valuable to win the DIII Championship when it’s what a team has been focusing on, not as a second option. Instead of DIII teams being reduced to nothing battles with mid-level DI teams, we can strive for greatness – a DIII National Championship. The DIII division was created so that smaller schools could play in a meaningful way against teams with a similarly small sized pool of players to draw from – let’s keep it that way.
Addressing some of Adam’s specific solutions: A bid to the DI Championships out of DIII’s would hurt the DIII image by making it a sort of Super-Regionals. These would mean that winning the tournament can’t be a main goal, as teams would have to peak for another tournament afterwards. Furthermore, it creates a more clear division and incongruence between DIII and DI.
A wildcard system to the championships has a different problem in that it cheapens the series. An important aspect of Conferences and Regionals in all levels is that even after earning a bid for your region, you have to play well enough at Regionals to secure the bid as well. This makes Regionals do-or-die and exciting. One of the most exciting upsets of last year’s Regionals, Minnesota-Duluth over Iowa, wouldn’t have happened last year if Iowa was simply given the bid because they were ranked in the top 20. Upsets are what makes following sport and playing sports interesting, and a large amount of value is created by the current system, where conferences and regions have select numbers of bids that every team plays for. A system of wildcards could make the championships potentially higher-level, but cheapens Regionals by making the 2nd, 3rd, 4th (and in the North Central 5th) place matches less important.
Aside from arguments against continuing to crown the DI Championships, our focus is on improving the DIII experience. Please consider our entry to the conversation, which hinges on what USA Ultimate can do for us, and what we, the DIII ultimate community, can do for ourselves.
Let’s be honest, the DI Championships are better than the DIII Championships. When we say this we aren’t discussing skill level, but production level. Last year GOP got home from DIIIs and got to watch our friends, the CUT, play in Colorado live. Besides live video, which as a commercial venture may not be viable for DIIIs yet, we saw a much bigger production by USA Ultimate than at the DIII Championships. Even if USAU just flew out some of their important people to DIII Championships, this would lend us some credibility. Imagine watching a DIII Championships with an introduction by the head of USAU (in a suit), lined fields (with those posh colorful triangle banners), and that big dumb blow-up arch that was at DI Championships in 2011. Now we’re talkin’.
USA Ultimate could further help us to become the community that DI is by offering COTY, FOTY and All-Region awards for DIII Regions, or even just awards at the championship itself. Awards lead to conversation and culture, which in turn leads to value and caring. USAU has the ability to jump-start DIII’s production of its own history and community. Doing so already has increased the awareness of DIII Championships– how many people are aware that a DIII Championship tournament was held annually from 2005 to 2009 by Ohio Northern University? When USA Ultimate took over the event, they gave it additional legitimacy and increased awareness about the event and the division itself drastically. USA Ultimate’s actions since 2010 in the DIII Division have already helped increase DIII’s presence. Something as simple as online voting for DIII awards is an easy way for them to continue to create DIII talking points and thus increase DIII Utimate’s presence.
Why should USA Ultimate put effort into a division that no one cares about? In order to improve DIIIs, we need to get people to care about it: both players and spectators. We’ve already touched on what we think playing the DIII series needs to be in players minds: a worthwhile and challenging division with a legitimate goal of its own in DIII Nationals. No one can just declare that playing DIII is a legitimate thing to do, and we aren’t trying to do that, it instead must come from the teams themselves. And it is – DIII is fixing its internal image problem right now. This year, most if not all of the 2012 DIII National qualifiers are aiming for repeat visits and Middlebury is rejoining. Teams are no longer abandoning the DIII championships at a high rate, and this, coupled with Ultimate generally getting more competitive everywhere in the country, leads to the expectation that this will be the highest level of DIII Ultimate yet.
The next step is changing the image of DIIIs in not just the players’ minds, but the audience’s. Of course, Ultimate’s biggest audience is Ultimate players, and DIII players are their division’s biggest audience. But when considering watching and following DIII Ultimate, spectators must ask themselves “why would I watch DIII Ultimate when there’s higher level Ultimate out there?”. We compare this to our thought: why do we prefer to watch CUT play Wisconsin to Doublewide playing Team Canada? The latter game is better, but the first game has so much history that even a fall matchup like the one at Missouri Loves Company grabs attention. DIII Ultimate doesn’t currently have much of a history, being in its 4th USA Ultimate-run year.
Furthermore, story lines take time and consistency to be created. The CUT and Wisco rivalry goes back forever, and in 2011 when the two teams were going to be in different regions, people complained loud enough about the removal of the consistency of the matchup that the regions were redrawn. Time is not something in DIII teams control, but consistency is. The past three years haven’t led to as many rivalries as it could have because teams switched back and forth between divisions. DIII teams also don’t play each other as often as DI teams, as people noticed when the seedings were being debated before DIII Nationals. DIII Ultimate lacks consistent match-ups between teams, and this has led to a lack of interesting divisional play.
RPI created more consistent match-ups last year with their D-1337 tournament which is returning for year two in 2012. D-1337 pitted some of the top DIII teams in the Northeast against each other and created some interesting team and individual matchup stories in the Northeast before the series last year. This year, we (GOP) are teaming up with Zack Purdy, Sam Schumer and the Claremont Braineaters to host DIII Warm-up in Riverside, California on February 9th and 10th. The goal of the tournament is to provide an early season elite DIII tournament to create some early season rivalries, history and general hype in the nation-wide DIII scene (information on the tournament is below in the comments).
Neither time nor consistency matters if no one hears about it, and we thank Skyd for letting Adam and us write DIII articles here. Tournaments like D-1337 and DIII Warm-up don’t produce much to the DIII community if they aren’t heard about. We think that DIII teams would like to know about how DIII teams are doing around the country, both against DI and DIII competition. The DIII community can be self-sustaining on the coverage front, and we hope to see more self-produced articles about DIII teams and tournaments this year. The DIII community has platforms available to create our own story, it’s up to us to provide the coverage.
DIII Ultimate is in its infancy, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of its community. As we’ve said, it’s important that DIII teams work together to create a story for the division, and we hope you’ll join the conversation that we’re having. See you in the DIII Series.
Feature photo by Brandon Wu (UltiPhotos.com)