Tomorrow brings the first day of the D-III championships. In addition to giving me a chance to spend two days refreshing Score Reporter and Twitter (teams, add your accounts below), the D-III championships always get me thinking about the past and the future of ultimate. The rationale for D-III makes perfect sense and the division is moving in the right direction, but is still growing through its awkward adolescent phase. As long as teams like Whitman and Dartmouth are opting for D-I, the division has yet to reach its full potential.
Let’s look at the facts and history of D-III teams. There are typically a handful of D-III eligible teams in the top 30 or so. As of March 28th this year, there were five men’s teams and two women’s teams. Four of these teams (the Carleton, Luther and Tufts men and the Tufts women) made it to D-I nationals. Historically (men, women), D-III eligible teams at D-I nationals have either been Carleton or from New England. Once there, the odds are against them. Only Carleton (three men’s and one women’s) has ever won D-I Nationals. (Carleton really is the fly in the ointment. Not only have the men and women won D-I nationals, but GOP and Eclipse have each won D-III Nationals as well.)
This year D-III nationals is missing several great teams that opted to roll the dice on D-I. On the men’s side, Whitman, Williams and Dartmouth and on the women’s side, Carleton and Whitman. I don’t fault these teams their choice, each of them had a legitimate shot at making D-I Nationals (all but Williams made the game-to-go), but it does speak to the comparison teams make between D-I and D-III as they are setting up their plans. Every team goes about this decision in a different way, but all of them are approaching the D-I versus D-III decision from the assumption that a shot at making D-I nationals is better than a shot at winning D-III nationals. GOP has traditionally run a giant 1700s-style democratic meeting lasting many, many hours and allowing room for everyone to speak. Dartmouth didn’t even consider the option of going D-III.
But for all that, D-III is making ground and building cohesion. The overall 1-seeds in each division (St John’s and Claremont) played in a variety of tournaments, but both have been focused solidly on winning D-III nationals. (Full disclosure: that’s total hearsay and not journalism.) Likely this is true all eight of the pool 1-seeds.
The next step for the division (after crowning a new champion this weekend) is D-III specific events. One of the things that has made D-I so wonderful in the last 10 or 15 years is the increasing number of excellent playing opportunities in February and March. When I was playing college ultimate back in the early 90s (yes, the field was uphill both ways and it was snowing), nothing happened at all until spring break. Now, if you’re not rolling at full speed in mid-March, you can kiss your season good-bye. D-III needs to step up for themselves and make it happen. More specifically, since the majority of D-III schools are where it is cold or snowy or both, one or two of the Southland D-III schools needs to step up and host themselves a spring tourney. You, yes you could start the next TiV or Warm Up or Easterns.
To wrap this all up, my picks for this weekend’s festivities. GOP is going to explode Hawaiian shirts all over everyone, especially the Johnnies. In women’s as much as I want to pick Eclipse, Claremont and PLU have gotten too much big game experience out west this spring. They’ll both roll into semis and the winner will take the championship easily.