Friday, November 30, 2007
Today the UPA announced that College Nationals '08 would be changed in two significant ways: (1) it will be a week earlier, and (2) it will be held in conjunction with a multi-sport event produced by CSTV, the UPA's broadcast partner for the 6th straight year. Some background, and then some issues. Note: These opinions are mine alone and do not represent an official communication from the UPA or tournament staff.
CSTV's Collegiate Nationals is a championship event for a variety of non-varsity sports. The ultimate competition will take place at the Pleasant View soccer complex in Boulder—home to 1999 College Nationals, 2006 H.S. Westerns, and Colorado Cup since 2006. One thing I was wary of was having multiple events at Pleasant View, but we will be the only sport there.
Nationals will take place May 16–18, the weekend before Memorial Day. I searched RSD for any reference to a past College Nationals that wasn't on Memorial Day weekend but I didn't find anything. Is this a big deal? Maybe, maybe not.
The TDs have worked on Westerns and Colorado Cup, plus we have UPA staff down the street, so I am confident this will be a well-run event. Disclaimer: Yes, I am involved in the tournament (though I am not the TD). I was enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing Nationals to my back yard, so perhaps I was a bit blinded by the detrimental effects of moving the event and incorporating into a larger event. In many ways ultimate is entrenched in various habits, for better or worse, and these two steps are pretty big. Let's have a look.
Issue #1 – Bumping Nationals up a week
This move—to accommodate an event that we have no ownership over—will probably be seen as the less desirable one. There are some unavoidable problems with the move in schedule, but they are problems we will overcome.
There are no plans to move up the start of the College Series (some Sectionals are held in crappy/cold weather anyway), and qualifiers from the second round of Regionals will face a tight window in which to get plane tickets. Will travel costs increase for players? I think not, for a few reasons. As the SW RC I am going to try to have Regionals on the first potential weekend and I will encourage other RCs to follow suit. Perhaps an airline discount can be arranged for players to take a bite out of costs. I also assume that airfares are lower on this weekend than they are on Memorial Day, a holiday and the traditional start to summer vacation season. (I checked some travel web sites. This far out they are the same.)
It's not a three-day weekend, but does that matter? We play on Friday and finish on Sunday in either case. Yes, the buffer travel day is nice, but I know last year Match Diesel had lab on Monday morning. We may hit a few more graduations, but there are some on Memorial Day too.
And the last issue, which has surfaced more recently, is that of competing events. Not with the other CSTV Nationals events, but specifically with lacrosse. The NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships are always held Memorial Day weekend. If we are to assume that we are actually competing with other, non-football & non-basketball events (i.e., every other sport yearning for coverage) for media exposure and television time, then moving college ultimate's premier tournament makes sense. Turns out the Div II and III lax finals—which take place the same weekend and as part of the same event as Div I—are airing live on CSTV on Memorial Day weekend. Good move moving us.
Issue #2 – Incorporating into a larger event
I think this is another good move. Yes, we lose some autonomy, but we are also exposing ourselves, as it were, to similar athletes (those that have chosen alternative sports) and increasing the size and scope of audiences and sponsors alike. I think the absolute worst case is a neutral effect, but the overlap is likely going to be a net gain.
Take, for example, the fraction of good coming from our internet exposure. How many people last year do you think found information about UPA College Nationals? I'm betting pretty much the people that were looking for it and no one else. But this year we have video highlights and cross-audience exposure on a site that garners over 3 million hits per month. Internet broadcasting is the future of every sport. Sign me up.
Does the sport sacrifice anything by joining forces with other sports? I don't think so. As I said above, the ultimate competition—the gist of the weekend for ultimate players—remains the same. And does the larger event lend any authenticity or credibility to the sport? Yes. Snowboarding, skiing, beach volleyball, weightlifting ... several of the sports at CSTV's Nationals are Olympic sports and those clinging to their coattails (ultimate, wakeboarding, adventure racing) can only benefit. You could think of this as the X-Games for college sports.
This tactic of combining resources also stands to benefit every club sport in the eyes of college administrators. Club sports occupy a gray area on many campuses. More than intramural rec, but clearly inferior to varsity athletics in terms of administrative & financial support. If X University previously had three unrelated club sports teams going to their respective championships in three different places, but now has three teams going to one huge championship event, shouldn't the admin sit up and take notice? I hope so.
The college nationals "social event," which has understandably* been handcuffed, ridiculed, and demoted from "party" to "event" in the last three or four years could be part of something half-way interesting. Go watch another sport? Have an awards ceremony with other sports? Have split parties (over- and under-21) with a thousand other athletes? I don't know, but it might be cool.
*Liability is a bitch.
People will complain about the location because it is far away from them, or that airfare to [fill in the blank—DEN this year] is high, but the only legitimate gripe is that we are at altitude. Yep, Pleasant View is about 5,300 feet above sea level. Sorry about that, but every 7–8 years (Ft. Collins 1992, Boulder 1999 & 2007) is not that often for great fields, a great ultimate community, and the UPA's back yard. Plus Denver/Boulder is more central than many locations.