Moving the Club Season Part 1

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Yesterday, USA Ultimate sent out a survey to everyone who participated in the 2015 club season to gauge the player’s opinions on moving the club season up in the year. Below is a summary of the historical ultimate schedule, where we stand this year, and what the proposed move would look like.

season graph

The 2013-2016 era has seen a gradual shift in the post season dates by around a week/year.

moving dates

Having a three week window for sectionals was a little overkill, but the movement to only 1 week has squeezed the season down. We can already see that nationals has moved an entire month, and both sectionals and regionals 3ish weeks. Considering most club teams play a tournament every 3 weeks or so, that means everyone has already lost one tournament from their calendar.

For many in the SE, that meant dropping a fun pre-sectionals event like Shawn Adams. We no longer have the luxury to play a fun event in the middle of our club season because it would mean playing 3 straight weekends (sectionals>SA>regionals). Not only are you risking injury prior to regionals, but most of us just don’t have that kind of free time. We used to be able to use events like SA as a last practice weekend to get everyone back focused for the post season while also reconnecting with the ultimate community, but now the tournament hardly exists solely because of the season movement.

From a logistics perspective, limiting the weekends that sectionals/regionals to 1 instead of the previous 2 is effectively halving the amount of potential hosts. In the past, coordinators could approach host sites with 2 date options and work through the preferred date and field availability. In general, everyone did their best to schedule on the first weekend and left the second as a rain backup. Both 2015 and 2016 have essentially held all of our long Labor Day weekends hostage in case sectionals was rained out the weekend before. All it takes now is a couple of well timed storm systems (Texas on Thurs-MS/AL/GA on Fri-up the coast on Sat) and there would be a massive scramble to get everything done in time. Our weather margin for error is so much smaller than it used to be.

Now, let’s move our focus to the issues that come up with the beginning of the season. While USAU may say that the regular season starts the first weekend in June, in reality very few sanctioned tournaments happen prior to the weekend after Poultry Days (usually around June 20). For example, there were a grand total of 2 sanctioned events prior to June 20th across the entire country. What is causing the delay in starting the regular season?

  1. Most top teams don’t finish up their tryouts until after college nationals, and want to practice before playing a tournament.
  2. Mid level teams have to wait to see who is cut from the upper level teams to finalize their rosters, and then want to practice before playing a tournament.
  3. Lots of college kids move in May, so it just takes a bit to get everyone settled.
  4. Poultry Days is a staple among the crowd that tends to be team/event organizers in this part of the country, and they schedule around it.

USAU included questions in their survey about “how would your team be able to move up it’s processes.” Unless the top teams commit to starting earlier, no one else will. How can a select flight team set their roster on May 1st when they know they have 8 guys going to a couple of elite tryouts? The survey mentions pro/elite teams setting their rosters in early May, but how are they supposed to look at guys who are moving post-college season? Most of the teams in the select flight are made up of 20-25 year olds, and I know my team is in a state of flux until right before the season as people graduate, find new jobs, and move.

This leads us down another path, if the club season ends up getting shifted into May, what changes are in store for the college division? This year, we have regionals scheduled for May 1 or May 8, and nationals May 27-30. So much overlap is going to make club teams just wait for their college guys to be available before they do anything meaningful. Would USAU try to move the college season up? It’s basically impossible.

  1. College Nationals on Memorial Day makes sense as it is guaranteed to avoid almost everyone’s graduation. Schools with early graduation already run into this problem at regionals, but at least they can make part of the tournament since things are closer. Can you imagine a team making college nationals and then losing all of their stars due to it being the second weekend in May?
  2. Half of the country has snow/weather issues until mid March (or later).

I honestly don’t see how the college season can move. Has USAU ever had 2 different divisions overlap? I guess technically Master’s now overlaps with club, but we all know how that change was received. YCC is more a one off event in the middle of the club season instead of a real overlap, so that doesn’t really count. Older ultimate players, have we ever had overlapping seasons in the past?

So what are we left with after the schedule change? A month (May) where the top teams are very unlikely to play any events due to the top college studs still being in season (or at school in general), a month (June) where people are finalizing rosters/practicing/playing Poultry Days before getting in 1 sanctioned event, and a month (July) to play another sanctioned event or two prior to the series starting.

Remember, we are creating all of the above conflict for TV.

It seems like this move only benefits people that want to see us on ESPN, and it is especially harmful to the players who make up mid-lower level teams aka the majority of the players. They are the ones having their season continually shortened, not the players who consistently make regionals/nationals. Let us not forget that the network we are trying to hitch our wagon to isn’t infallible- they’ve lost 7 million subscribers over the last 2 years wiping out 7 years worth of growth.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss the pro leagues, college mixed, new nationals locations, and more!

10 thoughts on “Moving the Club Season Part 1”

  1. A small note about YCCs. While it IS a “one off event”, and is locked into the second weekend of August for the next 3 year, there is discussion of adding regional qualifiers. These events would be in mid/late July.

    These kids don’t populate the Club teams, but their coaches probably do. So, the overall Ultimate schedule continues to get crowded and overlap, almost feeding on itself. Not sure if all these competing events will lead to more or less growth, but it sounds like it will make that growth more uncomfortable.

    1. Good call on that. You may have 1-2 YCC kids/team playing club, but I know lots of club players volunteer their time to help coach YCC teams.

  2. Francis, I love your final point about moving for TV. I see a lot of discussion on the details and logistics but very little from USAU on the WHY here. What is the broader vision behind this move? Look, surveys about my opinion are great but even better would be for USAU to sell us on why this move is important and good for us. What are some features of this new plan that would benefit me and my community? I am not really seeing it here.

  3. The other part of the YCC discussion is the survey talked about club regionals being in mid august, which is exactly when YCC is. Speaking from the Seattle perspective, all 5 Seattle teams have at least one of their coaches playing club, if not both. Club regionals conflicting with YCC would be a disaster.

  4. While not mentioned by USAU but does AUDL and MLU raise concerns at all for scheduling? As Mike Gentile put it, all this conflicting scheduling suggests that the ultimate scene is basically feeding off each other instead of all moving toward growth. This much overlap cannot be good for the progression of the sport.

  5. Mixed Nationals was held with Open/Women’s/Masters in 1998 in its inaugural year, then was moved to Labor Day Weekend the following year due primarily to the concerns about the effects on the Women’s division. After seeing how poorly it was received and how it didn’t reflect the wishes of those most affected by the move, we the Board moved it back the following year.

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