In short: this might be the biggest new thing to happen to Ultimate in a long time. It might also be a huge and disruptive failure. The success or failure of Conference 1 will be the biggest question mark for our sport for the next 3+ months. Our initial thoughts on the matter are below.
Conference 1 is an exciting new possibility for College Ultimate. However, the creative process, interaction with the UPA, and potential side-effects are wide-ranging, potentially detrimental, and difficult to predict.
In our minds, the potential for a "Conference 1"-type solution is massive. This is similar to the competitive model that we believe the UPA Strategic Planning indicates would be in the UPA's future, though probably on an 8-15 year timeline. This is the first time, at least in recent memory, that the UPA control of a competitive division has been in question. The UPA has had no competition in this arena, which has been, in many ways, a good thing (the UPA can focus on other aims like Youth Development).
Conflict with the UPA is major potential liability, and it is hard to say right now what any negotiation might look like. A direct competition between the UPA and Cultimate for control of the dominant championship series could split the division, and would be a poor outcome for the sport in general. Because the UPA has a wide-ranging and diverse mandate, and it does not specialize in competitive administration, we feel that a market contest between the UPA and Cultimate may see Cultimate succeed. Because this has the potential for disrupting many other extremely worthwhile UPA investments and programs, we believe that direct and long-term competition between the UPA and Cultimate is bad for the sport of Ultimate.
We feel there is a potentially huge opportunity for cooperation. Given an equitable profit sharing move between the UPA and Cultimate, the College Division could be served well while maintaining the valuable UPA service array. Cooperation in regards to dues payment and eligibility oversight could, potentially, guarantee the UPA both the revenue traditionally used while cutting back on UPA waste, and eliminate the need for a second, wasteful, eligibility system.
We feel strongly that any College Ultimate model must allow for up-and-coming teams to enter within the timeframe of a player's eligibility. Any system that keeps a college player out of Conference 1, for any reason other than competition, for five years is unacceptable to us.
Additionally, teams that are not invited to Conference 1 will, at the moment, have only the UPA series to look forward to: potentially without some/many of the top teams. This could be a significant downgrade in the season for these teams. Finding good tournaments will likely become more difficult for those teams on the outside looking in, if it happens. Please check back with The Huddle later this week for more news about what this season might look like, pending further Cultimate news releases.
We are very concerned that this is a male-only endevour. The Huddle has been assured by the directors of Cultimate that future years will bring significant developments in the Women's division. We feel, and we are now confident that Cultimate agrees, that a Men's-only solution is not acceptable in the long run, but that it may be a necessary evil in the short run as Cultimate establishes a model.
Finally, Conference 1 will likely experiment with rules and officiation techniques. While we encourage experimentation, we worry that introduction of these experiments in the Series may be too aggressive of a change. Cultimate plans to create a Board of Directors, chosen by them but hopefully representing the community, to help guide these changes in an intelligent manner. The way that this potential board acts in relation to this question will be important.
We look forward to continuing to cover news about Conference 1, and the interaction between the UPA and Cultimate, as events continue.
If you want to help, there is one thing that you can do: write to your UPA Board member and thank them for continuing to provide comments and information to The Huddle. Our access is only as large as our readership, and that means you.