16 November 2015

Varsity Programs and a varsity division

As discussed in an earlier post, the rise of varsity cycling programs continues to gather momentum and in recent years has become the real divide between programs that are successful on the national level, and those that aren't.

According to a recent USA Cycling post, there are currently 20 approved Varsity Programs and 8 Emerging Varsity Programs. Notably, some of the announced varsity programs don't have an active program yet, but plan to be fielding teams in the near future.

In addition to these 28 teams, there are 245 collegiate cycling club sport teams.

About 82% of all collegiate racers are on club teams. About 13% of collegiate racers are on varsity teams. For varsity teams, the mean roster size is 33, and median is 25. For club teams, the mean is 15 and the median is 11.

(These numbers are for racers in all racing categories and disciplines. I currently can't get at USAC numbers for Cat A racers only.)

I think the collegiate racing structure will change soon. The current divisions based primarily on institution enrollment numbers will be scrapped and replaced with a Varsity Division and a Club Division. This is probably a good development. The number one complaint I've heard over the past few years is that club teams cannot realistically compete against the well-funded varsity teams like Marian, Fort Lewis, Brevard, etc. The recent nationals attendance numbers and results certainly support this argument.

In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts about how this should work:

1.  varsity programs should have a minimum roster size

This ensures that varsity programs are teams and not simply well-supported individual riders. The roster minimums should be for nationals-eligible riders and be discipline-specific, e.g., road = 5 Cat A men and 5 Cat A women. This raises the bar for achieving varsity status and also controls and directs the growth of the varsity division. This should allow for easy management of the size of the field at various nationals events. It may also mean, for the foreseeable future, that every varsity program will be automatically qualified for Nationals.

2.  varsity programs should have a maximum roster size

This would function similar to the minimums (nationals-eligible and discipline-specific). This would serve to distribute the talent among the various varsity schools and enhance competition at conference and national level events.

3.  varsity programs must be varsity for all disciplines

This simply avoids issues like a program focusing on ROAD and competing at the varsity level, but then sending the same road riders to club MTB national championships. I don't think varsity programs should be required to compete in multiple disciplines, but if they do, varsity in all.

4.  varsity programs NOT be required to attend multiple national championships

I think a school should be permitted to focus on a single discipline. I think it would serve the sport better to allow a school to allocate all of its resources to supporting a MTB program, rather than have to dilute it by being forced to take on the expense of a second discipline (attendance at nationals, coaching resources, competition expenses, etc.) Additionally, geography tends to influence what a school can realistically focus on or excel at.

5.  varsity nationals events should "count" more riders for team omnium

Currently, only the top 3 riders score per event. This number should be increased in line with the allowable number of riders per event, i.e., if you can start 5, at least 4 should count. One certainly could count ALL riders, but it might be good to have a throwaway so teams aren't penalized for mishaps. The argument that not all teams can field enough riders goes away when talking about varsity programs. Unlike club teams, there is no valid argument for not being able to field the minimum number of riders.

6.  consider increasing the number of riders per event, especially for road

This would emphasize the team aspect even more, and encourage teams to compete against each other as teams. Overall field size will probably still be a limiter on how big this number could go, but with 20-25 teams it seems that 6-7 would be feasible.

Racing with more riders per team will force more sophisticated team tactics, making the team aspect more important and the racing more interesting. This will also make the racing tactics more like professional-style racing, which will help the riders become more attractive recruiting prospects for professional teams.

7.  make the ITT (Road) count towards the team omnium

Have the riders who don't do the TTT do the ITT and count the points. This makes sure everyone rides on Sunday and "counts". It also requires teams to think tactically about their mix of riders in these 2 events.

Some questions to consider for a Varsity Division in collegiate cycling.

1.  Does it matter how many varsity teams there are nationally? Or asked another way, should this number be limited?

2.  Should the Divisions be named "varsity" and "club"? Or does this undermine the legitimacy of either one or both? Could they just remain Division 1 and Division 2, to remain consistent with NCAA parlance, and just adjust the memberships?

3.  What about Emerging Varsity programs? Do they remain in Club/Div 2 until they meet the requirements, or do they race with Varsity/Div 1 while attempting to make the transition?

4.  Do we even need to create the requirement for "top division" teams to be varsity? Should it just be the Top 20-25 teams nationally, regardless of whether cycling is sponsored by the University? Would quality simply rise to the top, which will be mostly varsity programs anyway (but allowing for the exceptional club team to add quality to the top division?).

Comments welcome...

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