02 May 2016

Looking ahead to the impact of USAC rule changes

Around the country the road season is wrapping up with most conferences having completed their seasons and crowned individual and team champions. While we are all primarily interested in the performances at the upcoming National Championships, we can also take a moment to speculate as to what Nationals will look like in the 2016-17 season under the new divisional structure.

I have previously speculated about the potential negative consequences of making divisional membership based on program type (varsity vs. club), but now we have some hard numbers to work with. I am relying on the information available at CCN and the conference results that are available as of today.

In my opinion, we can see clear negative outcomes in terms of "National Representation", "Showcasing the Best Teams/Riders", and "Field Composition".

National Representation
Currently there are 16 varsity programs with A riders. These programs are distributed as follows:

Midwest = 3
Rocky Mountain = 4
South Central = 1
Southeast = 8

This means that 6 out of the 10 active conferences will not be represented in the premier division. Further, 50% of the schools will come from a single conference.

Showcasing the Best Teams/Riders
Of the 10 active conferences, 7 of the conference championship winning teams are club programs. While this means that in 3 of the 4 conferences with varsity teams, a varsity team was the strongest team, in one conference (Rocky Mountain) a club team outperformed 4 varsity programs.

Further, only 9 of the 16 varsity programs make the CCN.com's Top 25 Power Rankings. This means 16 of the statistically strongest programs in the country will not be competing in the premier division.

From an individual rider perspective, the split also dilutes the quality of the premier field for both men and women. According to CCN.com's rider rankings, only 24 of the top 100 ranked men are from varsity programs. For the women it is only 39. This means that the majority of the top ranked individual riders will not be lining up to contest the premier division.

Field Composition
On the mens side, only 7 varsity teams are capable of fielding a full squad (6) in the Road Race. The remaining 8 programs can field a grand total of 19 riders. The resulting mens field will be extremely small and/or imbalanced (large teams dominating small teams).

For the women it is even more problematic. There are only 12 varsity programs that can field a female competitor at Nationals. Of these 12, only 5 can field the full 6 in the road race (an additional team, Brevard, can field 5 riders). If you were to include club programs, a full 12 programs would be able to field 5 riders. This leads to a very balanced and reasonably-sized field.

While I do favor a restructuring of the divisions, I don't think we have gotten to the point where it can be done on a varsity/club level. As previously stated, I think a transitional period is necessary where the "best" club programs should also be included in a redesigned "Division 1". I think "best" can be determined by considering the following:

1.  Club's interest and activity in pursuing "varsity status"
2.  Size of program/roster
3.  Quality of program--past results
4.  Program's interest in competing in the "top" division

That's my 2 cents, feel free to comment.