Recently announced changes to Australian University Games (AUGs) by Australian University Sport (AUS) have shifted the format back to a fully split division competition, and have committed to at least two years of competition on the Gold Coast. Whilst these changes may prevent some blowout score lines at AU
Gs, there are murmurings that it could limit development in smaller clubs and disincentivise regional clubs from attending due to the location changes.
Ultimate moving back to split division format (Division 1 and 2) for the first time since 2014
Both Division 1 and Division 2 to be held on the Gold Coast for the next two years
Top 10 teams from AUGs 2017 qualify for Division 1, rest for Division 2
Division 2 teams cannot qualify for Division 1 of the same year
Effects of a split division format
Ultimate moving back to its split division format has potential to entrench the East Coast bias currently present in Australian Ultimate, and could hinder the ability of small clubs to develop and grow their programs. Only 4 men's teams from 2017 qualified for Division 2, and only 1 women's team, raising the question will there be enough interest for a competitive, enjoyable tournament?
Teams cannot be promoted or relegated in the same year, which could grow the split in quality between the two divisions, as teams from Division 2 won’t be able to experience the benefits of higher level university ultimate. Additionally, the high level of turnover in university ultimate may mean that a team’s quality may vary drastically from year to year.
These changes have worked out well for Queensland teams. All Queensland teams qualified for Division 1 in 2018, and holding the competition locally for two years will allow Queensland teams to drive recruiting with promises of a low cost, enjoyable ultimate experience. With only 1 gold medal going to a Queensland team since 2014 (UQ women’s, 2017), they will be looking to leverage this opportunity for increased development and recruitment to add to the trophy cabinet.
NSW teams won’t mind these changes, however it could hinder the ability of smaller clubs to develop and recruit players. Typically strong universities, such as USYD and UNSW, who qualified for both the men’s and women’s Division 1, have been able to send both teams regardless of tournament location. However, only the women’s teams from the University of Wollongong and the University of Technology Sydney qualified, leaving these clubs in an interesting situation. As we all know a large proportion of the fun at AUGs is hanging out with the opposite gender. This could hurt recruitment efforts.
Of the two main universities in the Australian capital territory, these changes will be more impactful to UC than ANU. ANU has had a strong attendance record at AUGS, sending two teams to every single gender AUGs, and will be looking to continue that trend despite the changes. However for the UC Buckets, these changes make make the jump to AUGs more difficult. With consistent showings at EUGs, the Buckets have yet to attend a single gender AUGs. These changes may allow UC to compete in a more even competition, however they also could lose recruitment power as new players may not be as attracted to a split division AUGs
Victorian teams had a strong showing at AUGS 2017. However, 3 out of the 5 teams relegated to Division 2 were from Victoria. Previous powerhouses Monash University and La Trobe failed to qualify in the men's Division, while Swinburne was the only women’s team to miss out on Division 1. The unpredictable level of strength in 2018 Div 2 could mean Victorian teams fare worse for these changes
No South Australian teams were present at Uni Games 2017, pointing to the #eastcoastbias in Australian ultimate, however as per the AUS changes, they will automatically qualify for Division 2 in 2018. Again, locating the Games so far away from Adelaide for two years could discourage SA teams from attending and developing players.
Despite their geographic separation, all WA teams qualified for Division 1 in 2018. However, trying to convince new players to make the trip across to the Gold Coast may be a tough sell, especially if less attention is paid to the social elements of AUGs. Additionally, basing the games in the Gold Coast for the next two years fiscally impacts WA teams the most.
AUS are trying to refocus the Australian University Games on elite sport, and away from the “party mentality” which allegedly runs through AUGs. The only current information published says that AUS will no longer have “exclusive” venues from 2018 onwards. This strategy was trialled in 2017, however after much convincing from the University of Queensland team, most Ultimate players went to Melbas anyway. In my opinion, it would take an extreme push (such as demolishing Melbas, or removing Ultimate as a sport) by AUS to prevent the entirety of the Frisbee community on the Gold Coast from inhabiting the top floor of Melbas.