Before I say anything, let me say what I’ve said in the title: this is a personal opinion piece, not to be taken any other way.
The NCDA just completed yet another edition of the annual national tournament. Of the three I’ve been to this one was my personal favorite (no offense intended to Kentucky and Ohio State intended, this is just the happiest I’ve been with my team afterwards). I’ll mention things about Towson later on, but overall I wanted to share my opinion on the how I think the league is doing as a whole in hopes of generating some conversation in debate. Here we go:
Competition – When I first started playing collegiate dodgeball, almost everything about the East Coast region was awful. JMU was the lone exception, but I’m willing to bet their experienced guys and alumni would say the way they play now is very different and much improved than they were in the 2011-12 season. Not only was my region bad, but everywhere except Michigan was pretty far behind too. Kent State made their runs, but could never breakthrough when it mattered at Nationals. Kentucky had a shot but it seemed like their hopes and dreams were pinned on the Howitzer that was Wes Hopkins’ arm. Comparing then to now, the league as a whole is a lot better. Ohio State is making a return to prominence. Bowling Green State is starting to make some moves within the league. Penn State took a point from Grand Valley. Repeat, PENN STATE TOOK A POINT FROM GRAND VALLEY. It doesn’t matter that GVSU was probably resting most of their top guys (Bailey, Fettig, Gardner, etc.), the Nittany Lions have been to as many Nationals as they have been to regular season tournaments (2). The fact that they took a point from them is incredibly impressive, and a great sign for the future. Not only did people take points, but games were closer than they really should be. Maybe it’s because of the slower pace, but you don’t choose to get slower and more careful about what you do unless your opposition poses a possible threat to you. In short, the competition level of the league is getting higher, and we’re all better off for it.
Personal note on my own team: before Penn State’s point against GVSU, Towson took the first two points that any East Coast team (excluding JMU) has ever taken from the state of Michigan. Most people would probably say that they thought taking a point was possible, but not likely.
Expansion – As a league the NCDA has expanded to new parts of the country that we’ve never been to before; but as a whole we struggle with keeping these teams active. Not all, hell not even most of this is on the league, but more can be done by individual members to help grow the league. When more schools pop up and start attending tournaments, the established teams need to be welcoming not just vocally, but on the court as well. Start showing these teams how to do things like pinching, getting players organized, and other small things like using ball control to your advantage. Outside of the NCDA, wear your jersey or any other dodgeball gear you have. It’s free advertising not just for our league but the sport as a whole. Also, it makes for fun conversation when people stop you and ask you about playing organized dodgeball. Finally, take as little time as 5-15 minutes to e-mail, text, Facebook, tweet, etc. other captains and players of newer teams. Even just checking in and asking how their club is going can do a lot to help people feel better about keeping things going. Basically, give these teams every reason to not allow their club/team to fold.
Regular season – Our regular season tournaments are getting bigger, better, and more common. The fall semester in particular is getting so full of tournaments that teams are struggling to choose which ones to go to. Granted, it is still a little tough to get teams to tournaments due to location, funding, restrictions and football seasons, but more tournaments are popping up and becoming available to everyone. This to me is a large reason why the competition level of the league is getting better. You can only get so much better playing the same people over and over and over again in practice. Playing other teams provides fresh competition, new styles, and different levels of talent. If we get more teams attending more tournaments in the regular season on a consistent basis (looking at you for next year PSU, VCU, Akron and Stevenson), the closer the league can get to having real parody. At some point one region has to overtake Michigan, they can’t stay dominant forever if the league hopes to continue its improvement.
Nationals – Our national tournament keeps getting better and better each year. Minus Grand Valley’s continued dominance. I don’t doubt all players on the Lakers are enjoying their recent championship and their continued stranglehold on the top spot in the league, but that hold isn’t as strong as it used to be. The gap is closing and you can tell by the scores of matches at Nationals. Gone are the days of the super blowouts. Yes, I know, the style of play is slower; even with the deliberate style of play every team seems to be picking up on, you can still get people out very quickly if you’re that much better than they are. But wait, single points are taking 10-15 minutes to complete. No matter how good you are, the teams that are currently on the lower echelon of the league are much closer to you than they used to be because it takes longer to get them out, and they’re getting more of your team out than ever before. Keep in mind UMD beat Towson something like 13-0 in our first ever matchup. Nowadays it seems like every match has the potential to go into overtime. When top-tier teams come to Nationals in the future, they’ll have to concern themselves with their Saturday matches more than they ever have in the past. With the addition of getting the majority of these games online, a trend that I hope continues, this creates the opportunities for more fun and exciting trips for every team come April.
Final Thoughts – A while ago I heard some NCDA alumni complaining and moaning about the direction the league is heading in. Are things different? Yes. Can Improvements still be made? Absolutely. Have some of our improvements backfired? Probably, I haven’t looked far enough into that in all honesty. Has the league gotten better as a whole? You’re damn right it has.
Last thing: Do I believe some, but not all, of these alumni make these comments about the current state of the league because they couldn’t hang with us the way we play now, even if they were back in their late teens/early 20s? Definitely. The State of the NCDA is looking good, and if we continue down the path we’re on and keep our minds open to new ideas and advancements then things can only get better.