The Future of College Dodgeball Series – Part 1: League Expansion

The following is the first in a series of articles that will be published on the topic of the future of collegiate dodgeball. NCDA Chief of Content Kevin Bailey and NCDA Director of League Expansion and Retention Jacob Leski will discuss a variety of topics, from league improvement and expansion, to the future of Nationals, the NCDA ruleset and how it will evolve overtime. We even discuss the likelihood of the NCDA eventually becoming a D1 sport with games on national television, etc.

The Future of College Dodgeball Series will even have some guest appearances, joining Kevin and Jacob in conversation. A lot will be discussed during this series, starting with Part 1 on league expansion:

KEVIN BAILEY: Jake, as you know, the expansion of the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association is the topic of our discussion today. Obviously your role on the NCDA Executive Board is tied very closely to this concept of league expansion. So before we get into our discussion about the future of the league, let’s start by going through all the new member schools that have joined the NCDA over the past year or two. Can you give us a brief rundown on those schools, and maybe some insight on any other teams that are on the verge of joining our league?

JACOB LESKI: Hey KB, I would love to! We will start with Ohio University and University of Virginia, both joined the league last season. Ohio is not really considered as much of a new school anymore because of how quickly they have come out of the gate and the large amount of games they have already played, but the progress they have made from last year is astounding. As for Virginia, I look at them as one of our newer teams due to their lack of game-play experience, which they have amplified this season, especially with their program’s first win over Maryland.

The leagues new schools this season are University of Pittsburgh, North Georgia, Georgia Southern, Marietta (OH), Cleveland State, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Northern Illinois. Miami (OH) is no longer defunct and is active once again thanks to the efforts of Kyle Shaw; Northwestern State (LA) is no longer inactive and will be playing in their first match since Nationals 2013 at UK. That is a record 9 teams to join/re-join in a season and it is about time!! We just needed the right people in the right places to make it all happen and continue. Most of these schools except for a few are going to take a few seasons to really become as active as most teams are, but that is expected, it takes a lot of hard work and time to get the right people to buy in to your program and the league itself. Being able to influence these up and comers has been a lot of fun and I look forward to getting even more to join and be successful in the future.

There are quite a handful of schools that I am working with to get everything together, but it is way too early to disclose to the league who they are just yet, don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, takes time and dedicated people. In my recruitment articles I provide a few teaser here and there, but I am keeping those to myself until the Captains Meeting.

I will also be making a very big announcement at the Captains Meeting at Nationals this April in regards to a particular group of schools that I am working with to join the NCDA next season. Exciting stuff.

As for new schools, is/are there any schools in particular you would like to see join the NCDA? For location purposes and/or to just be able to see play in general?

KB: Thank you for the insight there, Jake. My answer to your question ties right into the first topic I would like to discuss with you actually. In terms of what schools I would say I want to join the league, it all comes down to location. A realistic and reasonable answer would be simply to add more teams in a few already established regions, to bolster those respective regions and give them more competition. But, as more of a pipe dream, I’ll say adding teams out west would be my #1 choice.

Having the NCDA span coast to coast would be an unbelievable accomplishment for us as an organization, and obviously it will have to start with just one or two schools. Just thinking about that gives me goosebumps. Adding a few clubs out west as member teams of the NCDA would be huge for our future expansion. It would really streamline that process, and would help us expand westward to fill out the entire country with college dodgeball teams. Coming back to my thought on adding schools near our current regions, I have a few regions in mind: I think adding a few teams in the Georgia area would be fantastic for them. If the state of Georgia had 4 teams, it would help them all develop together, sort of like how the east coast grew. The two teams in GA are new, so adding a few more would give us 4 teams in that region that are essentially joining the league at the same juncture. Theoretically, these teams would all have close to the same skill level, so the competition would be close between them.

Having good competition is big for a region, because they all grow and develop together. This is a far more nurturing process for a new team, compared to a school like Sienna Heights jumping in and trying to join the Michigan Region with 4 dominant teams already established there. Not the best way to break in a new team. Besides Georgia, I would love for Kentucky to have a few more schools besides UK and WKU.

Also the Illinois Region has DePaul, UWP, UNL and a few new teams that barely play. I think if a few more teams join, that region will really start to develop. Not to mention it will help us expand west. Lastly, the east coast has so much potential when it comes to new clubs joining the NCDA. I am confident this region will continue to fill out, and I look forward to seeing it continue to happen at a rapid pace over the next half decade. So, that is my take on new teams. Clearly, I think it is all tied to regional development. I have a concept to bring up with you that I refer to as a region’s ‘critical mass’. Before I jump into that though, what is your take on our regional growth in this league? Do you see us continuing to expand, continue to fill out our current regions, or is it more of a combination that you are looking for over the next few years?

JL: It is really more of a combination. Wherever there is interest or potential interest is where I am directing our efforts as simple as that sounds. However, I am currently focusing the league’s efforts on the our stronger areas, but most importantly areas such as Nebraska, Texas, Georgia and Illinois where we have teams that are somewhat established and that want to play, but they just do not have enough teams around them. I believe that these teams will eventually evaporate for a lack of a better term if they do not get more competition around them to keep the interest alive, which is the key to keeping this league alive.

I also agree heavily with your idea that it is better to develop a newer region versus trying to add teams to an area that is already so developed that a new team will have to experience “trial by fire” if they want to be ‘accepted’ in that area’s culture. Siena, Davenport and Eastern Michigan were prime examples of that unfortunately.

Explain to me your ‘critical mass’ concept…

KB: Makes sense to me. Moving on, my ‘critical mass’ idea is pretty simple actually. Basically what I refer to as a region’s ‘critical mass’ is the minimum number of teams needed in a certain geographical area for it to be sustainable. In other words, how many club teams need to exist is a region for it to be secure. If a region has a few teams, but is not yet at it’s ‘critical mass’ then the region is in danger of evaporating because there isn’t enough competition around (like you mentioned earlier). If a region has enough teams where it has reached it’s critical mass, that means that it is in good hands and the region will continue to grow and develop.

In my opinion there are a few regions in this league that have successfully reached that ‘critical mass’ and some regions that haven’t. Also, it is worth noting that the number is different depending on the region. For Michigan, there are four teams, and that is clearly above the critical mass because that region is very secure. Those teams aren’t dropping out of the league any time soon…

I’d say a few other regions are secured as well. The East Coast has developed quickly, and that will only continue. The Ohio Region also is a sustained region. They just had 9 teams at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup for goodness sake!

Now, on a less positive note, here are the regions that have not yet reached their critical mass. Illinois, while they do have DePaul and UWP, this region needs to gain a few more steady programs before I consider the region sustainable in the long term. The Kentucky Region is similar. Two steady programs in WKU and UK, but no beyond that. It would be phenomenal if we got some more teams in that area. Also, expanding to Tennessee with a few teams would have a crazy impact. This would successfully connect the Georgia teams to the league, so they aren’t out on a island by themselves compared to the rest of the NCDA.

Anyway, that is just my theory, on how each region has their own ‘critical mass’ that they must reach in order for them to be no longer in danger of dwindling away to nothing. Do you agree with that train of thought? And do you agree that the only regions in the league that are completely secure are the three I mentioned: Ohio, Michigan, East Coast?

JL: I like your term ‘critical mass.’ I would have to agree with this concept.

Michigan has gotten to the point that adding an additional team is a risk in itself due to the level of talent in the area, making it difficult for new teams to get a foothold and actually improve, referencing all of the other defunct teams in Michigan, which outweighs the number of active teams in the state. As for Ohio, this state will only continue to grow, it wouldn’t surprise me if by the time I am done with my position they are at 15 teams in the state. East Coast is another hot area that will only expand, especially in the Northeastern part. The hardest part of all this is creating a ‘critical mass’ which takes time, passionate leaders, and some luck. I do believe that Tennessee and West Virginia are catalysts to truly connecting the league and bringing it closer together. Same goes for Indiana, which if everything goes right will have a new team in the fall. I would love to get a team going at Indiana University (strategic location), but I need the right guy/girl to head it up.

Fun fact: Last season we had a total of 23 active teams, 18 of which attended Nationals. This season we have 32 active teams (pending NSULA) and have 23 teams attending Nationals…that’s as many teams attending our largest tournament that we had teams total last season!! Exciting progress being made, can’t let up now.

My aim for the near future includes shortening the gaps between many of our southern and western teams, especially Nebraska and UNT, they have been incredibly patient waiting for more teams in their areas to form. As I said before, we need to establish that ‘critical mass’ as quickly as we can.

Question I have for you is this: If the league continues to expand at this unusual rate, how long until a team finally overthrows a Michigan team for the National Championship? Soon? Or is it going to be a lot longer than everyone expects?

KB: That is a great stat about our growth just in the past year. Exciting stuff is happening. And that is a great question about the state of Michigan title run.

I am unsure how to answer this. It really opens the door for a number of other conversations that we can have on the future of the league.

Here are the facts: The Michigan Region has been the best in the league basically since GVSU’s first National Title in 2007. The four teams in Michigan are established powers in the NCDA, and some would argue they are the top four programs in the league. But… other regions are growing at a rapid pace. The East Coast has steadily increased their level of play, and I anticipate the Ohio Region will do the same in the coming years.

Why do I mention the improvement of regions as a whole rather than specific teams? Simple. The Michigan Region is just plain better because of the level of competition there is up in the Great Lakes State. The four Michigan schools are just more battle tested by the time Nationals comes around, and it pays dividends for those schools. I think the Michigan title run will likely end when a region build enough competition around themselves that they become battle tested to the level that teams like GVSU and CMU are.

I hope this makes sense to you. Pretty much, a team benefits from playing tough competition. Michigan schools are lucky enough to have elite programs just a short drive away. Competition breeds improvement as they say. My gut feeling is this: the East Coast Region continues to build and improve, and eventually gets to a point where they are on a level playing field with Michigan teams. At that point, some school from out east will break the seal and end the “Michigan Streak”. Regardless of when it happens, that game will be remembered for a long time as one of the biggest games in the history of college dodgeball. When a school finally breaks the Michigan Streak, it will drastically shift the NCDA’s foundation. The mindset throughout the league will change. It will be a very, very exciting time to be a part of college dodgeball.

Who knows, if it takes another 5 to 10 years to happen, maybe it won’t even be an East Coast school… Maybe it’ll be Florida State, or Texas, or Southern California! There is so much possibility for the future of the NCDA! And so much more for us to discuss.

Part 2 we will dig in with more specifics on what we expect in the future. Leski will give us some very very exciting news on the new schools he has lined up for the next few years (that have not yet been announced to the public).  Maybe we even give a snapshot of what we expect in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, etc.

How long until Nationals is held in Miami, Florida or Los Angeles, California, or somewhere cool like that? How long until the NCDA is on national television? How long do we have to wait until our players are being recruited out of high school and given scholarships to play dodgeball in college?

So much to talk about. Make sure to keep on the look out for the next segments of our series… coming soon!  Until then, check out a timeline of the League’s expansion over the years.

Blue dots represents an established team. Green pins represent a new team. 

Author: Kevin Bailey

Current NCDA Chief of Content. Former Captain for Grand Valley State University (#4).

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