On the tenth day of Christmas Ultiworld gave to me...Nationals bid predictions!
December 21, 2023 by Edward Stephens, Bix Weissberg, Calvin Ciorba, Anna Browne and Theresa Diffendal in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2024 college season is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.
It’s time to unwrap some presents as we introduce the 12 Days of College Ultimate. For the next 12 days, we will be releasing one gift per day, though don’t count on getting any holiday fowl: it’s all college ultimate. From highlight videos to player chatter to a season predictions, we’ve got a little something for everyone. On the tenth day of the 12 Days of College Ultimate, we’re breaking down bid predictions for every division! Who’s going to the big show?
Ah, December. The month when writers of all stripes fire up their prognostication engines to leave a spatter of forgettable muck across your retinae. Very little thought goes into such predictions, and even less evidence. Which is to say that they are a beautiful and timeless art.
Far be it from me, Edward Stephens, not to get into the spirit of the season! Wizard cap from a cheap costume shop – check. Puny little spreadsheet – check. Ouija app – check. Jar of spice with extra large sprinkle holes – check. Utter shamelessness – check. That should take care of the gear. Now, let’s take a look at exactly how the D-I bid picture will shake out.
Almost forgot – here’s a quick primer for anyone unfamiliar with the system:
- There are 20 bids to Nationals in each of the D-I divisions.
- Each of the 10 regions gets one autobid no matter how well or poorly its teams perform during the regular season.
- The remaining 10 bids are distributed to the regions with the highest ranked teams according the USAU algorithm1 after the top-ranked team from each region (read: the autobid) is removed from consideration.
- There is no limit to the number of strength bids that can be awarded to any particular region. In theory, nine regions could end up with only one bid and one region could end up with 11 bids. (My first prediction is that we will not see this scenario actually play out in practice in either D-I division in 2024. My second prediction is that if my first prediction is wrong the college ultimate community will collapse in on itself under the force of so much concentrated discontent.)
Note: For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that if2 BYU CHI earn a bid for the Northwest in either division, they will forfeit it. This is by no means a safe assumption.
Single Bid Locks: Ultiworld’s own proprietary algorithm (aka my brain right before lunch) has identified four regions who won’t earn a strength bid in 2024. It’s a familiar group. If you kept close watch on the 2023 bid picture, just do a little ctrl+c → ctrl+v: Great Lakes, Metro East, Ohio Valley, Southeast. Georgia and Pittsburgh are both going to end up in strength bid territory of course and could be big-time bracketeers at Nationals, but there isn’t another team in either of their regions operating close to that level this season. Great Lakes will continue to be a scrum near the bubble for at least another spring. The Metro East is a region in Division I Men’s collegiate ultimate.
Strength Bid Locks: There are a few schools you can ink into the bid calculations already. Both Brown and UMass are going to end up well within the cutoff for New England. Same goes for Colorado and Texas in the South Central. A somewhat spicier take is that Cal will definitely join Southwest frienemies Cal Poly SLO without any of the drama that defined their (ultimately successful) 2023 campaign. For those of you counting, that’s three strength bids off the board.
The Remaining Strength Bids: That leaves seven more bids to divvy up between six regions – AC, NE, NC, NW, SC, SW. You know what? Make it five regions, because while there’s no way the South Central ends without a strength bid, there’s also no way they get more than one. Let’s give a single strength bid to the North Central (Minnesota and Carleton should be there – not sure about Wisconsin). UCLA will earn a bid again for the Southwest, but UC Santa Cruz won’t. It’s a bonanza for the Northwest as Oregon, Washington, and Utah State all earn again, plus a Will Selfridge-led Utah for division-leading fourth bid! The Atlantic Coast and New England regions find themselves in an all-out bubble battle for the last spots at Easterns. Both Vermont and Tufts slip a little, but Sam Freedman and Peter Boerth’s Northeastern pick up the slack to recoup one of the lost bids, and NC State does just enough to pay their own way to Madison at the tail end of the picture.
Predicted Bid Distribution:
- AC – 2 (UNC, NC State)
- GL – 1 (Michigan)
- ME – 1 (Rutgers)
- NE – 3 (Brown, UMass, Northeastern)
- NC – 2 (Carleton, Minnesota)
- NW – 4 (Oregon, Washington, Utah, Utah State)
- OV – 1 (Pittsburgh)
- SC – 2 (Texas, Colorado)
- SE – 1 (Georgia)
- SW – 3 (Cal Poly SLO, Cal, UCLA)
Single Bid Locks: Sorry, North Central. You remain encased in Carleton Syzygy’s crystal prison. It’s a similar story for everyone looking up at Georgia in the Southeast. Maybe you put it all together at regionals and catch your wardens napping in the final, but that’s the only way you get to Madison for Nationals. Great Lakes and Ohio Valley are much more competitive at the top – seriously, try actually picking a half-convincing winner the day before regionals, much less in December – only the top doesn’t reach high enough to put anybody in realistic strength bid territory.
Strength Bid Locks: If four regions don’t have any hope whatsoever for a strength bid, three regions can bet the farm on them. New England will easily slot both Tufts and Vermont somewhere within the top 10. Stanford and UC Santa Barbara, both of them staples of Nationals, will play strong regular seasons for the Southwest. The Northwest is the real juggernaut, though, with three absolutely ironclad monsters in UBC, Washington, and Oregon. Those four strength bids are out of play.
The Remaining Strength Bids: What do we have left? Six bids to parcel out among the hopefuls. The easy money says Virginia have plenty of oomph and will clear the bar for a second AC bid (albeit well behind North Carolina). Speaking of safe bets, you can usually count on enough clout to come to the Southwest Triple Crown Tour that another California school coasts into range, so we’ll add a third bid there. New England puts another feather in its cap with Northeastern, who will do plenty in 2024 to make the cut – although they won’t finish the regular season undefeated again. And then the real spice comes at the fringes. An all-out rumble in March – a series of proxy battles, really, since for the most part they won’t be playing each other – shakes out with tentative bids in the hands of Brown (New England), Utah (Northwest), and Yale (Metro East (!) ). It’s heartbreak for the South Central as 2023 surprise team UT Dallas fall well short of the mark, and Colorado State and WashU finish just outside the cutoff – alongside NC State, Victoria, and UCLA.
Predicted Bid Distribution:
AC – 2 (UNC, Virginia)
GL – 1 (Notre Dame)
ME – 2 (SUNY-Binghamton, Yale)
NE – 4 (Vermont, Tufts, Northeastern, Brown)
NC – 1 (Carleton)
NW – 4 (Washington, Oregon, UBC, Utah)
OV – 1 (Pittsburgh)
SC – 1 (Colorado)
SE – 1 (Georgia)
SW – 3 (Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis)
‘Tis the season for premature predictions folks. Grab some eggnog and buckle up as Calvin Ciorba and Bix Weissberg set a line for each D-III men’s region’s bid chances, accompanied by reasoning for the taking the over/under. A quick rundown of how bids differ in D-III versus D-I: with a smaller Nationals, only 16 bids are up for grabs, 10 automatic bids and six strength bids, as opposed to D-I’s 20. And to promote regional growth, no region is allowed more than four bids (three strength bids plus the auto bid). Sleigh bells in the air, bad takes everywhere.
Great Lakes: 1.5
Calvin – Over: Davenport looks like a Nationals qualifying team just based on the roster already. Butler had their first taste of the Nationals nectar last year and might push them to improve enough this year to earn a rare strength bid for the Great Lakes.
Bix – Under:
One bid to rule them all,
One bid to find them,
One bid to bring them all, and in the algorithm bind them.
Ohio Valley: 1.5
Bix – Over: The foolish D-III analyst might cite Kenyon’s loss to Williams as an indication that the OV will not get two bids this year. Blasphemous, I tell you. What OV teams lack in skill, they make up for with sheer resolve. Since September, nearly every OV team has been practicing ~30 hours a week. Their thirst for a second bid borders on obsession. Not to mention, half of the rookies playing in the OV this spring haven’t thrown a turn since they were six. They can’t even fathom the idea. Given such facts, OV surely has a sporting chance to rejoin the Two Bid Club this season. And, if they’re not careful, a number of these teams may end up unintentionally grabbing themselves a DI bid or two. Full disclosure: I do play D-III disc in this very valley, but rest assured, that has a negligible effect on my impartial reporting.
Calvin – Under: One game last year. One. That’s all it took for the Ohio Valley to lose their two bids, after Kenyon lost a 15-4 beatdown to Williams that knocked Serf down 69 points in their rating. Do not expect two bids if the Ohio Valley teams cannot play well out of region. Oh, and don’t forget that one of the top teams in the region, Scranton, cannot even earn a bid because they don’t play the regular season. Expect there to be three or four teams right outside of the strength-bid list, one of which will inevitably take out the auto-bid earner Oberlin in regionals again.
Metro East: 1.5
Calvin – Over: Last year due to connectivity issues, the Metro East technically had four bids heading into the final week of the 2023 regular season. Sadly for them, Rochester decided to play out an out-of-region tournament, and the Metro East four-bid empire came crumbling down quicker than Alexander the Great’s. Maybe, just maybe, the Metro East connectivity bubble will not pop in time this season.
Bix – Under: Would I like to see the ME get a bit more love from the algorithm this year? Yes. Do I expect the rest of the division to allow them more than they’re owed? No.
New England: 2.5
Bix – Over: Bowdoin Stoned Clown will earn a bid and keep it this season, say sources familiar with the matter. Williams WUFO looks strong enough to grab their own bid this time around. But I still feel like I’m missing someone…oh of course, Brandeis TRON, the golden child of the region. Silly me, how could I forget? They will wrestle themselves a bid with ease. This is the holy trinity of NE DIII teams; may their regional supremacy long last.
Calvin – Under: The algorithm? Huh? A puzzled look comes over the face of every Northeast team when asked about the bid situation. Williams, who placed fifth at Nationals, threw away a bid after losing to teams like Tufts B and MIT during the regular season. Bowdoin, the actual bid earner did not even play a tournament until the final two weeks of the season last year…
South Central: 3.5
Calvin – Over: The South Central has officially taken the crown for the strongest region in D-III men’s ultimate from New England. At the end of last year, there were six South Central schools in our top 25 rankings, with five of them in our top 16. Colorado College, Oklahoma Christian, Missouri S&T, Colorado School of Mines, John Brown, Rice, Truman State… need I name more? This region is S-T-A-C-K-E-D heading into 2024.
Bix – Under: No D-III men’s region has ever earned four bids, and there’s no indication that the SC is going to flip the script this spring. Colorado College no longer has that really good player with the mustache. So it’s hard to see a bid coming their way when all is said and done. Oklahoma Christian has to prepare for D-I nationals, so don’t expect them in Milwaukee the weekend prior. That leaves Missouri S&T and John Brown. Neither of these teams has ever won nationals, so I don’t expect them to keep trying. CSM, Rice, and Truman State are the only surefire bets.
Atlantic Coast: 2.5
Calvin – Over: The Atlantic Coast region, while small, always boasts a collection of talented schools. Richmond and Navy both earned themselves bids last year before qualifying for Nationals, facing each other in the quarterfinals. However, Elon put up quite the fight against Poseidon in Regionals, beating them in pool play before subsequently losing a dog fight universe point rematch in the game-to-go. Big Fat Bomb looks to be coming back with a vengeance this season after they impressively won two fall tournaments, and look like prime bid contenders next spring.
Bix – Under: Three’s company. Elon and Richmond can get themselves a bid with a solid regular season. Navy might have some trouble earning one amidst changes in coaching and the departure of Max Benedetti. But fret not, my midshipmen. Even the Spidermonkeys, the pride of Virginia, are not afraid to suffer an upset every once in a while. Just don’t go deep on Calvin in the process. Or else you might awake the following morning to a scathing op-ed about your team plastered on the front page of Ultiworld.
Prediction: Under (Two bids)
North Central: 1.5
Calvin – Over: The North Central D-III region looks very similar to its older brother North Central D-I, where there are always three strong enough teams to earn two bids. The apple does not fall far from the tree. St. Olaf, Grinnell, and CHOP always form solid rosters, and don’t forget Michigan Tech, Luther, and Carthage who all had eyebrow-raising results at Regionals last year.
Bix – Under: I’d tell Will Brandt to go pick on someone his own size, but I’d like his autograph after he wins Worlds next year. So I will refrain. St. Olaf has my blessing. A hard look around the rest of the region, however, and question marks lie every which way. Did Mr. Cowan leave Grinnell and take the region’s strength bid with him? Perhaps an even more pressing matter: why isn’t Declan Miller playing CHOP? And what the dickens is with all this Michigan Tech talk? All this uncertainty is making me doubtful of NC’s chances and hungry for pancakes.
Bix – Over: Hey, there’s got to be a couple AUDL-playing, degree-seeking whippersnappers in LA who wouldn’t mind taking a seminar at Caltech or Occidental if it meant coming away with a D-III championship and a better understanding of the Frankfurt school. It’s been done before, and I see absolutely nothing to lose. But maybe I’m just California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
Calvin – Under: I mean this is fairly straightforward. There are four teams in the entire region. Earning two bids would mean 50% of the Southwest would go to Nationals.
Bix – Over: Berry have demonstrated an impressive knack for keeping this region from reaching (D-III) SW levels of irrelevance these past couple of seasons. But now they’ve got real competition in the region. Ave Maria and Union both came dangerously close to ending the Buck’s season in an untimely fashion at “ConfRegionals” last May. Berry scraped it out in the end, but maybe the bitter taste of parity will prompt any two of these three to get out there and earn their region a strength bid this spring.
Calvin – Under: The 2023 Southeast Regionals was an absolute barnstormer. Berry had to beat Union on universe point in the semis and then defeat the pool play winner Ave Maria in the finals, also on Universe to go to nationals. Unfortunately, Regionals were the only interesting results last year for the Southeast as their best team was 36th in the rankings, the worst team in the region.
Bix – Over: Sometimes we end up hyper-fixating on the results of the series during the preseason. It’s easy to forget that strength bids are earned during the regular season. And neither Whitman nor Lewis and Clark gave us any reason to doubt their regular season capability. Lewis and Clark, in particular, demonstrated a penchant for continuous improvement as the regular season progressed. A disappointing performance at Nationals just means both teams will be working harder than ever to get back there. They comfortably earned two bids last time around, and it’s difficult to expect they’ll give them up easily.
Calvin – Under: Whitman and Lewis and Clark had a pretty lackluster Nationals after a surprisingly strong regular season. Whitman was the fourth seed and did not even make the bracket, while Lewis and Clark lost badly to Williams in the prequarters as the sixth seed. The region could be trending back down to its usual one bid.
The women’s division bid picture typically leans heavily into a few regions: the Northeast, North Central, Northwest, and Ohio Valley. These regions are bid hungry, letting only one bid out of their grasp following bid allocation returning to normalcy in 2022. The biggest story is how the bids will shake out this season. In 2022, when USAU doled out some bids based on regional size and some on historically-weighted regional strength, the NE was the lone region to have three bids. In 2023, when the bid allocation for the additional six bids returned to solely strength based, strength bids were distributed between just three regions (NE – 4, NC – 3, NW – 2). Will the extremely limited multi-bid regions continue in 2024, or will we start to see more parity across the division?
Single bid locks: Sorry Metro East, but tradition is tradition. Even if Wesleyan and Ithaca went to universe point to decide the ME’s sole bid-winner last year, with Wesleyan nabbing it, all teams were far enough down in the rankings that it’s unlikely any ascend far enough to earn a second bid. Ithaca, the highest-ranked ME team after the Series, was ranked 20th by USAU, while region champs Wesleyan were 22nd. There might be drama over who ends up with the bid, but a single bid it’s expected to remain.
Others destined for a single bid include regions where overall team numbers are sadly lacking. All the South-prefix regions – the Southeast, Southwest, and South Central – held combined Conferences/Regionals (dubbed “ConfRegionals”) due to low numbers, with the Southeast and Southwest only fielding two teams. While both of those ConfRegionals ended with the no.2 seed overtaking the no.1 seed to steal the bid, this is again more indication of inter-region rivalry than comparative strength on the national scale: Union (Southeast) ended the season ranked 15th and their bid-stealer Berry didn’t play enough games to be ranked, while Claremont (Southwest) ended the season outside the top 20.
The Atlantic Coast similarly held ConfRegionals between four teams, with Catholic taking the bid they earned relatively easily. With Mary Washington, the no.2 seed, purportedly losing many of their stars and the other two teams, Elon and Richmond, ending in the bottom ten ranking spots, Catholic seem poised for a similar 2024 season.
Perhaps the biggest lock for one bid is the Great Lakes. Wheaton might be knocking on Knox’s door, but neither are in the driveway of bid-earning territory. Knox, who finished last at Nationals in 20236 with a -59 score differential, ended the season ranked 42nd and Wheaton 47th.
Strength bid locks: Let’s start with those who wear the crown: New England is going to clean up the bids, led by reigning-champs and living dynasty Middlebury. The region’s other three 2023 bids were claimed by Wellesley, who reached semis, and Mount Holyoke and Williams, who both reached quarters. Beyond their Nationals finish, all four teams ended the season within the top six in the rankings, and the next highest-ranked NE team, Bates, finished ranked 13th. Based on years past, it’ll be more of a shock if the region only gets three bids than if they earn four. That is, unless rumors about Wellesley taking a step back this year are true, and depending on how changes to bid allocation shift the focus to individual teams more than regional strength. So bring on the spice, because we’re predicting just three bids for the D-III’s powerhouse region.
Looking at the North Central, two bids seem to be well within the cards, the question is whether they can claim the third. With Carleton College Eclipse and St. Olaf Vortex all but locks for Nationals given their past performance and current trajectories, that just leaves a race for the third bid. In 2023, the bid earners were Carleton College Eclipse, Winona State, and St. Olaf ranked 3rd, 9th, and 10th, respectively, going into the Series. Michigan Tech, ranked 19th going into the Series, stole the second bid from Winona State at North Central ConfRegionals, while Carleton and St. Olaf maintained their bids. This season, Winona State is looking at a rebuilding year after many of their players graduated while Michigan Tech only lost a handful of players to graduation. The biggest question is whether Michigan Tech can earn a third bid for the region, or if they’ll have to take down Eclipse or Vortex to make it in.
Moving over to the Northwest, the situation is similar. While they only claimed two bids for 2023, they firmly held those two bids with Portland and Whitman ranked 4th and 5th going into the Series. Just outside of earning a bid sat Lewis & Clark at 12th and Seattle at 16th. Portland and Whitman are likely to maintain their bids, with the biggest question mark coming from if a third team can sneak in to steal a bid before the series. At NW ConfRegionals last year, Lewis & Clark played well against Portland, losing 15-7, and Whitman, losing 11-7, proving they can keep up with top ranked teams.
The remaining strength bids: If all the estimated single-strength regions remain so, New England receives three bids as per our spicy take, and North Central and Northwest each receive two or three, that leaves at most four bids for the taking.
With Colorado College moving to D-III last year, this could be the year the South Central earns a second bid. As mentioned above, South Central saw five teams compete at a combined ConfRegionals where the no.2 seed, Colorado College, stole the bid while the no.1, Trinity, didn’t make the final. Colorado College and Trinity ended up ranked 10th and 12th, respectively. With Colorado College making quarters at Nationals last year and only graduating four players (though granted all were statistical leaders), the Colorado College/Trinity/Rice trio have as good a chance as any region to sneak into strength bid range.
Lehigh are only one year removed from D-III Nationals and likely haven’t forgotten what it takes to make it to the big dance. Indeed, Gravity finished 17th in the rankings last year. They played a strong regular season and even beat Haverford/Bryn Mawr, who earned and took the Ohio Valley’s sole bid, in their first meeting in 2023. Their only other lumps came to D-I schools Rutgers, NYU, and Columbia, D-III quarterfinalists Mt. Holyoke, and Dartmouth, who were newly D-III and viewed highly by many in preseason rankings. Missing Nationals can light a fire under some teams, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lehigh defy gravity, a phrase I’m sure they’re tired of hearing.
When all is said and done, we predict five regions fighting for two strength bids. In the hunt are the NE for bid #4 (Wellesley, Williams, Mount Holyoke, Bates, or Dartmouth), NC for bid #3 (Michigan Tech), NW for bid #3 (Lewis & Clark), SC for #2 (Colorado College or Trinity), and OV for #2 (Lehigh). It will likely come down to connectivity, point differential, and tournament strength to see who gets them. To justify our spicy take above, with no clear NE #2 to bolster the region within the rankings algorithm, the likelihood that there are a handful of NE teams right on the bubble is high. Considering this alongside two title-contending NC teams that could easily see themselves in the top four of the rankings and a strong SC bolstered by the addition of Colorado College, a rising tide will lift all boats for the NC and SC regions, pushing these three over the bid earning divide. This may be the most regionally diverse breakdown of strength bids the division has seen in years.
Predicted Bid Distribution:
- AC – 1 (Catholic)
- GL – 1 (Knox or Wheaton)
- ME – 1 (Wesleyan or Ithaca)
- NC – 3 (Carleton, St. Olaf, Michigan Tech)
- NE – 3 (Middlebury, Williams, Mount Holyoke)
- NW – 2 (Portland, Whitman)
- OV – 1 (Haverford/Bryn Mawr)
- SC – 2 (Colorado College, Trinity)
- SE – 1 (Berry or Union)
- SW – 1 (Claremont or Occidental)
With a heavy heart ↩
Probably our closest decision ↩
For the next 10 years ↩
Not a slight, someone has to ↩