BYU Women’s Potential Door to Nationals Closed as USAU Requires Sunday Seeding Games

With four teams qualifying for Nationals on Saturday at Northwest Regionals, BYU was seeking a chance to advance without playing on Sunday.

BYU's Nicole Merrill gets up over a crowd at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling - UltiPhotos.com
BYU’s Nicole Merrill gets up over a crowd at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

USA Ultimate has decided to enforce their standard rules for playing out seeding games at Northwest Regionals, ending the path for the BYU women’s team to compete at the College Championships over Memorial Day weekend.

Because BYU does not compete on Sundays due to a combination of school rules and religious beliefs, the program has been unable to advance to Nationals, even as both their men’s and women’s teams have climbed into the elite ranks in the college division. This year, a highly unusual postseason arrangement had opened the door to a potential Nationals berth for the women’s team.

This year’s Big Sky Conferences were played all in a day on Saturday; BYU won the tournament easily. Northwest Regionals this weekend is a nine-team format with a whopping six bids to Nationals. Per the USA Ultimate formats manual, the teams are split into two pools — one of four, the other of five — and all pool play games are completed on Saturday. The top two teams in each pool automatically qualify for Nationals, with only seeding games played on Sunday. BYU was initially slated to come in as the three seed — the second team in Pool A — and they would have been big favorites to finish in the top two in their pool and lock in a Nationals spot.

USAU weighed the possibility of waiving the requirement to play out the seeding games, which no longer bind Nationals seeding; only a post-Regionals ranking along with typical head-to-head and historical factors play into the Nationals seeding. Ultimately, they decided not to let BYU advance while only competing on Saturday.

“After a lot of thought and discussion, and in reviewing the rules, we will adhere to the prescribed competition format, which would prevent BYU from qualifying for Nationals without playing on Sunday,” said USAU Managing Director of Marketing Andy Lee. The organization told the BYU team yesterday afternoon of their decision.

“I was really, really frustrated, especially since they’ve said that placement at Regionals doesn’t affect your seeding at Nationals,” said Kendra Miller, the head coach of BYU. “It just felt so ridiculous — we weren’t asking for accommodations for every year, this was just a very unique year with six bids in a nine-team regional.”

While waiving seeding game requirements would be straightforward, BYU’s presence at the College Championships is a more difficult problem to solve. With the quarter and semifinals rounds played on Sunday and no room for flexibility without a major overhaul to the tournament format, a BYU advancement to the bracket would cause a team to get a free bye in either prequarters or quarters. Alternatively, USAU could block BYU from being bracket eligible, but BYU’s opponents would have little incentive to play hard in their matchup during pool play.

“I think the competitive balance problems still stand if Utah or Montana were to make it,” said Miller, referencing the fact that BYU’s bid for the Northwest is set to go to a lower-ranked team (BYU is ranked #11, 7th-seeded Utah is ranked #27, and 8th-seeded Montana is unranked). “Being a team that was the first from BYU to make it to Nationals, we would be happy with whatever.”

BYU will still compete at Regionals on Saturday, playing now as the five seed after USAU intervened and moved their seeding down two spots, likely to ensure that a lower seeded team from Pool A didn’t automatically claim a Nationals berth in BYU’s place on Sunday. BYU will now face off against Oregon and Washington in pool play along with the bottom two seeds at the tournament in Montana and Oregon State.

“It’s always hard to put in so much work and time and have our season end at Northwest Challenge,” said Miller. “It’s always been expected, so the team is usually fine with it. This year, as soon as the ‘Oh, there’s a chance,’ it gave everyone all this hope…That’s what made it hard.”

Miller did say that she has been encouraged, though, by the support for BYU she’s seen online, particularly in the Ultiworld Discord community. She said that when she played at BYU, there was much less empathy.

“Coming back and reading the Discord, it was such a turnaround, night and day, seeing all these people who were outraged on our behalf,” she said. “It was really good to see. It just kind of showed that we’ve come a long way. And for the first time, there weren’t all these comments about how BYU doesn’t deserve to be there.”

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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