Collegiate Rider: Division Survey


May, 2014
Dear collegiate cyclists,
The collegiate cycling landscape is very different than it was 10 years ago, and after discussions at national championships and with our collegiate committee, USA Cycling is strongly considering developing a new structure for the Division I/Division II system. As we look for this new structure, likely to be implemented for the 2014/15 academic year, we seek additional feedback from collegiate teams to ensure that we are establishing a system that is fair to participants and engenders growth in the sport.
First, a bit of background: the current division structure is more or less based on the idea that any given collegiate cycling team should be able to recruit X% of its student body to the club, and therefore schools with large full-time enrollment will have large teams, and small schools will have small teams. In this way, teams will fairly compete against their peer group. However, over the last decade, as varsity teams have grown and strengthened, and these programs have been able to recruit 10X% of their student bodies to their teams, the model has been skewed.  In other words, school enrollment is no longer a measure of athletic success.
Varsity cycling teams are an extremely positive development for the sport in terms of opportunity for athletes and in the quest for legitimacy in intercollegiate athletics, but participation has begun to plateau or, more commonly, diminish, among club programs that frequently compete against varsity powerhouse teams. It’s been five years since a student-run club team won a Division I national championship team title, and even podium places for DI club teams are becoming harder to achieve. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: varsity teams raise the level of competition for everyone else, and many teams wish to compete against the best in the nation, but it’s critical that teams are classified such that racers are competing against their peer group. In collegiate cycling, we define one’s peer group based on the team, not individual ability, since this is a team sport first and foremost.
So how to define those groups? The USA Cycling collegiate committee has examined a number of options, and has arrived at two potential solutions, outlined below. There are other ideas out there, certainly, and we welcome suggestions as well as feedback on the structures we propose here. There are certain teams that we all know would be automatic Division I teams: Marian, Lees McRae, Fort Lewis, Lindenwood, etc. However it’s not as simple as saying “Varsity/Club” because some small varsity programs, still working to be competitive in Division II, would founder in this new Division I, and some large club teams have proven extremely competitive in Division I and would likely remain there. Perhaps eventually we’ll arrive at a place where we can have a Varsity division, a Club Div I and a Club Div II, but that day hasn’t quite arrived.
Keep in mind that in any structure change, divisions would continue to race together at conference races, however the impact for club teams would still be felt as team rankings would reflect the new structure. Also, as a side effect of any changes, USA Cycling would hope to see Division I and Division II fields at the national championships balanced more closely- as we near field limits for Division I, there are start spots up for grabs in Division II, and we don’t want to arrive at a point where we’re turning people away in Division I with start spots still available in Division II.
A few additional items worth noting:
  • Any proposed change should focus on the growth of collegiate cycling.  Growth is promoted in part by enhancing the competitive experience for participants.  This requires a division structure that equalizes opportunity for success, allows for the growth and development of teams, and discourages sandbagging. 
  • The target for Division I is approximately 20-30 teams, likely with increased national championship quotas (i.e. teams in Div I could potentially be allowed 6 riders in the criterium championships, and 8 in the road race, etc). This allows for better balance between the divisions and positions Division I as a select group of large teams- the fewer teams that compete in Division I, the easier it is to demarcate between the two groups of schools.
  • As these conversations have evolved, one common thread to the division between the big teams and the small teams are organizational stability, which often translates to money- while we can’t break down divisions by team budget for many reasons, that is, in many ways, what it all comes down to.
  • Any system would need to be efficient, such that USA Cycling staff and volunteers are not overburdened with monitoring a system and its back and forths. Teams would need to stay put in a division for some time, and the initial process of establishing which teams are in which divisions could not be cumbersome.
  • In the end, the ideal system will distinguish between two fairly distinct groups of schools that most fans and participants of collegiate cycling can pretty easily identify without necessarily explaining why in a quantifiable manner. The goal of any system is to get us closer to quantifying that distinction.
Proposal One: Petition Model
Under this model, all teams would default to Division II would petition to compete in Division I. Petitions would be reviewed for two primary criteria:
  1. Sustained athletic success at national championships in the team omnium: Teams would not have to have won or even podiumed, necessarily, at national championships recently, but continued athletic excellence, measured as a team and not individual championship performances, is a primary marker of what makes a true Division I team. This means a balance of men and women year after year. Teams would not have to participate or excel in multiple disciplines, though the greater depth and breadth of a team would certainly increase their chances of being accepted to Division I.
  2. Sustained high levels of team organization: This is difficult to measure, so criteria would need to be developed, but certain markers stand out, including a coach, sufficient budget to attend most events, and a relatively constant level of membership from year to year. This obviously contributes to athletic excellence, but it also indicates that a team will be around for the foreseeable future and isn’t likely to fade away over time and will be able to support a larger contingent of riders in a national championship race.
Under this model, teams would not have the flexibility to move back and forth between divisions on a regular basis- most likely restricted to their division for a set number of years before being able to move.
Proposal Two: National Rankings Model
Under this structure, a fixed number of schools, perhaps 20-30, would race in Division I- these teams would be selected initially as the top Division I schools as measured by their national rankings ( Since competitive success is a dynamic attribute of teams, on a regular cycle (perhaps annually), the least successful teams in Division I (15-20%) would be moved to Division II and the most successful teams in Division II would replace them in Division I. For various reasons, it’s possible that a top Division II team may request to remain in that division after achieving a high ranking for a year, and an exception could potentially be granted for a limited period of time, but after that time would be forced to compete in Division I.
Potential Addendum A to each proposal: Division III
While there are not currently the numbers to support a third division at national championships, a Division III could be an avenue for very small teams to gain some recognition while still competing and scoring points with Division II schools. Under this model, there would not be a Division III champion in any discipline, as an individual or team, but teams of a certain class or size might be denoted as such in overall standings and press releases, i.e. as the best Division III program, etc. Eventually this could spawn separate races, as well.
Potential Addendum B to each proposal: Variable Divisions by Discipline
One challenge that collegiate cycling faces is the diversity of disciplines- while an incredible proportion of athletes cross over between these disciplines, it is very common for teams to focus primarily on one discipline over another. In these scenarios, it could be possible to allow a team with a dominant road team but a nascent mountain bike program to compete in Division I in the former but Division II in the latter. This would complicate the national rankings system, and as a result, teams in these scenarios would not be eligible for the overall rankings. Additionally, it weakens a great component of collegiate cycling, as referenced above- the cross-discipline athleticism of collegiate athletes and teams. However, it is an item worth considering, especially as Division I focuses on fewer large teams- a single rider from a Division I team new to a discipline would be even more out of place than in the past.
Thanks for reading to this point- there’s a lot here, but it’s a fundamental shift in the structure of collegiate cycling, and it’s important that all stakeholder groups are represented in this process, and as many details are considered as possible. We look forward to your feedback as we work together to grow the sport!
Please fill out the survey here, we want feedback from as many of our collegiate license holders as possible!
Thanks again!
Emily Palmer
Interscholastic and Club Development Survey
USA Cycling

This Article Updated May 23, 2014 @ 08:03 PM For more information contact: