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Top College Programs

Editors Note: This post originally appeared when the first ranking was released in 2009. We are aware that some of the historical facts have changed since then, but we’ve chosen to leave it with its original perspective in this reprint.

The Best College Ultimate Program of All Time (open division)
Which college or university has had the most success at the highest level of scholastic sport, over the last 30 years? Who has set the standard of excellence, year after year, and in the process set an enduring legacy of Ultimate commitment and success? We set out to find out. And we did this by compiling and analyzing data based on winning regionals, appearances at nationals, and winning national championships. I know what you’re thinking, UCSB (Santa Barbara) has won 6 National Championships over the last 20 years. Surely, they’re number 1? Maybe.

Of course, you can click on the right to see how the rankings have shifted each year since 2008, but first a bit about the our methodology. For proof of concept, we are working with the open division only, so far. The others will follow as long as we can get the data.

The next question that we wrestled with was how to account for the rapid increase in teams competing at the Sectionals during the last ten years. We ultimately decided to make a split between pre-1999 and post 1999 Nationals, giving higher weight to the more recent championship competitors. We chose this time-frame because it’s when the UPA went from 12 to 16 bids to Nationals (no, we haven’t yet accounted for the increase to 20). And while it might seem to some that getting a bid with 16 available slots would be easier than with 12, again, the number teams competing for those slots — (over 500 in 2005), has mushroomed. The points were, therefore, allocated in the following manner:

1984-1998

  • Regional Winners – 1 pt
  • National Semi-finalist – 3 pts
  • National Runner-up – 4 pts
  • National Champion – 6 pts

1999-2014

  • Made it to Nationals (wildcard) – 1 pt
  • Regional Winners – 2 pt
  • National Semi-finalist - 4 pts
  • National Runner-up – 5 pts
  • National Champion – 7 pts

Teams are awarded points based on their highest finish for the season. So, if Stanford won their region and lost in the National Championship, they would still only receive 5 pts. and not 6. However, if a team finished 2nd in the Regionals and didn’t make it out of pool play at the Nationals, they don’t receive any points. Stay with us.
This might make more sense when looking at the results. For example, shouldn’t the University of Washington’s appearance at the 2005 Nationals be worth more than Syracuse’s lone appearance in 1984? We think so too.

The jump in points from 1 to 3 (or 2 to 4) to the semi-finalists rewards surviving pool play. The 1 point increase from semi-finalist to runner-up is indicative of the fact that it’s a single game.

There were 70 teams represented in the list out of the 309 places at the Nationals since 1984 with only 19 of those receiving 10 or more total points in the span of 22 years. The list is indeed top heavy. Carleton has the distinction of more Nationals appearances than any other college team in the open division with an astonishing 22, while Stanford and Wisconsin – Madison are next in line with 20 and 19 respectively. Wisconsin, Cornell and Kansas round out the top 6 with 14, 14 and 13 respectively.

Using the Mississippi River as a totally arbitrary divider between east and west, the east has more total points, 380 to 331. Quick quiz – where are Chabot College, Las Positas and Salisbury State located? If you said California, California and Maryland, you….have way too much time on your hands, but you’d also be correct. It’s also a trick question as Chabot and Las Positas are one and same. One more geography question. Is Carleton College in Northfield, MN located east or west of the Mississippi? If you said east of, you’d be wrong, though it appears to be only by a few miles to that side.

The Ivy League colleges were well represented with Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, Cornell, Penn and Columbia all appearing at least once. After all, it is a thinking game.

There were 33 states represented in our list. Some of the unrepresented states include Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Let’s go, Wildcats, Lobos, Sooners — time to join the party.

Only one team has ever won the Nat’l Championship in their first year, Stanford in 1984 (with an asterisk). Florida should get a mention here after winning last year with appearances last in 1985 and 1989.

How about the teams that have won more than one Nat’l title? Yes, the first one is easy, UC Santa Barbara with six is a record that will stand for a very long time. What about Carleton? Yes. Colorado? Good guess, but only Stanford (2002, 1984) Brown (2000, 2005) and East Carolina (1994, 1995) and as of this year Carleton (2001, 2009) can lay claim to that distinction – [yes, we know about Pitt now].

Our one-hit-wonders list is equally impressive. Syracuse and Ohio University are tied with the longest streak between Nationals appearances, 23 years — and counting. Other stars on the way-back list are St. Louis University, last heard from in 1988, the State University of New York (SUNY) twins of Albany and Binghamton, whose last appearances were 1993 and ’94, respectively. Las Positas did their damage in the tourney also in 1994 while Florida State was last seen in 1996. And though Texas A&M’s lone appearance in 2001 appears to be an anomaly, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing more of as Washington and Queens’s Kingston who both appeared at Nationals for the first time in the last couple of years.

In reality, we have no right to poke fun at teams on this list (even Syracuse), as each team on it deserves our congratulations and respect. The 400+ teams are lost in the sea of sectional qualifiers year after year would kill for the right to be ‘poked’ at. It would be a vast undertaking on a different scale to include Sectional and Regional data in factoring strength of all-time programs and if the data was accessible, we would do it. We are aware that our methodology is a bit flawed (but it’s our study) as there are teams in certain regions that don’t make it out of the regionals that are far superior to some of those that do make the trip (wildcards acknowledged).

Will 2014 provide the next new name on the roster, or will the traditional powerhouses continue to dominate? Will recent history dictate the winner, or will the hallowed traditions of teams past spur their teams on to Ultimate victory? Only time will tell, and it’s not long now…