Information on North American College Ultimate
USA Ultimate (USAU) is the national governing body for competitive high school, college and club ultimate. According to USAU, there are over 800 college ultimate teams in North America with 18,000 students playing each year. Both of these numbers continue to grow rapidly.
Across the US, college ultimate is broken into 10 regions, each of which feeds into the US College Nationals Championship (which is organized by USAU.) Colleges and Universities compete as either Division I or Division III teams, depending upon their relative competitiveness. Both divisions have full Spring seasons of competition that lead to a Nationals Championship tournament. Unlike US Club Championships which have traditionally been held in Sarasota, Florida, College Nationals Championships have moved around most years. In 2019 both the Division I and Division III College Championships were held in Texas—Round Rock and College Station, respectively. Since 2017, the College Championships have been broadcast live on ESPNU.
Ultimate remains, for the most part, an independent club sport. At the college or university level, this means that ultimate is not a sport sanctioned by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), and so the Divisions I and III of College Ultimate in the US do not correspond to NCAA Divisions 1, 2 or 3. Whereas NCAA divisions set rules for scholarship and recruitment, womxn, mixed and men’s ultimate at the college level have no standard scholarship or recruitment practices.
The degree to which universities recognize ultimate as a competitive sport and support their womxn’s ultimate teams with resources varies from school to school. Part of this is a function of how young the sport is, ultimate's early tradition as a non-mainstream and self-regulated sport, and the very recent explosion of its popularity which has not yet squared with the many layers of structure that define professional and college sports in the U.S. As a recognized sport of the World Games and the World Olympics and with a growing number of professional and semi-professional teams, the formalization of the game at the college level is likely to continue to grow in the years to come. The independent tradition of the sport, however, lives on the Spirt of the Game recognized by tournament organizers and players alike, the predominantly self-refereed rules that are used in all levels of the game, and the unique sense of camaraderie and community that can be found in ultimate—particularly at the college level.
Even though ultimate remains outside of the NCAA, there is a growing number of Ultimate scholarships available, starting in the hundreds and running into the thousands of dollars. They tend to be either location-based where they are privately or community funded as non-profits, or to be university-based and run from the school’s development department.
Here is an example of a community-based ultimate scholarship which awards $4000 to a top senior high school player from Pittsburgh agreeing to remain and play at a college in the Pittsburgh area: https://pittsburgh-ultimate.org/scholarship
Here is an example of a college-based ultimate scholarship from Winona State University in Minnesota for $2000 : https://winona.academicworks.com/opportunities/7165
In the United Kingdom, college ultimate is a sanctioned sport of the British Universities and College Sports (BUCS) which is the equivalent of the NCAA. This means that schools may have dedicated directors and scholarships for the sport for the purposes of recruiting (or “advertising” as it’s called in the UK). The 600-year old Scottish University, St. Andrews, rocked the ultimate world in 2018 by offering 10,000 pound sterling ultimate scholarships for graduate students. (In the UK, there is not a 5-year limit on university or college players as in the US.) Here is an article from Ultiworld that explains the St. Andrews scholarship: https://ultiworld.com/2018/04/09/scottish-university-offers-premier-ultimate-program-premier-education