Years of perspective allows you to be a pretty good judge of a well run event, and when an event needs some help.
I’ve seen everything from really impressive venues (full of sponsors and vendors), but with an abysmal course layout, to great course layouts and flowy trails, but with registration running out of the trunk of a car and no bathrooms for miles.
That being said, it has become obvious that USA Cycling’s (USAC) Collegiate Mountain National Championships is an event that could use some perspective.
For some time now, USA Cycling has officiated a Mountain Bike National Championship event every year.
This event is an awesome spectacle complete with national sponsors, vendors, and dealers, all descending upon a mountain bike trail system for several days of riding.
This event allows CAT1, CAT2, and CAT3 riders from all over the country to compete on the national stage, and is often the culminating race of a mountain bikers season.
Some even do well enough to get selected to the US Olympic Mountain Bike Team, while others go on to represent the United States in World UCI events overseas. It’s a big deal!
Now juxtapose that event with the USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship.
This event is not the awesome a spectacle that the first one is, but it does some of the same pomp-and-circumstance of its older cousin.
It is also the national stage for mountain bike riders — but only for Collegiate CAT-A riders — to compete against each other, win prestige for their school and conference, and hopefully get invites to national teams.
National sponsors, vendors, and dealers do show up, but not with the same numbers.
Additionally, the US Olympic Mountain Biking Team is sometimes on hand to scout new talent for future teams, but not always.
It almost seems like something is missing from the Collegiate event, something the non-Collegiate event has every year, but the Collegiate side lacks.
It took a while for us to figure out what it was. Sponsors? Check. Vendors? Check. Good Trails? Check. Money? Mmmm… not sure.
If you haven’t figured it out yet what the USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship is missing, here’s a hint: the non-Collegiate Mountain Nationals has a full boat of CAT2 and CAT3 events IN ADDITION TO the CAT1 events.
This creates quite the turnout, especially when you looking at a multiple day event with a race for every mountain bike discipline there is.
That is a huge undertaking for any event manager, but is also a nice profit margin if you can pull it off.
USAC Mountain Nationals is a very lucrative endeavor that attracts twice as many spectators as it does riders. With all those fans buying swag, food, and lodging, everyone one working a USAC National event has the potential to make some money.
Flip back to the USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships, and you don’t see the same type of money changing hands.
First off, the Collegiate event only allows CAT-A riders.
All those CAT-B and CAT-C riders, that make up most of the clubs in over 100 universities, do not get to ride.
Why, you ask?
No one could give us a good answer.
When we asked officials and race promoters about this last year, the common response we received was, “It’s always been that way.”
That can’t be right.
So we did what any investigative journalist would do: we followed the money.
The USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships online registration for Endurance and Gravity events is $65 ($85 onsite).
Compare that to a much more complex pricing model at the non-Collegiate Mountain Nationals where Endurance is between $80-$100, Gravity is between $90-$120, and Enduro is between $115-$145 (unless you registered early, then you save about $15-$20; Onsite registration is an additional $20-$35).
Collegiate riders pay only 50-60% of what CAT1/2/3 riders pay.
This makes the non-Collegiate event far more profitable, even if the same number of riders show up.
But if the majority of collegiate riders are in the C and B Mountain Categories, why are they not included in the USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships?
Wouldn’t that help make up the numbers?
We first suspected that it was a school thing. Something to do with not having college kids out of class for longer than a weekend.
But other sports do not seem to have this problem during championship events, so we removed that as a suspected cause.
We then thought it could just be a matter of economics.
In our observations, collegiate races simply do not create the turnout that the non-Collegiate events do.
This, in turn, means that collegiate events do not create the kind of revenue that a bigger event can generate.
However, one might ask — if one really believed in the mission of USA Cycling — why does the low revenue side of collegiate championships matter to USA Cycling?
Isn’t that why USA Cycling collects license fees, charges race directors $3.60/day per rider for insurance, and puts on National Championships for?
So costs don’t seem to be that big of a factor either.
USA Cycling has the operating capital to add to a collegiate championships, and I’m sure their are plenty of promoters and sponsors that would happily pick up the tab.
So is the actual reason the reason everyone seems to give us when we ask?
Is it really just the way “it’s always been“?
It’s a shame that CAT-C and CAT-B riders cannot attend the Collegiate Mountain Nationals as a competitor.
The unfortunate truth is that during this year’s event in Snowshoe, West Virginia, those collegiate rides that will have the event in their own backyard will have to settle for attending as a spectator.
For what seems like a simple addition to the USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships – add a extra day for CAT-C and CAT-B riders, or work them into the existing schedule – will again be only for the top riders in collegiate racing.
This seems like a lost teaching opportunity.
Imagine the experience that lower category collegiate riders could have by rubbing elbows with other schools across the country.
Maybe it’s time this format changed and USA Cycling started making the Collegiate Mountain Nationals THE SAME as the non-Collegiate Mountain Nationals.
Because unless there is a legitimate reason for not including CAT-C and CAT-B riders in the 2016 USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships, collegiate clubs should consider pushing their conference directors to find out why.
It is time to change the USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships format to include CAT-C and CAT-B riders, and become more inclusive, and less exclusive.