BUCS to launch new league competition for women’s ultimate

British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) will move to implement a league-based format for Women's outdoor ultimate to harness the Higher Education growth and stability of participation in Women’s Ultimate.  BUCS launched a new Sport Review process in May 2018, and this has reached the end of Cycle One and after an extensive consultation, a variety of new programmes have been approved.  BUCS – celebrating 100 years of British University Sport in 2019 – are consulting National Governing Bodies, its members and representatives from universities across the UK.  The changes coincide with the conclusion of BUCS Inclusion Week and through alterations to BUCS competitions hope to enshrine the values celebrated over the last seven days.

The UK Ultimate proposal, given the green light for implementation from September, focuses on achieving a gender-equitable BUCS competition structure, which we hope and expect will support ongoing growth in player numbers for the Women’s and Mixed divisions.  This should, in turn, support UKU’s goal of reaching equal numbers of female and male athletes in Ultimate.  The current Women’s competition will transition into a league based format, moving away from the Regional Qualifiers structure that is currently in place.  

The proposed structure for the Women’s division is similar, but deliberately not identical to the existing Men’s league and cup competition.  The most significant difference is that the by default league games will be played out over two 1-day “central venue” fixtures on a Saturday OR Sunday (in Nov and Feb) where teams play ideally two, sometimes three, games.  

We have adopted that approach for several reasons:

  • The last time we gathered input from Uni women’s clubs about playing on a Wednesday, there were clearly still major concerns about the potential difficulties of reliably raising teams.  BUCS has decided to adopt a more flexible approach to competition structures than it did in the past, and this has allowed us to propose introducing the Women’s league structure without having to adopt Wednesday afternoon fixtures.
  • It is an interesting compromise between tournament-play and single-game fixtures.  Based on the survey we conducted in summer 2018, it is clear that the switch to Wednesdays for the Men’s teams has been positive for some, but difficult and negative for others.  Based on feedback across university and club ultimate players we expect to see other competitions adopting the “multiple 1-day fixtures” format in the next few years.
  • We have two reasons for wanting to gain experience with this fixture format within university competition:
    • At some point we plan to propose a BUCS league competition in the mixed division.  One approach to supporting players who want to enjoy both divisions would be to put the mixed league into the Wednesday fixture format, and single-gender leagues into a Saturday central-venue fixture format (or perhaps vice versa).
    • A future potential improvement to both the Men’s and Women’s leagues would be to restructure them to include Premier North & South divisions.  However, such leagues would inevitably cover a large area and the travel would create a substantial time and cost downside if games were played in the usual Wednesday afternoon format.
  • Finally, it is our understanding that if, within a given league, all of the teams would prefer to play Wednesday afternoons, this remains a possibility.  We encourage club committees to discuss this internally and with the committee members of the other clubs in their region. 


The plan is that the leagues will be set up using the five standard BUCS regions that are used in the Men’s league.  Some regions will have a 2nd division.  If possible the Division One leagues will have 5 teams.  This may be adjusted for the benefit of other teams in the region to ensure that everyone is able to play.   In regions where there are two divisions, there will be 1-team relegated/promoted.

The cup competition will be implemented via UKU Nationals as per the Men’s Championship and Trophy competitions.  The Women’s Championships will be held for 16 teams: the top 3 from each region plus one 4th place team.  The trophy will run for up to 24 teams, with the remaining Division 1 teams plus the 2-3 teams from Division 2 leagues.  As the total number of teams in the Women’s league expands beyond 40 teams, we will adjust the structure to ensure that all teams have access to a cup competition.

We note that in Year 1 the allocation of teams to divisions cannot be completely fixed in advance because it will depend on entries.  Nonetheless it is our intention to allocate teams using results from 2019 Regionals & Nationals as far as possible.

We are still seeking to persuade BUCS to allow a change in regulations for ultimate so that teams can enter the league and then subsequently pull out of Nationals without being fined.  If we are successful, this will apply to the Women’s and Men’s competitions.

Cycle Two of the BUCS Sport Review process is set to open in April 2019 and will highlight possible changes or additions to the BUCS programme for the 2020-21 season.  UKU is not expecting to make any proposals in Cycle Two, but as noted above, it is exciting to see BUCS adopting an increasingly flexible view of their competition structures.  In the past it had been made very clear that we would not be able to have both single-gender and mixed BUCS competitions, but this appears to be changing.  We look forward to examining that in the future, but for now we want to give ourselves, BUCS and especially the clubs, some time to adapt to the changes in the women’s competition.