What does BUCS mean for Dodgeball?
It’s been years in the making but, finally, we’re here.
Almost as long as there’s been dodgeball at British universities, there’s been talk of “going BUCS”: joining the British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) system, the governing body of university level sports within the UK. Under BUCS, universities compete in over fifty different sports, with points tallying up across all of them to create a leader board of the best sporting universities. In the last BUCS season, that board was topped by the University of Nottingham, who will likely be pleased to hear that their dodgeball team has consistently ranked among the best in the country.
British Dodgeball summarised in a statement to us: “As dodgeball returns this summer and we look ahead to a full calendar of events next season, one of the most eagerly anticipated developments for the sport will be its involvement as a recognised BUCS sport. In June 2019 almost 90% of students participating in British Dodgeball events were in favour of dodgeball becoming a BUCS Sport.“
But the response to the announcement hasn’t been 100% positive. With worries about poor timing – the end of a pandemic isn’t necessarily the best moment for overhauls – or poor execution, specifically around the role of female players, dodgeball becoming BUCS is certainly not the simple story it might seem to be.
So what’s going to change under BUCS?
Like any university ranking system, the BUCS leader board is something that university leadership teams take notice of. If a university ranks higher in BUCS, it can attract better athletes, as well as improving student satisfaction rates all round: better BUCS scores tend to indicate a better focus on extra-curriculars and student wellbeing.
Because of this, BUCS sports are typically financially favoured by universities over their non-BUCS counterparts – something that any treasurer on a university dodgeball team knows all too well. Certain universities also offer BUCS specific training programs, preferential venues and gym membership times, all of which may start to be accessible to dodgeball teams next season.
“BUCS will be a great thing for university dodgeball, for external and internal recognition, lowering the costs that university clubs face in terms of league fees, as well as transport to and from meets,” says Warwick Men’s 1sts Captain Daniel Docherty. “All of this will strengthen our ability to recruit, increasing the attractiveness of a sport that, at a university level, has so much going for it.”
Non-BUCS sports such as dodgeball have historically had to have their members pay higher fees than BUCS sports, which creates a financial barrier for certain students. In some universities, the difference between funding is so great that BUCS players can receive kit, transport, and league membership for free, while non-BUCS players pay for all of this out of pocket.
However, this change might not be immediate, nor as drastic as some may hope. “I don’t think this will straight away help our club,” says Jack Murphy, the University of Lincoln’s Men’s Captain. Many universities divide funding based on the performance of their BUCS teams, meaning that low ranking dodgeball teams – such as Lincoln – don’t expect to see a positive change immediately.
“We have lost basically 2 years’ worth of players, meaning potential loss of interest and freshers with limited experience will take over the running of the club and have to submit a team straight away,” says Murphy. “Which is worrying for the state of the competition we would be able to provide: this would therefore link us as a continued low-ranking club in BUCS, which comes back to the finance our uni would be able to help grant us.”
So while larger and higher ranked clubs – such as Warwick, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Winchester – can all expect to benefit greatly from the shift, it may be that lower ranked universities will pull out of leagues for a few years. Lincoln plans to focus on opens, and return when they are more confident they can compete at a level where BUCS financing would work in their favour.
Fortunately, British Dodgeball plans to continue and expand their roster of non-BUCS opens. As they state: “Alongside BUCS there will also be a greater opportunity for university students to play dodgeball at British Dodgeball led events including 12 university opens, community regional and mixed leagues as well as the University Championships.”
BUCS will be a massive catalyst for opportunities and growth within dodgeball. Aside from the aforementioned financial side of things, BUCS also increases general visibility. Dodgeball teams will likely get more promotion, media attention and support within their universities, meaning that player numbers should increase across the men’s and women’s game.
Being a BUCS sport means becoming part of a larger BUCS family at each university, with BUCS teams supporting one another. As Emma Davis, the President of Birmingham Lions puts it: “As dodgeball becomes a BUCS sport, I hope that our club will continue its growth, both in terms of members and reputation. I’m excited for the greater opportunities for match play and tournaments, as well as for building a greater community as an official BUCS sport.”
There’ll also be more drive within non-dodgeballing universities or ones with fledgling, non-competing dodgeball societies to push for a BUCS team to be formed. In the last five years, the top universities in BUCS were always the same: Nottingham, Loughborough, Durham, Edinburgh, and Exeter. Of these, only Nottingham had a league-competing university dodgeball team in the 2019-20 season. With dodgeball going BUCS, there’s hope that other top BUCS-ranked universities will start to build their own teams. “The driving force behind our work to get dodgeball into BUCS has been to give the sport further recognition within universities at the same time as developing the sport in more universities across the whole of the UK,” says British Dodgeball. For advice on setting up your own dodgeball club, see our article here.
But there are growing concerns about the way BUCS will affect opportunities for female players, especially in universities that do not have enough women to field a squad for women’s leagues. Under BUCS General Regulations, players cannot play outside of their gender identity in segregated leagues. British Dodgeball regulations do allow women to play in men’s leagues (though not vice versa), but BUCS regulations, unless stated otherwise, take precedence over those of national governing bodies. In short, women’s players will no longer be able to play in men’s university leagues.
The Facebook page Dodgeballers for Fair Play, which advocates for “fair representation and opportunities for women” within dodgeball, note that “dodgeball is already a comparatively off-putting sport for women. Most university teams don’t even have enough women for a segregated squad. This [the BUCS regulation] means that even less women will choose to participate.”
There is some hope, though, that this rule might not come into effect, as BUCS bending its rules to fit those of a national governing body isn’t completely unheard of. Most sports have some small addendums on the BUCS website. In fact, cricket has an addendum that changes the same gender-segregation rule that dodgeballers are hoping to have adjusted. Female cricket players are fully allowed to play in men’s leagues, but if they do so, they forfeit the right to play for their women’s team (in cases where such a team exists).
Whether British Dodgeball will succeed in getting a similar addendum as cricket remains to be seen, as discussions are still ongoing. Regardless, women will still be able to play in men’s teams during opens, which will not be BUCS affiliated. It may be that such an addendum is achieved in later years, or it may be that opens will remain the only viable option for female players at universities that lack dedicated women’s teams.
As covered in our piece on Patrick Nally, the biggest issue halting dodgeball’s growth at the moment is one of legitimacy. Becoming BUCS affiliated is ultimately a vital step towards this, at least within the UK. BUCS affiliated sports tend to be viewed as “real sports”, as opposed to their non-BUCS counterparts, in part due to the fact that younger sports like dodgeball tend to be non-BUCS: quidditch, underwater hockey, and other popular young sports are all non-BUCS.
Dodgeball has historically struggled beneath its widespread, non-competitive reputation. Joining a system such as BUCS will boost the profile of the sport in a positive way, adjusting its image to align more closely with the serious image it will need if the sport is to keep growing. This, combined with British Dodgeball’s renewed focus on youth development, means that the future of competitive, university level dodgeball is shaping up to be better funded, better supported, and better viewed, with more skilled players and more teams overall.
Despite certain issues and growing pains that are to be expected with such a massive shift, there is a huge amount of excitement about this coming season. The benefits to joining BUCS shown above are massive, and are sure to have a huge impact on the already strong university dodgeball system. To many, BUCS means dodgeball is entering the big leagues, and is finally getting the attention it deserves: university dodgeball is coming back, bigger and better than ever.
Thanks to the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, and the University of Lincoln for agreeing to be interviewed for this piece. Thanks also to British Dodgeball for providing a statement. If you’re preparing for the new season, why not check out our individual and club bundles, featuring all the equipment you need to play dodgeball: knee-pads, dodgeballs, and PVC court-markers. Or if you’re a university team looking to expand ahead of BUCS, check out our customisable dodgeballs.