Imagine this; a three-game series between two teams which feature the best Division I collegiate Water Polo players in the country. Each team’s coach and players would be elected by their peers and captained by the Cutino award winner and runner up. The series would be scheduled as part of the Junior Olympic tournament that takes place every summer at the beautiful pools and colleges across this great country.
Welcome to the college Water Polo All Star Game.
Picking the athletes should be a two part process. First, each Division I program from around the country would elect 1 player from their team to be entered into the All-Star player pool. The Cutino Award winner and the runner up would act as captains of each of those teams and proceed to draft their respective rosters from the aforementioned pool of players. This process would ensure equal representation of all of the division I teams around the country by affording each team the opportunity to nominate the player that they most believe should be included. This grants players the opportunity to play alongside their peers instead of opposing them as they normally would. Unless they are one of the select few who are chosen for the National team or happen to play with another person on a club team between varsity seasons, these athletes may not otherwise ever play on the same team. This type of exposure to players from different schools is good not only for individual player development, but also the programs they represent.
Now this process might be trickier. Coaching staff may vary from season to season and only two head coaches would be needed for the All-Star series. The NBA All Star game addresses a similar dilemma by allowing the head coach that is elected to bring their coaching staff with them (assistant, and so on). The same opportunity should be given to the coaches and their staff for the Division I Water Polo All-Star series, as we believe this approach would allow coaches and their staff to be rewarded just as the players would be.
The actual selection of the coaches could be decided in one of two ways (if not both). In one scenario, the fellow coaches around the country could elect the person they believe should represent their athletes (no voting for yourself coaches) and whoever receives the most votes would coach one team, second-most would coach the other. In another, both the community and the coaches would be involved. Coaches would get a say in who they believe should coach while the fans would also vote for who they would like to see. We believe either option would be effective at getting the best coaches involved.
The venue is one of the more consequential aspects of this whole idea. Choosing the proper location would be key to maximizing event marketability and publicity opportunities. Making this series a scheduled event during the annual Junior Olympic tournament would potentially make for a mutually beneficial enterprise. J.O.’s is already an enormous undertaking; it brings club players together from around the country to play high-level water polo in a new area every year. It is an invaluable learning opportunity for younger players to compete against people they otherwise would not have had the chance to.
In the opposite sense, exposing different areas and communities to Division I players and coaches has an equally positive impact on Water Polo’s up and coming generations. We can’t remember which games our team won or lost as kids at the annual international tournament that takes place in South Florida. However, we specifically remember watching the Canadian and the Puerto Rican National teams fighting it out at the end! That one game undoubtedly had more eyes on it than any other that weekend. The opportunity to observe such a high caliber game played around so many new players was unique, exciting, and inspiring.
We propose that a three game series be hosted in consort with the J.O. tournament. The final days of J.O.’s already attracts large crowds and plenty of fanfare. The idea is to supplement the already buzzing atmosphere that surrounds collegiate player hopefuls with the best of those who already compete at that next level. People who come to the games would be able to take pictures and interact with their favorite athletes and coaches. There could even be exhibition events or Q&A sessions if the interest levels are high enough.
At the end of the day we’re not logistics guys. However, we think that by creating this event and combining it with one that is already so well known, Water Polo as a whole would benefit greatly. An event of this magnitude would be massively engaging for spectators and may inspire athletes to compete in similar national-level events.
The publication and broadcast of water polo of this caliber at an event designed for younger amateur players would be an unprecedented move in our sport. Other sports already do it: networks like ESPN are no stranger to All Star games or amateur sporting events. Many sports that were once in the background of American consumer interest have been coming to the forefront in recent years. The UFC and mixed martial arts are now regularly aired through ESPN. Even men’s lacrosse has recently increased in popularity, so far as to develop its own professional league. There is a growing market for new and interesting sports outside of the ‘big four’ that viewers traditionally gravitated towards. This All-Star series, in conjunction with J.O.’s, could become an event that gets new eyes watching the sport and pushes younger athletes to discover what it’s all about.
At All Access Water Polo, it is our belief that we coach, play and write about one of the greatest sports there is. Water Polo speaks for itself; it’s fast-paced, mentally taxing and physically brutal. These are characteristics of a sport that people unequivocally respect, especially those who don’t participate in it. Publicizing this event the right way could propel it into also being a sport people are excited to watch.