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The cement is still wet, but it looks like DII men will be playing toward a USA Rugby National Championship in the fall of 2013. Talks between a critical mass of conference commissioners and collegiate director Rich Cortez have been positive, and pending an upcoming vote from the College Management Council, DII will move its championship from the spring to the fall.
In DI, something similar might be on the verge of happening. Numerous conferences east of the Mississippi have committed to an independent fall championship. The format of the championship, and its name, is still undetermined, but the MAC Schools, ACRL, Big Ten Universities, Empire, East Coast, and Rugby East conferences have agreed to play toward this fall playoff. The movement is spearheaded by Michigan coach Matt Trenary.
The Big Ten and Rugby East will remain DI-A conferences. So they could play toward this independent championship in the fall and the DI-A postseason in the spring, if they choose.
It seems unlikely that the DI-AA conferences participating in this independent championship will keep the spring playoff option open, but it’s possible. The reason most of these leagues are making the switch is to get out of spring 15s and to separate 7s season from 15s season entirely.
The Ivy and Keystone conferences have also been extended invites to play toward this championship, and they’re still in limbo. The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference has declined, for now.
Assuming these teams playing toward a fall 15s championship don’t opt for the DI-AA playoffs in the spring, only these conferences are left playing toward USA Rugby’s trophy – Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference, Pacific Mountain West, Pacific Western, South Independent, SCRC, Heart of America, and maybe the Ivy and Keystone. Remember, the Southwest announced it’s disinterest in USA Rugby’s playoffs already.
What could this schism mean? Well, long term it could mean USA Rugby having to move its championship to the fall. A National Championship between the conferences left in DI-AA seems almost pointless. Not because there aren’t good teams, because there are, but because it would essentially be the fourth-rate championship, falling behind DI-A, the Varsity Cup and this fall championships (Rugby East and Big Ten make it pretty good at the top).
DI-AA National Champion: We won the DI National Championship!
Classmate: I thought Life did.
DI-AA National Champion: Well they did, but we won the other one.
Classmate: Wasn’t that BYU?
DI-AA National Champion: Kind of, there’s more than one.
Classmate: And didn’t Bowling Green just win a championship last semester?
Or if this independent championship is played this fall without the help of USA Rugby, and it’s run as or more professionally, with less hassle and similar fanfare (a webcast, essentially), USA Rugby could risk losing these enterprising conferences for good. Then maybe next season these teams decide not to CIPP, collect their own dues, bid for their own referee services and keep their money.
Maybe I’m out over my skis on all this, but the reality is individual conferences, divisions, teams and administrators are starting to comprehend the power they possess when they work together. And they’re starting to wield it.