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For the first time since 2010, there will not be a D1AA national championship. The College Management Council has instead decided to split the D1AA postseason into seasonal championships, awarding one for the fall and one for the spring, with no meeting planned for the respective winners.
The decision was made earlier this month, just weeks before most D1AA programs nationwide kicked up their fall seasons and well too late for any of them to realistically move to D1A or D2 in search of a national championship.
For the first six years of the competition’s existence, the playoff was done in successive spring weeks. JP Eloff led Davenport to the first two titles, followed by back-to-back championships for Gerhard Veit and Central Florida. Then UC Davis won two in a row.
Starting with the 2016/2017 season, the bracket was split – eight teams would try and play their way to the final in the fall, and eight more would do the same in the spring, with the national championship game being staged in May. Notre Dame College came out of the fall bracket to avenge the loss to spring champion Davis in the previous year’s title game. In 2018, Mary Washington emerged from the fall bracket to beat spring champ Dartmouth in the final.
The split championship wasn’t perfect but allowed all the conferences and teams who preferred to finish their 15s season in the fall to do so, and it allowed those who prefer a split or spring season to carry on unhindered. The lone exception was the fall champ, who now had six months to make a plan to prepare for the final in inclement weather.
Before the CMC met and decided the fate of the D1AA postseason, representatives from 12 D1AA conferences met with USA Rugby collegiate director Rich Cortez via conference call, the majority of them voicing favor for a national championship, specifically in the fall.
Then the CMC, a committee meant to be representative of the entire collegiate membership, including men, women and all divisions, voted to ignore the wishes of the D1AA conferences by nixing a national championship.
Only three people on the CMC have direct D1AA affiliation – Bill Lucas (Mary Washington), Bill Sexton (Truman State) and James Fonda (San Jose State). The conferences of both Sexton and Fonda favored the spring playoffs when given the choice.
As it stands, D1AA is the only division on the men’s side that does not crown a national championship. USA Rugby’s D1A and D2 both have national championships, and NSCRO offers two different playoffs that lead to national championships.
Mary Washington returns to the Chespeake Conference and D1AA to defend its conference and fall titles. The Ivy has chosen to move its full 15s season and playoff to the autumn, so it’s unclear whether Dartmouth will try and defend its spring title or vie for the fall crown.