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Central Washington moves from DI-A to the Varsity Cup this weekend, and it’s become clear they have ruffled a few feathers along the way.

DI-A teams expected Central to be part of the playoff mix, but CWU didn’t really see it that way, and when a place opened up in the Varsity Cup because of the Utah suspension (still under review, by the way), they jumped at it.

Reports are that Central got some help with their travel expenses, and that adds another dollop of logic to the decision, and it’s clear that while the Varsity Cup received many, many calls from teams hoping to take Utah’s place, CWU, one the west coast and with a history of good results, was the best fit.

It all started during the off-season, when Central Washington discovered that the Pacific Conference in DI-A was being completely re-worked. Several new teams were entering, and all the new teams said the same thing – they wouldn’t play if they had to travel to Ellensburg, Wash. to play CWU. Central was told by USA Rugby they had no conference to play in.

“After being told we had to leave our conference – and we were ready to play in it – we were then told we had to play a challenge match to get into the playoffs, regardless of our record,” said CWU Director of Rugby Bob Ford.

CWU went into the season thinking that they could take care of that challenge by scheduling the two teams they would most likely have to challenge – St. Mary’s and Cal Poly – in their regular season. Both visited Ellensburg, with St. Mary’s coming away convincing 50-20 winners, and Cal Poly losing on Saturday 21-10.

But on April 3 CWU was told they had to issue a challenge to the California #2, and travel to that team to play. Central wasn’t happy. The extra travel costs, combined with the perceived injustice of having to jump through an extra hoop when it wasn’t their fault they had been pushed out of their conference, was too much.

“The decision to go into the Varsity Cup and the decision not to challenge were completely separate,” said Ford. “We decided on one and then the other became an option. We look at it that we did everything we were asked to do. We played an independent DI-A schedule. We won every game except St. Mary’s, and we were told we had the option to challenge. Well, we decided not to take that option.”

Certainly the Wildcats felt they should have had a straighter path to the Quarterfinals, but even if they are wrong, their plight shows how difficult rugby can be for a college or (CWU, Life, Arkansas State) or club (OPSB, Life, SFGG) that is isolated either by competition or geography.

“We’ve had to endure a lot of change,” said Ford. “We want to pursue other options. We want to play in a conference, and play in a good competition. We think the Varsity Cup is a great competition. They have a long-term commitment to the competition. We will, as always, meet all our commitments.”

CWU takes on Air Force Saturday in UCLA, with the winner moving on to the semis.