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Some new information has come to light this week in regards to fall college championships. Thursday, USA Rugby announced its new plan for DI-AA, which sees the opening for some teams to play their way to the final four in the fall.
In previous years, the DI-AA playoffs have included 16 teams split across four regions. All of the playoff games were played in the spring. Since so many DI-AA conferences have transitioned to fall 15s, USA Rugby is saying that now, teams from those fall rugby areas (essentially every conference based east of the Mississippi River, sans the South Independent) could play all but the National Championship semifinals and final in the fall. This move is an attempt by USA Rugby to funnel some of those conferences and teams who’ve left in recent years back into its National Championships.
“This new format will allow all of our participating college teams to play an extensive schedule of high-level rugby during the season that best suits their preferences,” USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez said in a press release.
The American Collegiate Rugby Championship, which was a postseason knockout tournament last season, has decided to become a series of one-off bowl games. The ACRC will pit teams from participant conferences against one another Nov. 22 in Charlotte, NC. USA Rugby’s DI-AA fall rounds of 16 and 8 are the same weekend, providing lines to read between to determine which conferences will compete where.
So far, the East Coast, Empire, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Southwest conferences have committed to the ACRC. To a certain extent, the Rugby East has, though it’s unclear if all of Rugby East’s teams would play in bowl games if tabbed to do so. The Ivy League is also loosely affiliated, given its commissioner is helping steer the ACRC's events. The bowl pairings are not set in stone, other than the Southeastern champ playing the Atlantic Coast champ. There are talks between those in the Rugby East about playing Life in a bowl.
The remaining fall 15s DI conferences are the MAC and Keystone. They may well be looking to put their champions in DI-AA fall postseason play.
Now, this could all change. The reality is, most conferences don't have that strong a hold on their teams. Last year, the Big Ten had committed to participating in the ACRC postseason, but Indiana won and said it didn't want to. A team winning a league and choosing to go against its conference's predetermined postseason allegiance is still very much a possibility.
One lingering question is what to do with the South Independent – the conference home of two-time defending DI-AA National Champion Central Florida? The SIRC stuck to its guns and is playing spring 15s like it has in the past. With the closest DI-AA conference that isn’t committed to fall 15s being the Heart of America, whose footprint is Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, it could mean the SIRC’s champion would have to go a distance for its regionals in the spring.