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That left the league with the situation they have faced for years now - trying to keep four teams in the league through an entire season. This season, DI Coordinator Dominic Duffy was hoping to see the top DII club promoted to DI. That plan, not supported by most DII clubs, didn't happen.
"If we had promoted the top DII club, we would have had five teams in the league, so when Charlotte dropped out, we would have still had four and wouldn't have had the problem we have now," said Duffy.
Charlotte did indeed drop out, leaving the South DI said "problem we have now," which is a league with three teams. Three teams playing each other twice gives everyone four games, two less than the six currently required by USA Rugby for teams who want to move on to the playoffs.
But there's more. Because South teams have on more than one occasion failed to send their #4 team to the crossover playoffs against the Midwest, the South has had to provide concessions to the Midwest teams. First it was giving the Midwest #1 team a bye to the Round of 16. Now the Midwest expects two byes, with the South #1 hosting Midwest #4, and South #2 traveling to Midwest #3. South's #3 team goes nowhere.
"We don't like it, and we don't like that the rules have changed in the middle of the season, but we're probably going to have to go along with it," said Duffy. "I understand how the Midwest feels about it from their point of view. They have ten teams and only four get into the playoffs; the South has three teams, and we expect all three to go into the playoffs. But at the same time, it's all going to change next year anyway when the new structure comes in, so why go for the jugular now?"
USA Rugby South did get a dispensation from USA Rugby to allow their reduced season to be legal. That means that the season is already a third over, as Life has played both Atlanta and New Orleans on the road, and won handily.
On Feb 2 the Renegades visit New Orleans in a key match, as the two-game series between the two teams will likely decide who gets that coveted second playoff spot. New Orleans then travels to Life on March 2, and play the return fixture with the Renegades on March 16. Atlanta finish the season at Life on March 23.
Life is expected to go 4-0 without too much trouble. The question is whether Atlanta or New Orleans can sweep their two matches to finish 2nd, or whether they split the games and it's a question of bonus points or (and nobody wants this) points difference to decide who moves on.
All of that, however, is a short-term fix. Long-term, the South will not
have enough clubs in DI to meet minimum requirements for the 2013-2014
season (at least seven teams, and at least 12 games). Therefore it is
likely their champion will only have a chance at the playoffs by beating
the #2 team from another conference. Duffy hopes Charlotte will come back,
and perhaps the top two from DII this season move up, as well (changes in
the USA Rugby South by-laws reportedly mandate that move). But even then,
the South will need more time, better club recruiting, and a solution to
the travel problems that have made Florida clubs reluctant to play