So after months of speculation, next year’s college rugby season has finally sorted itself out. There are quite a few changes—beginning with a new competition—that could alter the college rugby for the foreseeable future. Even before the changes, college rugby was a confusing mess of conferences and divisions. So, to help with the confusion, here is a run-down of how college rugby will look this next year.
At the bottom of the college ladder are the NSCRO, DIII, and DII divisions. NSCRO stands for National Small College Rugby Organization and features some very small schools. DIII and DII are made up of colleges and universities of varying sizes that often do not have particularly strong rugby programs. There are exceptions to this (Lindenwood, etc.), but by and large teams in DIII and DII are in it for the social factor.
Now, here is where it gets confusing. Until only a couple of years ago, most of the best teams in the country were concentrated into DI. Then, under the urging of some of the big players in college rugby, the College Premier Division was formed. It featured almost all of the powerhouse rugby teams in the country and was designed to make college rugby more marketable. It was to have higher standards of play and organization. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. While the standard of play was high, many teams found the cost to great to continue. After the first season many teams dropped out. However, the final proved to be a success with over 10,000 turning out to watch Cal defeat BYU.
Last year the CPD rebranded as DI-A, and what had been called DI was now DI-AA. The teams that dropped out of the CPD played in DI-AA. Even with the loss of many teams, including Cal, DI-A still had some of the strongest teams in the country: Utah BYU, St. Mary’s, Arkansas St., Life, etc. DI-AA had some good teams of their own—Davenport, Dartmouth—but from top to bottom it was not as strong as the DI-A.
Now, some of the teams that were unhappy with the DI-A (costs, lack of revenue, etc.) have started the Varsity Cup, which is a knockout tournament designed to feature the best teams in the country regardless of division. At first the teams behind the Varsity Cup wanted to work with the DI-A to ensure that both tournaments would happen. However, the DI-A insisted on having all teams commit to a postseason, something Varsity Cup teams would not do. So where does this all leave us? Here’s a summary of the recent changes and what each competition will look like next year.
DI-AA: For the most part DI-AA remains the same. The only major change was the addition of the PAC-12 conference that features strong rugby teams in Cal, Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon State. Cal and Utah have both won national championships, while UCLA made the DI-A playoffs last season. The drive for the PAC-12 schools to compete in DI-AA is that they would be eligible to compete in the Varsity Cup as well as have a league season. A further addition to DI-AA is a conference mirroring the MAC. By and large, conferences in DI-AA reflect similar NCAA conferences (there are exceptions). In some conferences the standard of rugby is high, but in others it is pretty poor. Last year Davenport and Dartmouth were the two best teams.
DI-A: The DI-A is set to lose some of its quality teams, including BYU, Utah, Arizona, Air Force, and Navy. These teams wanted to stay in the DI-A, but also wanted a chance to play in the Varsity Cup. The other DI-A teams objected and Varsity Cup teams were forced to withdraw. However, the DI-A did add a number of teams. A conference mirroring the Big Ten, as well as a Texas-centric conference, were admitted. The DI-A keeps strong teams like Central Washington, Penn State, Arkansas State, Life, and St. Mary’s, and gains Davenport, last year’s DI-AA winner. The overall quality is still above DI-AA, despite the defections.
Varsity Cup: The Varsity Cup came about because U.S.A. Rugby kept the money from the DI-A title match even though it was the schools that brought in the fans, in particular BYU playing in front of a home crowd twice. The Varsity Cup is a knock out competition that has already received commitments from BYU, Cal, Utah, Air Force, Navy, Notre Dame, and Dartmouth. Presumably an eighth team will be announced later (likely from the East). The tournament will be played over three weekend’s next spring. Overall, this tournament easily features most of the best teams in the country.
Still confused? You’re not alone. How these different competitions will work together may be the greatest story in American rugby next year and will definitely be fun to watch.
So in summary:
DI-AA: Adds the PAC-12 and MAC, post-season remains the same, teams allowed to play in Varsity Cup.
DI-A: Adds new conferences (including Big Ten) but loses some very strong teams (including its reigning champion BYU), post-season remains the same, teams not allowed to play in Varsity Cup.
Varsity Cup: Teams from DI-AA and independents, tournament played over three weekends, very strong lineup.
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