The DI-AA playoffs are a mess. There’s really no other way to put it. They’re a mess, and the fact that they’re a mess is holding up the announcement of the Sweet 16 fields for both DI-AA and DII.
|Pat Clifton writes his Cliff's Notes opinion column for RUGBYMag.com and RUGBY Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @Pat_Clifton |
The most glaring problem is that the West Regional is set to be played in Austin, Texas, but the three automatic qualifying teams are from Southern California (Long Beach), Northern California (Chico State) and Washington (Western Washington). And USA Rugby is in the process of trying to make sure all the AQ teams are going to attend the Sweet 16.
Anticipated costs for the AQs to travel Austin hover around or exceed $20,000, each.
In the past the College Competitions Committee (CCC), made up of volunteers, has worked in conjunction with USA Rugby’s Championships and Events department, made up of paid employees, so the regions would make geographical sense and teams would, for the most part, be able to drive to their first- and second-round venues.
With turnover in the Championships and Events department, that collaboration did not take place this season.
The AQ conferences were identified in August, USA Rugby announced the playoff venues January 28, and the CCC devised the regional pairings sometime between those dates. But, still, the Championships and Events department picked Austin as the West Regional host.
In USA Rugby’s defense, there were no hosting applicants in California or Washington, and teams from the automatic qualifying conferences have known Austin was the playoff destination since late January. However, USA Rugby’s Championships and Events department should have actively worked to identify a sensible host to begin with, as they are the professionals in this scenario.
There are three full-time employees in the Championships and Events department and two in the College Rugby department. That team of five people couldn't have solicited California or Washington clubs or venues they've worked with in the past? No, they settled with Austin, even though no team in the state of Texas was up for an AQ bid, and teams from states bordering Texas vying for AQ bids were in conferences whose champions would be sent to one of the other four regions.
AQ teams from the West Coast eventually offered to host the playoffs, but not until after USA Rugby had signed a contract with Austin and the Rugby Texas State Championships had been rearranged to fit around the event.
This is not the first snafu regarding this season’s DI-AA playoffs. USA Rugby’s Championships and Events department’s announcement of the playoff venues was delayed because the department did not properly confirm its playoff locations.
Bowling Green was picked to host the National Semifinals and Finals, and USA Rugby informed the CCC that BGSU was hosting the Final Four weekend, even though Bowling Green had only applied to host the Rounds of 16 and eight, hadn’t been asked to host the Final Four or been alerted they were going to host the Final Four. USA Rugby hadn’t even checked to see if the stadium BGSU offered in their application would be available for the date of the Final Four weekend.
Another snag was the destination for the Keystone Champion. The Keystone’s member schools are all within five hours of Pittsburgh, but the Keystone Champion was originally slotted to play in Madison, Wisc., more than double the distance to Pittsburgh for most of the Keystone teams.
This decision, another product of the lack of collaboration between the CCC and the Championships and Events department, became more glaring when Pitt won the Keystone. According to the original plan, the Panthers would have had to travel nine hours to Wisconsin instead of play in their hometown.
The CCC reshuffled the regional pairings to put Pitt in Pittsburgh and move an at-large to Madison.
Who’s to blame in all this? The West Coast AQ teams certainly could, and should, have worked toward a better solution prior to this last weekend. But they never should have been put in the situation to begin with.
Who’s to blame between the Championship and Events department and the CCC? The pros, the people who are paid to administer championships and events, especially when the CCC was making its decisions in advance, thus giving USA Rugby employees the information they needed to make coherent decisions.
This is not the first example of USA Rugby’s National Office not working well with its volunteer committees. Disgruntlement with employees in Boulder led to an exodus from the College Eligibility Committee, too.
The most frustrating part of it all? USA Rugby now has more people paid to administer the college game and its championships than ever before.
No wonder splinter competitions are forming and conferences and teams are opting out of USA Rugby run events.