Communication. It’s the key to a healthy relationship. This fall season has been soured by poor dialogue from USA Rugby to its member clubs. In this particular situation, it’s the women’s DI clubs that are being affected.
As has been the case the last two years, semifinalists have advanced to the championship weekend, which occurs in Virginia Beach this November. While the Women’s Premier League and DII brackets will send quarterfinalists to VA Beach, DI had scheduled an Elite 8 two weeks prior in Austin. So naturally, teams – especially ones that secured their berths to playoffs early – assumed that one game would be played in Austin, and the winners would advance to Virginia for a two-game weekend. This assumption was also supported by the fact that USA Rugby’s Championship page lists the Women’s DI Championship as spanning over three days (November 11-13).
Those assumptions were of course wrong, but information on the playoff structure was only officially announced this weekend: back-to-back games in Austin, with only the finalists advancing to Virginia Beach (USA Rugby is still debating whether the third-place game will be contested as well).
So what’s the fallout if any? Ask Glendale. The Raptors qualified for playoffs weeks ago, and with history on its side, assumed four teams would be playing in Virginia Beach, and therefore planned for only one game in Austin.
“Yup, it's going to cost us money,” Glendale coach Lisa Rosen reflected on her players’ change fees. “We green-lighted everyone to buy tickets to Austin after the Detroit game, knowing we'd be going in as one of the seeds, and then pushed everyone to buy tickets right after the Black Ice game. We told everyone to purchase with a Sunday AM departure. We even had a couple of players flying out late Saturday night to save money on hotel costs.”
Rosen insisted that the issue is not about the best playoff structure – whether it’s a one-game weekend in Austin followed by semifinals in Virginia Beach and broken up with a rest day; or a two-game weekend in Austin with a rest day, and a one-off final two weeks later. The issue is USA Rugby’s long history of misinformation.
“There was no direct communication from USARFU to the member teams that we'd gone from a round of 12 to a round of 8,” Rosen reflected on the playoff evolution this year. “There was no direct communication from USARFU to the member teams as to which territories got which seeds, and there was no direct communication from USARU to the member teams that THIS would be the Round of 8 format. We should have had all of the above information before the very first kickoff of the season.”
Rosen lamented her particular team’s misfortunes but also the opportunities that DI women’s rugby was missing in Virginia.
“My hope is that they will also play for third place there, as seeding matters so much to everyone,” Rosen said. “I'd hate to see that third-place game go by the wayside as it used to in women's DII college. From a financial standpoint, this structure DOES make a bit more sense, and ensures all the teams that lose in the first round get to play out the consolation matches on Sunday, which is important for seeding and for overall competition. It’s just a shame that D1 is getting the LEAST visibility at the big event in Virginia. WPL and D2 both will have 8 teams there; it would be nice to have at least seen the final four played out on that stage, as I'm sure the D1 final will be at a level commensurate with some of the lower tier WPL games.”
USA Rugby Events Manager Lindsay Tiernan indicated that the Competitions Committee was discussing the possibility of a 3rd place game in Virginia Beach, but no decision had been reached.
The teams don’t have much time to rue the situation and must move forward. With the exception of Glendale, ORSU and Atlanta still have a couple of tough matches ahead, and they’re still focused on the league season.
“It is what it is,” Atlanta coach Jason Payne said. “We've got to win our next two games to solidify our spot and then worry about who we might face out there. They did a back to back format last year and we got lucky with the Saturday bye, but this time we've got to work for it harder like everyone else! I think it's going to be really good competition out in Austin this year.”
“Our main focus is getting as many players to Austin, as both games are looking like they will be tough,especially back to back,” ORSU coach Jarred Power said. “I'm still a little disappointed in the one game for the finals - if we make it that far. It's a long way to travel for one game. … We'll see what happens when we get there, right now we are focused on obtaining at least a win in Belmont. With only 16 travelling at the moment, it could be a tough road.”
Rosen ended with a final plea to USA Rugby, “This year, with all the D1 teams playing the same type of regional schedule, we've taken a big step. It’s clear how competitive the season is and how fiercely teams are fighting for those limited seeds. We're working hard, spending a ton of money, and we all are, literally, paying our dues. I think it is fair and appropriate to expect better communications from our national leadership.”