There was concern that with the formation of the American Collegiate Rugby Association’s (ACRA) that inadequate numbers would drive the USA Rugby championships. While there’s no replacing the Northeast and Midwest’s influence, it’s clear that there is still plenty of talent vying for the national titles, if they can still be called that.
For a comparative look at which conferences competed in ACRA during the fall and which are still working toward the spring USAR championships, check out the DI and DII standings (blue = ACRA, pink = USA Rugby).
There are upward of 50 DI teams looking to qualify for the spring championships. Most of them are in action now, while a couple of leagues contested their seasons in the fall and have named their automatic bids. National seeds haven’t been released yet.
Mason Dixon – 10 teams
Navy leaving the conference was the big news in the fall, but the fact is that this 10-team league is among the strongest in the country.
There are two pools in this conference: In the North, West Chester is out front with a 4-0 record, but James Madison is coming off a second-place finish at the USA College 7s Championship and has difference-maker Stephanie Goetz driving that offense. The South is still an unknown. East Carolina was impressive early on, but UVA is still considered the powerhouse here. North Carolina will make the big push in the next month; unfortunately, the Tar Heels' game against ECU was cancelled due to weather last weekend, but hopefully that make-up game will put things into perspective.
PMC – 4 sub-divisions, 18 teams
The conference has subdivided into four leagues now, with the former North becoming the North and West, after two Washington teams were promoted into DI. The new PMC North sees current DII champion Washington State as the frontrunner, and is joined by fellow newcomer Washington. The duo will play Oregon and Oregon State during the season.
The remainder of the former PMC North now forms the West league. Leader Stanford made an emphatic start to its season, downing Cal, the traditionally second-strongest team in the league, 81-7. Chico topped UC Davis 31-20 in the teams’ openers last weekend as well.
The PMC South is five teams strong. Currently, UC San Diego and Arizona are undefeated, and the two will go head to head this weekend to sort it out. But UCLA and UC Santa Barbara are in the mix, and this season could take several turns before the final league weekend on March 8.
All of the aforementioned play their league mates twice during the season before advancing to the PMC playoffs on April 5-6. The PMC East contested most of its season in the fall, and New Mexico unseated longstanding power Women’s Cougar Rugby (BYU) as the top side (Colorado State and Air Force still need to make up their league game, but the outcome won’t affect the top two spots).
One would presume that the four victors of the PMC’s leagues will receive automatic bids to nationals, but that is an assumption. The conference has held play-in playoffs in the past, and that competition will likely yield more representation at the Round of 16.
South Independent – 8 teams
This is a new conference, and one that the South has needed. There are two pools – North and South. Georgia Tech is the early leader in the North, and joined by Tennessee, Georgia and Clemson, which has forfeited twice. Central Florida is the traditional leader in Florida, and is joined in the South pool by Florida, who is 3-0, Florida State and Georgia Southern, which has three forfeits.
The crossover playoffs commence on March 29 in Kennesaw, Ga.
Southwest – 3 teams
Even though this conference is only three teams strong, the first round of Cup matches in the fall was thrilling. Texas held onto a one-point lead to defeat Texas A&M, and then earned a bonus point in the 36-41 loss to Texas Tech. The first round went to Tech after defeating A&M 22-0 on November 9.
The Aggies might have two losses, but they’re not out of the running yet, nor are the Longhorns. The two face each other this weekend, and the victor will keep its conference title hopes alive.
The question becomes: How will these teams move through the playoffs? It’s irrational to have the victor of a three-team league automatically advance to the national playoffs, so it’s likely that the Texas sides had to supplement their schedules with games against DI (and sometimes DII) teams outside their league. The only evidence of that in the fall was Texas’ game against Colorado College, so the spring has to get a lot busier for these three sides.
Big Ten – 8 teams; Automatic Bid: Penn State
This conference completed its regular season in the fall, with the reigning DI champ, Penn State, retaining highest honors. This is another great competition that has some competitive teams in the top tier; Indiana and Ohio State are valid considerations for at-large bids.
Ivy League - ? Automatic Bid: Harvard
Like the Big Ten, the Ivy League finished its season in the fall, and Harvard walked away with the automatic bid to DI nationals in the spring. Princeton, which finished fourth, declared its intention to focus on USA Rugby’s competitions as well, while Brown and Dartmouth decided to compete in the fall ACRA championships. So while the Ivy League is composed of eight teams, all of them aren’t aligning USA Rugby.
So if Princeton makes an at-large bid, it will be doing so as the Ivy League’s fourth-best team.
This is where ACRA made its biggest dent. While the new competition removed about 30 DI teams from consideration, ACRA devastated the DII field, claiming more than 100 DII teams. There are now approximately 60 competing toward USA Rugby’s DII championship. A round of 32 would send about half of the teams to playoffs.
Capital – 12 teams
The Mid-Atlantic region is the largest and one of the stronger conferences remaining. The strongest of them all is Mary Washington, which won the Capital championship in mid-November. MW defeated Salisbury 24-17 for the title, while William & Mary took 3rd after a 29-19 victory over American. Considering this conference accounts for about a fifth of the DII competition, expect to see Salisbury and maybe more teams at nationals.
Carolinas – 6 teams
Broken into two pools, the teams to watch are Appalachian State and College of Charleston. AHO reiterated that fact by opening its matrix season with a 101-0 win over UNC Charlotte last weekend. Forfeits and cancellations are not uncommon in this region at this time of year, so the powerhouses find difficulty in properly building toward playoffs. Charleston was the first victim, and earned a forfeit win over Elon last Saturday.
Cascade – 6 teams
The conference lost two of its strongest teams to DI: current DII champion Washington State and Washington. The season has been a mess of forfeits and cancellations, as young teams like Portland State and Idaho try to fill the void. Hopefully the spring brings more consistency, but thus far, Central Washington is out in front with a pair of wins against Idaho and Western Oregon.
Florida – 6 teams
This six-team conference opened up last weekend and saw Florida International and Florida Atlantic bank big wins. FIU topped Miami 107-0, while FAU defeated Florida Gulf Coast 44-5.
Lonestar – 7 teams
There’s still some rugby to be played in this conference, but one thing’s for certain: UT San Antonio is the bully of the bunch. UTSA is 6-0 with 284 points for and 20 against. With the exception of the two winless teams at the bottom of the bracket, the rest of the field are trading wins and losses.
South Independent – 4.5 teams
North Georgia leads the four-team conference and will play Kennesaw State (0-2) this weekend to finish off Round 1. The teams will play each other twice, and then move to conference playoffs on March 29. The “.5” refers to Life University, a new team that Atlanta Harlequin Ros Chou is leading. The Running Eagles are ineligible for playoffs but will become full members next season.
Southern California – 8 teams
CSU Northridge has been the team to beat the last couple of years, and the team’s off to a good start in 2014. The league kicked off last weekend and Northridge banked a 33-10 win over a good UC Riverside. CSU Long Beach is another good SoCal team and beat UC Irvine 38-10. USC blanked Claremont 53-0, and the game of the weekend went to CSU Fullerton, which held off Occidental to a 15-10 win.
True South – 2 teams
There isn’t much information on the True South, but at present, the conference Website shows only two teams ready to play: Lee University and UT Chattanooga. Their two games are in the books – Feb. 15 and March 1 – but there’s no sign of Kentucky or Middle Tennessee. Hopefully some updates come through; if not, one of the better DII teams in the competition (Lee) will be hurting for games.
West Coast – 8 teams
This conference is usually one of the more interesting ones to follow, as the heavy-hitters shift slightly every year. Humboldt’s usually at the top of this pile but suffered a 42-29 loss to Fresno State last weekend. UC Santa Cruz is looking strong, with a 75-10 win over Santa Clara in week one, and then barely getting the W against UN Reno, 19-15, last Saturday. Newcomer St. Mary’s came out of nowhere, defeating Sacramento State 40-30, so this could be another tumultuous season.