Two weeks have elapsed since TRB’s previous College Rugby Association of America (CRAA) 15s update and some interesting results and competition details have evolved since then. Some teams have already booked their spots in the next stage of DI or DII spring 15s playoffs.
RELATED: CRAA DII Spring 15s Update
Notably, CRAA formally announced a combination 7s and 15s championship weekend – a first-time event for the USA Rugby-aligned organization. The games occur the first weekend in May – either May 5-7 or May 6-7 (CRAA’s press release lists both date ranges) – in Houston’s AVEVA Stadium. The 15s title matches will occur on Saturday, and for the women, that’s the DI and DII Spring 15s Championships – this update’s focus. The national 7s championship is a two-day affair and will involve 16 women’s teams.
Thanks to the Carolinas Geographic Rugby Union, there is a line of sight into the DI (and DII) eastern playoffs. Eastern regionals are April 22-23 in Gastonia, N.C. The western playoffs are still unknown. They’ll occur the same weekend (a day earlier, actually, Friday, April 21) and the expectation is that the site is in SoCal, but no information has been circulated.
DIVISION I: EASTERN
BLUE RIDGE (4 Teams) … Virginia Women’s Rugby (aka, UVA) is 2-0 after beating Univ. North Carolina (0-2) 20-7 and then James Madison (0-1) 77-0. Last weekend, the Hoos dropped a 22-10 friendly to former Blue Ridge member Virginia Tech, which now competes toward the CRAA fall 15s title. North Carolina State (1-0) celebrated its first matrix match with a 13-12 win against UNC and will face JMU this weekend. Again, thanks to the CGRU website, we know the conference championship is April 1 in Gibsonville, N.C.
FLORIDA (3) … Univ. Central Florida’s still undefeated in a big way. The Orlando-based team put 100 points between itself and Florida State on Saturday. UCF also mixed up the in-state competition with a return trip to Mardi Gras 15s (photos mixed in below). Univ. Florida played DII Eckerd College for a 78-5 win and will likely finish runner-up in the league. TBA whether the league will get two seeds to eastern regionals, but it would be the first time in a long time that two Florida teams featured at that stage of playoffs.
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DIVISION I: WESTERN
PACIFIC DESERT (8) … The playoff set-up is the same as last year. The champion, based on standings, gets an automatic berth to the western regional championship. The second- and third-place teams will contest a playoff match for the second seed to regionals.
Nothing has changed with BYU as league leader, except its last two games have ended in a forfeit win against UCLA and cancelation against UCSD. If the latter isn’t rescheduled, then that means a month-and-a-half gap before the Cougars’ next league game: March 18 vs. Arizona State. The Sun Devils have beaten every California team and last weekend topped UCSD 27-17. ASU will likely finish third behind BYU and Grand Canyon, and if that turns out to be the case, then the ASU vs. GCU playoff would be a worthy rematch.
PACIFIC MOUNTAIN (9) … Western Washington (4-1) is still leading the PMRC NORTH (4) but dropped a 24-22 decision to Univ. Oregon (2-3) last weekend. It was a redemptive win for the Ducks – not only because the Vikings won the first meeting 22-17, but also because Oregon has been within single digits of several victories this season. Again, it’s been a fun league to watch.
Univ. Washington is also 4-1 and will end its regular season against Western Washington on March 4. The winner will be named PMRC North champ BUT both teams will advance to the April 8 playoffs against the PMRC West teams. Those crossover matches will occur at Stanford Univ. in Palo Alto, Calif.
Stanford and Cal will likely represent the WEST (5) at the PMRC playoffs. Both were undefeated heading into the first of two league games against each other, and the Cardinal prevailed 24-19 in Berkeley. Last weekend, Stanford beat Chico State 74-10, and Cal bettered UC Davis 48-19. The league leaders will face each other again on March 18 in Palo Alto, and then return to Stanford’s home pitch on April 8 for PMRC crossovers.
The top two PMRC teams advance to western regionals against the top two Pacific Desert teams. The team that goes 2-0 will advance to the May 6 final against the eastern champion – hopefully.
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The final has the potential to be this big east vs. west finale, but it’s not that simple. In the eastern half of the country, there are just seven teams playing 15s. Four of them are slated to feature at eastern regionals. That’s not to say great games or a great finalist won’t be produced, but there just used to be more teams.
The western half has 17 teams, and you’ll see a lot more crossover as the Pacific Northwest heads south to play the NorCal teams, and then those champs will travel to SoCal and take on the southwestern teams. But the issue in the west, and ultimately the DI spring competition, is what to do with BYU, which has far outgrown DI. No one would dispute that fact, given the Cougars’ support, set-up and separation from the field, but what is the solution? If BYU were able to shift to a fall-based calendar, then it could join DI Elite, but wear a helmet if you’re going to force seasonality on someone. Plus, the Cougars’ competition would move from Arizona and California, to Washington, Missouri, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Varsity rugby, you say? There are no NIRA programs west of Michigan, and no DI programs west of Maryland.
So then what expectations can be placed on the opposition? No team, especially one that has qualified for playoffs, likes to forfeit, but it’s a decision that teams have taken when they’re unprepared or presented with an incredibly expensive, unrewarding alternative. Remember in 2017 when USA Rugby introduced a DI Elite / DI hybrid playoff system? Legitimate DI clubs had to face DI Elite teams in the national Round of 16 and got absolutely hammered and eliminated by teams that weren’t even competing toward the same title. So it was no surprise in 2018 when one DI club said, “No, thanks,” to its post-season berth, “We’ll save tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses in lieu of a Lindenwood beatdown.”
That’s one over-simplified reason why Virginia Women’s Rugby declined its berth to the 2022 DI spring 15s championship (Virginia Tech stepped up to fill in). VWR has competed at the DI spring championship before (in 2016, an epic game against UC Davis in California) and returning is a goal. Its 2022 forfeit, therefore, was a statement, and one that hopefully landed with CRAA.
The Hoos weren’t the only ones to forfeit last year, or since. The Pacific Desert conference sent two teams to DII spring semifinals because of no-shows; Penn State opted out of its DI Elite semifinal; and the DII fall playoffs were … wild. And CRAA isn’t the only organization to grapple with competition decisions or navigate surprises, especially in the covid era. Last year, NCR took a chance on introducing Life JV to its DI 15s post-season, and the DI Elite-level team dismembered the competition en route to the 2021 championship. It wasn’t the right home for Life JV, which did not return in fall 2022.
Managing the ever-changing world that is women’s college rugby is tough, and all you can really ask from those who are attempting to give it shape is that lessons are learned and reasonable adjustments made. We’re already hurtling toward DI spring playoffs, so the hope is that CRAA is talking to teams and making sure they understand the whole post-season picture, get their commitments, and avoid forfeits, or at least be prepared for them.