Penn State, the current – and last? – DI champion.
When it was announced that the DI Women’s College National Championship had been canceled, first thoughts went to the active players. There are eight teams poised to enter the spring Round of 8 next weekend, and they’ve just been told that they’re not playing for a national title.
“I’m sad and disappointed – not for myself, but for any DI team that’s left and has been practicing and competing since October, especially the seniors,” said UC Davis coach Gary Gordon. “They’re already talking like, ‘What’s the point? We’ve done all this work and we want the reward, but there’s no real reward.’ I mean, it’s still really cool to be spring champion, that’s an accomplishment. But it’s bad timing releasing that information right now when we’re ramping up and getting excited for playoffs. ‘Oh, by the way, you’re not playing toward a national championship.’”
The timing is suspect, as UCONN informed USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez months ago that they were unable to compete on May 7. The following is an excerpt from an e-mail from UCONN coach Mark Jordan to Cortez, dated Jan. 19:
We would be honored to play in the final, however as we notified you in December, without response, we are unable to play on that weekend alone. This is because it is graduation weekend and nine of my squad and my son will be in attendance. It would not be fair on my players or the competition to send a vastly inexperienced team to face the spring champions or to the players who would miss the match due to Graduation who had earned the right to be there.
So we are bitterly disappointed that USA Rugby does not have an alternative date available, bearing in mind that you were notified of this the week following our fall victory early December, when at that point the location for the finals had not been confirmed.
“Why the lack of transparency? Why wait until now,” Gordon posed. “Maybe they thought people wouldn’t want to compete if they had told us three months ago. And who knows, maybe we would have focused on something else, like 7s or touring around California.
“I don’t blame Rich fully, but, c’mon, you have to have a contingency plan,” the coach added. “If you think this is going to happen, then you have a plan b, plan c, plan d. I feel like there was no fight from USA Rugby to try and keep it. ‘We’re just not going to do it this year.’”
The way it stands now, there are two pools of four vying for a berth to the spring championship, which has relocated from April 23 at UC Davis to May 7 at St. Mary’s, Moraga, Calif. In the western portion of the Round of 8, UC Davis, UC San Diego, Chico State and the winner of tomorrow’s UCLA vs. Washington State will compete on April 8-9. In the eastern portion, three Mason Dixon teams (decided this weekend) will join Central Florida in Atlanta for a berth to St. Mary’s.
“I don’t know what the answer is but you’re diluting it another step further,” Gordon considered the split seasons and competition. “To get better, you want to play the best. Now the DI Elite is formed and [the former DI playoffs] was our chance to play up and gauge where we were at and how far we had to go. But now another half of the competition is gone.
“The way we were playing, we were feeling good about chances,” Gordon thought on this team’s potential. “We certainly hadn’t written off the competition, but the combination of our seniors and newcomers was just right.”
There is a good support base for seasonal champions, and it’s a worthy debate. But right now, sympathy goes to the players who’ve just been informed that there’s no national title to be won.