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Women’s College Rugby Explained: 2022-23

  • 21 Sep 2022
  • 7754 Views
COLLEGE rugby explained
[Updated: May 8, 2023] It’s important to note the publish date of this article because defining the women’s rugby college space is an on-going process. The sphere is malleable, and without getting into the whys and wherefores, the following seeks to bring some clarity to the organization of women’s college rugby in the U.S. [Value this type of work? Then consider subscribing to The Rugby Breakdown.]

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GENERAL

There are three organizations that oversee sectors of women’s college rugby:

National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA): Home to the majority of NCAA varsity women’s rugby programs. Holds its 15s national championship for Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 members in the fall.
National Collegiate Rugby (NCR): Member organization for Division I, Division II and Small College programs. Holds 15s national championships in the fall, and 7s national championships (CRC 7s) in the spring.
College Rugby Association of America (CRAA): USA Rugby sanctioned. Holds a DI Elite 15s national championship in the fall, and separate fall and spring 15s championships for Division I and Division II members. In 2023, CRAA is hosting its own national 7s championships (one for Premier, and a separate for event for DI & DII) this spring.  The American Collegiate Rugby Association (ACRA) has now rolled into the CRAA and competes in a fall 15s / spring 7s format.

Don’t get hung up on divisions. Outside of NIRA and NCR’s Small College competition, the division to which a team belongs can be arbitrary. NIRA members adhere to NCAA divisions. The top non-NCAA varsity programs have their own DI Elite competition. But the majority of women’s college teams are club sports programs, so they’re not beholden to enrollment requirements (again, except for NCR Small College) or NCAA alignments. Generally, teams can play up and down a division based on their relative strength, but none of them can be forced per se into a division.

NCR and CRAA have men’s college components, which are not covered here (or on TRB, generally). Looking for men’s college information? Check out www.goffrugbypreport.com.

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NIRA & NCAA VARSITY RUGBY

Women’s rugby is an NCAA Emerging Sport, and teams enjoy the full benefits of being a varsity program at their respective institutions. Once there are 40 programs nationwide, women’s rugby can start the application process for full NCAA championship status. The majority of NCAA varsity programs belong to NIRA, but it’s not a requirement in order compete. Central Washington Univ., for example, which is geographically isolated from NIRA teams, plays in the DI Elite. The Wildcats still count toward the sprintto40, though. [Read more for additional NIRA FAQs]

NIRA’s championship season is in the fall, and it holds D1, D2 and D3 15s national championships in November. D1 and D2 teams can also compete in the USA Rugby-sanctioned 7s championships (i.e., CRAA) in the spring. For new and developing programs, there is a provisional division that allows for non-15s games and competition outside of NIRA, but no 15s post-season. The NIRA website is a great resource, but keep in mind that its target audience is college athletics administrators, not necessarily prospective student-athletes and parents. So start with this piece and then reference the NIRA homepage.

 

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Current NIRA members
D1: Army West Point, Brown Univ., Dartmouth College, Harvard Univ., Long Island Univ., Mount St. Mary’s Univ., Princeton Univ., Quinnipiac Univ., Sacred Heart Univ. [fall 2023: U.S. Naval Academy]

D2: Alderson Broaddus Univ., American International College, Davenport Univ., Lander Univ., Univ. New Haven, Newberry College, Queens Univ. of Charlotte, West Chester Univ. [fall 2023: Frostburg State] [Emory & Henry College announced in Oct. 2022 but hasn’t mentioned NIRA membership yet.]

D3: Adrian College, Bowdoin College, Castleton Univ., Colby-Sawyer College, Guilford College, Manhattanville College, Univ. New England, New England College, Norwich Univ.

NCAA programs not members of NIRA: Central Washington Univ., Marywood Univ. (the Pacers announced that they were being transitioned to club status after the 22-23 season)

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE RUGBY

NCR accounts for the largest number of women’s college programs in the U.S. It provides DI, DII and Small College competitions, including 15s national championships in the fall, and the CRC 7s championships in the spring. There’s also an all-star 7s championship in January.

The organization covers teams and leagues from Texas to Maine to Georgia, and everywhere in between. There are independent members, like Boise State, but generally speaking the West Coast and Rocky Mountain regions, and pockets on the East Coast and South, belong to CRAA.

The site does a good job sorting leagues and members, so we won’t regurgitate it here. Note that there are also hybrid leagues, which are necessary for logistics. In hybrid leagues, teams can compete against each other regardless of division, the games count toward post-season eligibility, and teams separate into different pathways come playoffs.

[5.8 Update: CRAA’s Mid-Atlantic conference just announced its realignment with NCR. We understand that several similar announcements are forthcoming.]

COLLEGE RUGBY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

CRAA is a partner of USA Rugby, which oversees national team programs. It supports a DI Elite 15s national championship in the fall, DI and DII fall 15s championships, and DI and DII spring 15s championships. There is also a spring 7s championship; and as previously mentioned, it’s unclear whether one or two events will be held this spring.

The CRAA website has updated since the original post, and listing the organization’s conferences is no longer necessary. The only note is that Rugby Northeast is a split conference with members in both CRAA and NCR.

CHEAT SHEETS

TRB isn’t a big fan of rankings but it’s the easiest way to see which teams are competing where and toward what championships. TRB has restarted CRAA rankings, and NCR produces its own coaches polls.

TRB also tracks weekend scores here. In the fall, results are divided into NIRA, NCR or CRAA blocks, since all of these competitions are active. In the spring, CRAA is only organization with a league 15s season. These posts also help with the sorting process.

Also, TRB maintains championship brackets every year, and collates them into one spreadsheet. Toggling through the tabs helps understand how the country is organized. See the 2021-22 brackets for reference. The document is sorted by championship date.

MORE INFO

If you’re feeling confused, then you’re not alone. Every new season is a whole new discovery process of which teams are playing where, because there is a lot of movement. But it’s also why TRB is important. There is no one place where all of the information for all of the women’s colleges exists. We trod through the details every season and attempt to bring clarity to where there is none. Consider subscribing to TRB if you value this type of work.

Have more questions? E-mail Jackie Finlan.

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