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New Competitions for Women's College

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New Competitions for Women's College

Penn State and Army, top prospects for DI Elite inclusion (Craig Houtz Photography)

Yesterday, USA Rugby released the collegiate playoff and championship schedule for the upcoming 2015-16 year (read more). There are three big takeaways for the women’s college sector: the creation of the Women’s DI Elite championship, a spring DIII competition, and the inclusion of a DII/DIII bracket in the college 7s national championship.

Last year, a Women’s DIA championship was added to the USA Rugby schedule but nothing materialized. This season, teams have rallied around the need for an elite division, and several college programs have built varsity-only schedules for the fall (read more). Many of those teams will join the Women’s DI Elite post-season, but that make-up is a work in progress.

“Looking at the scores from the last two seasons, the gap between the top teams and the next tier shows that the timing is appropriate,” explained USA Rugby Associate Collegiate Director Tam Breckenridge. “We hope this will fill the more competitive abilities and interests of our NCAA, varsity, and top-level club programs as well as expand post-season opportunities for the Division I club teams without the same resources.”

There are a lot of details to work out, and Breckenridge and company are feverishly trying to sort out who will participate, the effects on the DI regular and post-season, and what the DI Elite playoffs will look like.

“Yes, there are still logistical details to be addressed,” Breckenridge confirmed. “We have targeted several probable and possible programs for inclusion, and depending on those that agree to participate, some issues will be worked out with the member teams. In addition, we have learned about, and may adopt, successful policies developed in the Men's DIA competition.”

USA Rugby has put some policies into place. If a team competes in the Women’s DI Elite post-season, then it is locked into that competition for the remainder of the 2015-16 cycle. In other words, if Team X wins its fall DI conference, opts to enter the DI Elite post-season, and loses in the first round, then that’s the end of the road. Team X cannot re-enter the DI spring post-season. Might seem like a no-brainer, but a lack of clarity has seen teams in the recent past win their DI fall conference, sustain some injuries, and opt to compete in the spring DI playoffs instead.

There’s still a ton of flexibility for potential DI Elite participants, as one assumes that getting the competition off of the ground is ruling principle.

“Member programs can develop a schedule that best suits their abilities and needs, and either proceed as part of a college conference or as an Independent,” Breckenridge spoke to the regular season.

It will be interesting to see how this smaller competition survives across two seasons. All but one varsity program (Central Washington) is located in the East and Midwest, where teams all play fall schedules. Stanford is the most notable spring-based team, and BYU could easily play a fall-only schedule (the Cougars already do but played in the spring playoffs).

The spring will see the inclusion of a Women’s DIII competition, which is not to be confused as NSCRO but serves a similar purpose.

“NSCRO will only organize and administer a fall 15s [season and championship] for women's small colleges, so this is a new USA Rugby competition for the schools that fit the criteria but which play a spring 15s schedule,” Breckenridge explained. “All NSCRO and Division III women's college programs are eligible to qualify for the new DII/ DIII women's field in the USA Rugby College 7s National Championships – as long as they are otherwise eligible).

Stay tuned as we try to stay in front of these new competitions.

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