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Tennessee Wins SCRC; Battle for Top Club Team Next?

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Tennessee Wins SCRC; Battle for Top Club Team Next?

Tennessee beat all comers. Photo University of Tennessee Rugby.

Tennessee will face Bowling Green in a clash of the top DI college club teams in men’s college rugby.

Tennessee beat Clemson 26-17 Saturday in the SCRC final, and that sets up the match with MAC winners Bowling Green.

(Fun fact, we were asked by Volswire to predict the score and we went with 29-23 Tennessee over Clemson>>)

“It was a match worth of a conference championship,” said Tennessee Head Coach Marty Bradley. “A couple of pretty proud programs going at it. It basically came down to making your best decisions at key moments and I think we did that just a little bit better.”

While Bradley had privately tried to downplay his team’s strength, it was clear from an early-season win over Ohio State on through that the Volunteers knew what they were doing.

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“We just knew we had a good team but Clemson is a quality outfit. The thing is that we had a bunch of players who played their best games as a Volunteer.”

But maybe wing Garrett Moorman played a little bit better, and the other wing, Austin White was also really effective.

“They had to deal with the Clemson deep three and they are very good and they did a really good job,” said Bradley.

Moorman scored a try nine minutes into the game and their work on defense, making breaks, and chasing kicks. No. 8 Graham Wallace and flanker Lance Williams scored late in the first half to stake Tennessee to a 19-0 lead (Jake Rath got two conversions). Clemson, thanks in part to some success at scrum and lineout time, clawed back. Two tries made it a one-try game at 19-12 before Wallace again saved the day with a try (and Rath conversion) to make it 26-12. Clemson scored with three minutes to go, but that was it.

Now the SCRC champion Tennessee and the MAC champion Bowling Green will play at the Mathews Sportsplex just outside Charlotte, NC. They are looking at this as a college-club championship and it’s worth taking a look at that.

The DIA teams aren’t all varsity teams by any stretch, but, in general, they are large colleges with strong backing, with a significant proportion of them having on-campus support of some sort. In DIAA, the presumption is that teams are not like that. They don’t have a lot of on-campus support and instead operate as club sports.However, we’ve seen in DIAA that there are varsity programs and near-varsity programs. DIAA has sometimes been used as a stepping stone for varsity or near-varsity programs as they work toward DIA. That has rankled longtime DIAA teams because they play from the original premise—very good rugby teams that are run as on-campus clubs—when other teams playing at the DIAA level are basically varsity.

This nebulous line between DIA and DIAA is partly why NCR decided to split entire conferences along those kind of almost-varsity/mostly-club definitions. 

So NCR’s DI final four includes two varsity programs and two very well-supported clubs. Their DIAA final four includes four fairly well-organized club teams. But are they stronger than the winners of the SCRC and MAC? There’s a good argument to say “no.” 

Tennessee beat Ohio State on Labor Day, and Ohio State split two close games with Indiana, a team that beat Iona by 40. Iona was a higher-level NCR DI quarterfinalist and easily the best team in the Liberty Conference. Bowling Green’s only loss was to University of Notre Dame, a team that plays an independent schedule and doesn’t claim to be DIA or DIAA or anything. Score was 29-22. UND has a legit claim to be among the best DIAA teams if that’s what they wanted, but if they had entered NCR’s postseason they would certainly have been tracked to the next level. Notre Dame, also, has a status a little higher than a club team.

Note that in GRR’s rankings from last week, Tennessee is #1, and the next three are teams that were tracked into NCR’s DI postseason: Queens, Brown, and Mary Washington, with Notre Dame and Bowling Green after that. All of those teams other than Tennessee and Bowling Green have additional on-campus support, school-paid coaches, or are full varsity.

What that says to us is, yes, the two best college-club teams playing right now will face off in December.