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What's In a Championship?

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What's In a Championship?

Tennessee players celebrate a try against Bowling Green. Photo Broadgauge Media.

The split of collegiate rugby has resulted in a long list of major championships, and while some of that isn't any different from the way it's always been, there are now some championships split upon split upon split.

Remember that up until 2010 there was just one men's DI college championship and just one women's DI college championship. Then after that May the first major 7s championships came up, then what became DIA and a split with DIAA. There also came splits based on the calendar, and now the split along governing organization lines.

If you look at DI men's college rugby we actually will likely end this year with as many as seven men's DI championships this academic year:

CRAA Fall Classic DIAA Championship: Tennessee vs Bowling Green (won by Tennessee)
NCR DIAA Championship: Virginia Tech vs West Chester (won by Virginia Tech)
NCR DI Championship: St. Bonaventure vs Penn State (won by St. Bonaventure)
ACR Spring DIAA Championship: Anticipated for the spring
CRAA DIA Championships: This coming spring
NCCR 7s: Just-announced USA Collegiate Council-affiliated competition (see details here>>)
NCR's May Madness 7s: Late May

The 7s of course is a little different, as there didn't used to be college 7s championships before June, 2010, when the first CRC tournament was held. This year, there will be the NCCR 7s May 14-15 in Atlanta, Ga.; the tournament is run by AEG and will field teams that are part of USA Rugby. How that looks isn't clear yet but will likely be a high-level event, and we say that because the teams that have joined CRAA and other groups are higher-level DI teams.

The May Madness 7s from NCR will likely have five, maybe more, brackets covering a variety of competition levels. Held May 27-29 (Memorial Day Weekend) in New Orleans, La., the May Madness tournament will be the main competitive focus of NCR in the spring.

Both of those competitions will claim to crown national champions.

As for the competitions that have happened this fall, are they all true national champions? Let's have a look:

Small-College Men: Christendom
Small-College Men Challenge Cup: Siena
Small-College Women: Wayne State

These championships, all run by NCR, are clear national champions in that they represent pretty much all of the small college teams in the country. The only drawback is to do with the calendar—NCR, back when it was NSCRO, used to hold a spring championship, which meant that Californian teams didn't compete. But as a championship held in the fall, these playoffs involved everyone.

Women D1 NCR: Life University*
Women D1 CRAA-FALL: Navy
Women D2 ACRA: Vassar
*Life's team was basically a freshman-sophomore team.

Not all the fall-playing D2 women's teams played in ACRA, but ACRA was big enough to claim a true national championship. In addition, the teams that might have competed with Vassar who were in NCR played under a D1 banner. That D1 banner produced a champion, albeit a Life University freshman-sophomore team. Had Life not been in this playoff and instead it was Northern Iowa we'd be talking about, then it would look like a true fall (at least) championship that could rival that of CRAA's. But Life's presence kind of shakes it up. In the CRAA version, Navy beat Davenport. We would have loved to see Navy play Northern Iowa. Both brackets were pretty good at times, but neither had enough really strong D1 teams to be split off from the other.

Women NCAA D1: Dartmouth
Women NCAA D2: AIC
Women NCAA D3: Bowdoin

This is the NIRA championship. All of these championships are fair to call National Championships. Note, please, that D3 Bowdoin is the only team to beat ACRA D2 champs Vassar. So, yes, the standard at the top is very good. Dartmouth would have won any of the other D1 competitions above and if Dartmouth, West Point, and Harvard were in the D1 Elite in the spring, which they will never be, we would see some excellent competition.

Men D2 NCR: Thomas More
Men D2 CRAA challenge game winner: Auburn

Almost all the D2 men's teams were under NCR, including the ones we at GRR saw as the strongest. Not to denigrate Auburn or the team they played, Montana State, but the NCR groups was larger, deeper, and more consistently strong, and as a result we call Thomas More the national champions. Having said that, word is that Auburn and Thomas More may meet in some sort of duel in the spring. 

Men D1AA non-affiliated, unofficial Club championships FALL: Tennessee
Men D1AA NCR: Virginia Tech
Men D1 NCR: St. Bonaventure

It's all confusing here. Tennessee has the most legit call to be National Champion partly due to the fact that they and their opponent in the final, Bowling Green, had very good seasons. We go through a long explanation as to why Tennessee's season and record is better than that of Virginia Tech in our rankings here>>. But it's not that this competition or that competition is inherently bigger, better, or more complete; it's just that it's clear that Tennessee is #1. (And remember, there'll be a group playing in the spring.)

St. Bonaventure, meanwhile, played what was a hybrid playoff with teams that were in DIA conferences in previous years and high-achieving DIAA teams. But ... St. Bonaventure, as well as they have played, were third among Rugby East teams behind Navy and Army. With Army having finished Rugby East undefeated and also beaten Lindenwood, they are the best men's college rugby team of the fall. Bonnies was the best of the NCR teams. Come winter/spring, we have a whole other debate.