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Who Plays What and Where in Men's College Rugby

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Who Plays What and Where in Men's College Rugby

The D1A Final was very dramatic, but it wasn't the only Men's College final by a long shot. Olly Laseinde photo.

As the 2023-24 men's collegiate season opens we figured it would be a public service to let you know what you, or the team you follow, is playing for.

As you probably know by now, there is a major collegiate organization that does not pay dues to USA Rugby, which is National Collegiate Rugby (NCR). When the NCR teams play within their own world that doesn't present complications—you don't have to be a member of USA Rugby to actually play a game of rugby—but it does when those teams. want to play USA Rugby members. That's because USA Rugby wants their members to play teams that are covered by their insurance. What that means is a bunch of NCR memberships also pay for the USA Rugby membership.

We outline all of that and how it adds costs to teams here>>


The highest level of men's college rugby is D1A. The member teams play under Collegiate Rugby Association of America (which oversees a lot of, but not all of, USA Rugby-member men's college rugby) and pay an additional fee of $2,500 to be in D1A. That money goes toward referee, live broadcast, and travel costs.

We understand some additional teams will join D1A this coming fall but we haven't been specific about that and we won't be until they officially register ... otherwise it's just speculation. But overall we count a little over 40 teams in seven conferences (three teams are playing an independent schedule). Last season Navy beat Cal in the D1A final in May, one of the most exciting D1A finals in recent memory (although the 2019 final, 2017 final, and 2012 final were all pretty good). While there are other playoff champions in other divisions, no one seriously denies that Navy was the best team in the nation.

Combo Conferences

Of the seven conferences in D1A, three are mixed conferences, which in this case means that there are teams within those conferences that play within NCR and pay dues to NCR and USAR. They are pursuing an NCR playoffs in the fall and don't plan to play in the D1A playoffs in the spring. Technically they are not in D1A but they are playing in a D1A-level conference. So, for example, you could have a team win Rugby East but not go into the D1A playoffs. Outraged fans would ask why ... and the reason would be because they are NCR members and declared they weren't interested in a spring playoff nor paying the D1A fee.

Meanwhile, you could also an NCR team declared the #1 seed from Rugby East when in fact they aren't the top team, because the top team in this example would be going to the D1A playoffs. So you end up with the somewhat comical situation of NCR and CRAA both listing a Rugby East standings that pointedly avoid listing some of the teams from the other organization. 

The Rocky Mountain Conference has Utah Valley in it, which at last count operated as the conference's lone NCR team. So while we at GRR list a Rocky Mountain Conference as including Utah Valley, CRAA would not. NCR lists Utah Valley as an independent team that just happens to play all the teams in the Rocky Mountain Conference.

Big 10 is also a mixture conference. 

The CRAA D1A Conferences are: Big 10, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Rugby East, PAC, California, and Red River, with Central Washington, Grand Canyon, and Arkansas State all operating as Independents. D1A playoffs are in April with the final in May. 

(Addendum: The Rugby East actually has it spelled out who is where. We were waiting for double-secret-official confirmation but regardless, here is the current split: Army, Life, Mary Washington, Mount St. Mary's, Navy, Penn State, and Southern Virginia are all expected to be CRAA D1A, while Kutztown, Notre Dame College, Queens, and St. Bonaventure remain NCR. That's a shift of three teams to CRAA compared to last year and leaves D1A at a total count of 42 teams.)


Full of strong teams, NCR D1 is just a little below the level of D1A. The data bears this out, as does the best opinion of coaches at the higher end of NCR D1, many of whom play D1A teams on a regular basis. We count about 30 teams in three NCR-only conferences, two mixed conferences, and two teams playing as independents.

The conferences are: Liberty, Big Rivers, and the Southern Conference (which is a multi-divisional hybrid conference). All of these teams play a fall 15-a-side schedule shooting for a playoff in the fall.


This, in a way, is the most convoluted division because this is where ACR steps in. ACR is also a USA Rugby dues-paying organization that runs its playoffs in the spring. CRAA also runs a D1AA playoff, so we've got three D1AA "champions" each year. It seems to make sense for ACR and CRAA to merge, but we haven't seen that happen yet despite how logical it is.

ACR runs Gold Coast, NCRC, Heart of America, and Lonestar covering about 27 teams and gets its champion in a spring playoff (won by U. San Diego over Iowa State this past spring). 

NCR's D1AA runs six conferences plus a pair of independents. The group numbers about 46 teams in these conferences: Liberty, Southern, MAC, MARC, and SCRC. They also share the NCRC with ACR, with some teams playing to the NCR playoff (although last year's top NCR team, Boise State, opted out of the playoffs due to costs) and some going to the spring (Western Washington). The fall playoff is a robust one with Virginia Tech beating Louisville 24-22 in the final last December.



CRAA's D1AA competition is two conferences, Florida and California, covering about 12 teams, so their playoff was really a game between the top teams from each in the spring. (Sacramento State beat Florida State 28-24 in May.)

What this level has done well is represent well-organized club teams that are funded by players and some alumni. These are not varsity or quasi-varsity teams. It is interesting to note that NCR's D1AA champion the last two years, Virginia Tech, was playing as a D1AA team in the Rugby East, losing pretty much every game, but getting tested so well they ran the table in the playoffs. That certainly shows that there is an understandable gap between NCR D1 or D1A and D1AA.

So if you were on Virginia Tech, Sacramento State, or San Diego,you might be saying you're national champions. Feel free to say that but it's impossible to say if it's true because those three playoffs are so separate. In our opinion U. San Diego was the most impressive team we saw, but that's very subjective. 

Overall this division has just under 100 teams playing in it.


With a few exceptions, D2 plays in the fall and plays under NCR. We told you the story of Auburn, which wants to remain a D2 team despite NCR's new enrollment thresholds saying they should be D1AA.

How Auburn Men's Rugby Ended Up in No Man's Land

Some West Coast teams don't really get involved in the playoffs seeing as NCR holds their playoffs in the fall, but that was the case with USA Rugby before them, so really NCR's championship is the National Championship for D2. To NCR's credit they have worked to try to codify what is D2, moving most (but not quite all) school-supported teams into D1 and also moving teams with a male undergraduate enrollment of more than 10,500 to D1. (Enrollment of 10,000 to 10,500 can petition to remain D2).

If you look at the last four D2 champions (two under USA Rugby and two under NCR), they are all now in D1AA or higher. NC State is just too big a school to be thought of as D2. Queens, Thomas More, and Principia are all school-supported programs. 

What this means for you as a D2 player, coach, or fan, is that the championship is becoming more clear here. When you say something like "we're one of the best in the country" you can add "in D2" and explain that D2 means you largely student-supported in a relatively small-to-medium-sized university. Just over 90 teams are involved in D2 under NCR—the division has shrunk a little bit because of teams being pushed into D1 due to their size or funding, or moving into small-college.

Under NCR 14 conferences are in action and they all play toward a national playoff in the fall. 


CRAA does have a D3 and that's an option for teams that want to have playoffs in the spring. However, remember that NCR started its existence as the National Small College Rugby Organization, and so almost all the small college teams are under their umbrella still. They, like D2, play their 15s in the fall and advance to a national playoff.

Are some small college teams better than some D2 teams? Quite possibly. Certainly there are college rugby teams from schools with small enrollments that have had success at every level. (Multiple D1A champions Saint Mary's College of California qualifies as a Small College but of course having them compete as one would be silly.) Last year Principia won D2 and their total enrollment is less than 500. Several small-college teams compete in hybrid conferences throughout the NCR landscape—MARC, Northern Lights, and Tri-State, for example, all have pools, divisions, or groups that mix D2 and Small-College teams. Sometimes the small college team wins. But overall, small college teams aren't quite as strong as D2 because they don't have the larger rosters and run into various other athletic factors.

It will be interesting, however, because some college teams that were pretty useful in D2 are now in Small College, and could compete for a major title.

Some Western teams do work to play in the small-college playoffs in the fall and with over 120 teams involved, it's a pretty big group of teams.


As we've said before, the sheer number of championships in college rugby is almost comical.

We mentioned in our rundown of the women's game (Who Plays Where in Women's College Rugby) that there are expect to be 10 15-a-side major championships. We didn't even mention that in 2022-23 there were 11 15s championships and seven more in 7s.

Among the men, it was a similar situation. with seven 15-a-side championships (and potentially an additional one or two this year also) and six 7s championships. 

Can you name them all? Here's what we have:

2022-2023 playoff or bracket winners in college rugby:

NIRA Women DI: Dartmouth
NIRA Women DII: Queens
NIRA Women DIII: Bowdoin
CRAA Women D1 Elite: Lindenwood
CRAA Women D1 Fall: Navy
CRAA Women D2 Fall: Vassar
NCR Women Small College: Endicott
NCR Women D2: UW-Eau Claire
NCR Women D1: Michigan
NCR Small College Men: Cal Poly Humboldt
NCR Men D2: Principia
NCR Men D1AA: Virginia Tech
NCR Men D1: Brown
CRAA Men D1A: Navy
CRAA Men D1AA: Sacramento State
ACR Men D1AA: U. San Diego
NCR CRC 7s Men Premier: Mount St. Mary's
NCR CRC 7s Women Premier: Brown
NCR CRC 7s Men D1: U. San Diego
NCR CRC 7s Women D1: Clemson
NCR CRC 7s Men D2: IUP
NCR CRC 7s Women D2: Roger Williams
NCR CRC 7s Men Small College: Babson
NCR CRC 7s Women Small College: Endicott
CRAA Women D1: BYU
CRAA Women D2: Claremont Colleges
CRAA Men 7s: Life University
CRAA Women 7s: Life University
CRAA Women D1 Club 7s: Northeastern
CRAA Women D2 Club 7s: Colorado Mesa
ACR Men 7s: Iowa State

For 2023-24 we still don't know for sure, but this list will be a little shorter, but still way, way too long.