Throw in the towel. The DI-A competition is wobbly, at best, with a weak chin, and instead of using everything from smelling salts to razor blades to keep the two-year competition in the ring, USA Rugby needs to cut bait and move onto the next fight.
Though it appears USA Rugby brass is willing to significantly shakeup the competition’s conference lines to make things work, a move which reeks of desperation, there are still serious issues.
After some initial defections from DI-A by the likes of Texas A&M and Rutgers, and a wholesale secession from “DI-A in its current formation” by the Pac-12 bunch, USA Rugby is no longer looking for a few teams to help tape the competition together. Now they’re looking for whole conferences.
The Pac-12 group is open to being a DI-A conference, as may be the Big Ten, which will indeed form by this fall. Rumor has it the Allied Rugby Conference, formed by former DI-A A&M and Oklahoma, may also become a DI-A conference.
What does allowing these competitions to come into DI-A solve? Well, it keeps the Pac-12 group from running away from DI-A as fast as it can, but little else. The issue of what to do with Arkansas State and Life remains, unless the South Independent is going to become a DI-A league.
If the SIRC became a DI-A conference, or any of the other aforementioned leagues did, you have to wonder, what is the purpose of DI-A, and does their inclusion help champion that purpose?
Is the point of DI-A to create this elite competition that pits the best teams against each other on a weekly basis in an effort to improve the level of play, as it originally was?
If so, it’s hard to argue the inclusion of teams like Sam Houston State, Michigan, Texas Tech and Emory would actually provide consistent competition to the A&Ms, Ohio States, Oklahomas and Lifes.
Is it to have a marketable competition that helps elevate the profile of our sport? If so, one could argue the inclusion of non-BCS, or even non-NCAA, schools dilutes marketability. One could also argue the exclusion of the great rugby of teams like Life dilutes marketability.
Just combine DI-A and DI-AA, let teams align into the conferences they want, which they’re already doing, and let the chips fall. That will leave us with well over 16 conferences and a playoff structure to devise.
We’re already identifying at-large bids via committee, so separating automatic-qualifying conferences from those whose champions have to play into a round of 16 shouldn’t be too big a leap.
Pouring energy and resources into salvaging a pointless competition is wasteful and irresponsible, and upon taking the helm as USA Rugby’s collegiate director and associate director, respectively, Rich Cortez and Tam Brackenridge should recognize this and do away with the bi-class DI.
I say this knowing full well that I don’t know all the nuances surrounding the competition. Some sponsors have been brought in, and high performance money provided by the IRB is said to be in play, and I don’t know the ins and outs of those agreements.
What I do know is that if you have a postseason that combined DI-A and DI-AA, it, quarterfinals on, would likely be as compelling as the past two DI-A postseasons. The cream will still rise. So selling the revised competition to sponsors shouldn’t be so hard.
Instead of paying out the ears to put the DI-A final on a remote cable channel on tape delay, spend the same money to do the same thing for a DI final. That way your sponsors are still getting the level of exposure you promised them and you’re now providing an incentive to upwards 100 tax-paying programs instead of 25 or so.
Not to mention, now you're just staging two men’s college championships, which should, in theory, be cheaper than three.
By combining DI-A and DI-AA, you truly have the best teams in college rugby, along with a bunch of others, playing against one another toward a championship (in the postseason), you consolidate your resources and you still have all the benefits of DI-A and DI-AA rolled into one.
The BCS schools can still put themselves in their BCS look-alike leagues, or actually affiliate with their school’s conferences, and everyone can still play as good a competition as they and the schools in their conference mutually agree upon. Teams can still avoid Davenport, Life and Lindenwood, and schools worried about "academic standards" can align with like-minded programs.
Nothing’s stopping Kutztown, Army, Navy, Notre Dame and Delaware from finding two other competitive cohorts and creating a highly competitive league. Who knows, Penn State may still want to play in that league as opposed to a weaker Big Ten.
Arkansas State and Life can officially not divide its teams, still play their seconds in the SIRC regular season and send their top-level teams around the country picking up games against like competition. Then they slot their top teams in against one another in SIRC play and the postseason.
Or maybe Arkansas State and Life do enter a conference with Lindenwood, Davenport and Wheeling Jesuit and form the best league in the country.
The point is, there no longer is a point to DI-A. It provides nothing that can’t be had if we strike the hyphens and A’s from DI rugby, and it’s occupying paid administrators whose time could be much better spent doing something else, like soliciting more varsity programs for teams to duck.