Judging by the 2,000-plus hits (and counting) on the Cal Working to be Eligible for DI-AA Postseason story, and by the blatant calling for a column on the issue in our comments section, I think it’s safe to say some of you wouldn’t mind hearing RUGBYMag’s opinion on the Cal situation. Well, for what it's worth, here’s mine.
Originally, I didn’t think it was all that intriguing. Cal would like to play for a National Championship in DI-AA. So what? I get that people care, but is it that earth-shattering a development? It wasn’t when Dartmouth left the CPD, it wasn’t when LSU and Tennessee left the CPD. Why is it so massive for Cal?
I’m not completely ignorant. Cal has set the standard for college rugby for longer than I’ve been alive. I understand that. But, ultimately, Cal left DI-A for a myriad of reasons, many of which are in line with why other schools have left.
Jack Clark has discussed how it’s important Cal plays against other Pac-12 universities. The DI-A setup was only guaranteeing one Pac-12 match for Cal. The Golden Bears will wind up playing four others in friendlies this year.
No one called Dartmouth out for leaving DI-A and focusing on the Ivy League, which it did because its administration couldn’t care less about winning the DI-A national title. And no one lambasted LSU and Tennessee for being swooned by the idea of an SEC rugby conference.
And make no mistake about it, Dartmouth and Tennessee are embarrassing their conference foes just like Cal would do in a DI-AA league. Dartmouth beat Cornell by 94, Columbia by 64, Yale by 60 and Harvard by 62. Tennessee slaughtered Vanderbilt by 64 and Alabama by 56. But they’re not villains. By the way, Cal slaughtered teams in the CPD, too. So it’s not like they’re leaving an uber-competitive league in which it might lose a bunch of games for pillowy schedule.
Cal also left for financial reasons. No, not because the playoff system was too expensive in DI-A compared to that of DI-AA. Put that argument away. But because it felt exploited by the DI-A championship game, which took in a significant dollar amount at the gate and didn’t kick any of the proceeds back to the schools who provided the entertainment the paying fans went to see. Is it not OK that Cal would make its decisions based partially on principle?
Some people seem to believe Cal is ducking BYU or Arkansas State or Life. That Clark is scared his team can’t compete this season. What a ridiculous notion. Cal is traveling to Utah, St. Mary’s and playing the University of British Columbia twice. Those are very good opponents. In fact, if you made a conference out of those four teams, you’d have one stronger than any in DI-A, wouldn’t you? Not to mention, if Clark was so scared of losing and hurting Cal’s image, would he have thrown less-than-top side at Cal Poly?
Cal left DI-A for a myriad of reasons, and Jack Clark and his staff owe it their players to try and give them something to play for. I see no sinister motive behind going for the DI-AA title. None whatsoever.
I get it. There are a lot of people who dislike Cal and Clark. I'm not going to tell you that's unfair. Perhaps you have a perfectly good reason. Or perhaps not. Not my business. But to say that Clark and/or Cal are somehow doing American rugby a disservice by trying to play for a DI-AA championship is silly.
Now, should Cal be eligible? No. They dropped divisions mid-season. Like the Competitions Committee said, allowing Cal to be eligible would set a dangerous precedent. But that’s the only reason Cal should not be eligible.
And if the College Competitions Committee’s ruling is overturned, Cal deserves an at-large bid for beating four DI-AA teams, two DI-A opponents (so far) and traditionally the best university side in Canada.