It’s that time of year to ask, “Wait, what’s going on?” Women’s DI clubs not only have a new spring championship but also a new playoff scheme. It’s a relatively simple system on paper – that is, until the relative strength of the regions and their equal representation in the post-season are considered. Below are status updates on the various regions as well as some notes on inconsistencies:
American and National Conferences
The American Conference (AC) and National Conference (NC) are composed of four regions and 14 teams apiece. The latest information indicates that on May 17-18, each conference will host a final four between its regional champs. Then, the AC champion and NC champion will play each other on May 31.
In its most general terms, the playoff system sounds good; it’s not. The regions aren’t equal – the South has no teams, Rocky Mountain has one – and yet each receive one bid to their respective conference championships (more detail below). And with the fracturing of the previous three competitive regions, gaps have formed. Some regions have filled these vacancies with D2 teams; others have replaced their competition by traveling to Canada. Neither are ideal solutions.
In the end, the two best teams will be facing each other in the final game, but the process leading up to that point will not mimic what a proper playoff build-up should look like.
(Example: “NCR1” = National Conference, Region 1)
Midwest (NCR1, 4 teams)
The Midwest is one half of the former CR2 and now contains four teams: Chicago, Chicago North Shore, Detroit and Minnesota Valkyries. Every team plays each another twice, and four of the six rounds were contested in the fall. North Shore is undeniably the strongest team in this region, so expect the former DI champ to be representing the Midwest at the NC championship.
The real battle is for second place between Chicago and the Valkyries, especially now that one NC region will receive two berths (see the South). It appears that the NCR1 will use its season-end standings to determine who moves onto the NC championship (none of the teams’ spring schedules reflect regional playoffs that precede the NC championship); therefore making the April 12 match between Chicago and the Valkyries the most important game of the spring season.
South (NCR2, 0 teams)
There are no DI teams in this region – which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s better to have no DI teams in the South than promote a handful of DII squads that aren’t ready for the competition. Atlanta foresaw this situation, and the restructure was a major influence in the Harlequins applying to the WPL last year. The impact is that there’s now a berth to the NC championship up for grabs.
It’ll go to one of the other three regions, and making that decision is always contentious. The second-place teams in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest will play for the open spot.
Northeast (NCR3, 6 teams)
This six-team league combined the Empire (New York) and New England geographic unions. The teams were grouped into two pools, with each pool team playing each other twice, and then teams from the other pool once. At the end of the fall season, the three New England teams proved to be the strongest, with newcomer Monmouth being the best out of Empire.
But the best four teams will not be competing during the Northeast's playoffs, which are referenced here. NERFU’s Boston, Albany and Providence will be rightfully present, but Monmouth will not. The New Jersey side finished third in Pool A behind Boston and Providence, but also beat Pool B’s #2 team, Village Lions, in early season play. The New York City team is apparently heading to the Northeast playoffs but played in the weaker pool. There’s a lot of conjecture regarding the NCR3 playoffs right now; teams aren’t entirely sure what’s happening yet, which means the post-season might still be under negotiation. But, if the playoffs unfold in traditional sense, then Pool A #1 Boston will play Pool B #2 Village Lions, and Pool B #1 Albany will play Pool A #2 Providence on May 3-4. We’re leaning toward Boston to emerge victorious; however, if the final carries the tension from the fall season, then Albany and/or Providence will make a strong case for that open bid, if not the Northeast title itself.
All three Pool A teams - Boston, Providence and Monmouth - will move onto the NCR3 playoffs, while Albany will be the lone representative from Pool B.
Capital (NCR4, 4 teams)
The former Mid-Atlantic region is transparent. Four teams played each other twice, will be ranked 1-4 once James River and Keystone make up their cancelled fall game (although they’ll be playing for 3rd and 4th in the league), and NCR4 semifinals will commence on April 12: NOVA v #4, Philadelphia v #3. The NCR4 championship will be held on April 26, and that victor will play the NCR1 champion on May 17 at the NC championship.
The talk of the league during the fall was Philly’s three-point win over NOVA. It wasn’t enough to overcome the East Coast titan in the standings, both ended with 5-1 records, but the victory was huge. They’ll very likely replay the battle in the conference championship. One can’t overlook NOVA’s history of success, so we expect the Virginia side to advance to take the automatic bid; however, if there’s parity in the Capital final, then Philly might be the best option for the extra bid.
Pacific Northwest (ACR1, 3 teams)
There are three teams in the PNW: ORSU, Seattle and Emerald City, and the latter two are more invested in the Vancouver Premiership than USA Rugby’s DI competition. And one can’t blame them – a three-team league that plays its competitive season over a fall and spring is ridiculous.
So the Mudhens went and won the VRU DI title last fall (Seattle was in the mix), and the duo is competing in the Canadian’s competitive spring season as well. They are both, however, eligible and competing toward USA Rugby’s post-season, but just padding their schedule with more games.
The Canadian league isn’t really an option for ORSU, so the team has filled its spring schedule with a trip to San Diego for the Champagne Classic and games against Glendale and Black Ice. It will unfortunately be a tough build-up for ORSU, traditionally the strongest team in the Pacific Northwest and the second-strongest team in the nation (since the last DI final was held in fall 2012).
The fall showed that all three teams are within striking distance of each other, so it’ll be interesting to see how much Seattle and Emerald City’s Canadian experience pays off south of the border.
It’s also important to note that this region contains, arguably, three of the top four DI teams in the AC.
Southern California (ACR2, 4 teams)
SoCal is the only region that has condensed its season into the spring, and the teams will kick off their league on Feb. 15. The four teams will play each other twice, and then determine their rep to the AC championship through regional playoffs.
Tempe and Belmont Shore are the resident DI teams, having competed in the CR1 when it encompassed Arizona, California and the PNW. The last couple of years have seen the teams finish in the middle/bottom of the old CR1, but maybe more local competition will foster some growth and retention.
San Diego and Santa Monica have moved up from DII. The latter has represented the region at previous DII nationals, but in the past couple of years, it was Las Vegas that has emerged as the strongest DII SoCal team; the Slots declined to join DI. The most dynamic club is the Surfers. A confluence of fortune and hard work has made the San Diego team a destination, and they’re one of several Women’s Premier League clubs fielding decent DII sides.
Rocky Mountain (ACR3 – 1 team)
Denver Black Ice is the only DI team in this region. It receives an automatic bid to the AC championship but is trying to prove that the team deserves it. The fall showed that Denver is about on par with the Minnesota Valkyries, who are currently in second place in the Midwest (NCR1). The spring will see the Colorado side travel to the Champagne Classic in San Diego, so we’ll have a better understanding of the team’s strength in the months to come.
Although Denver is making the best of a tough situation (they could have just joined D2 and received some more local competition), it’s important to note that Black Ice regularly fell to the bottom of the old CR2, and now they’ll be receiving an automatic bid to the AC championship and be one of four teams that represents the West of the country.
Red River (ACR4 – 6 teams)
The Texas/Oklahoma league is the largest in the American Conference, but the numbers are deceptive. The Austin Valkyries was the only team to join the Red River Conference as a current DI team; every other team was promoted. The fall fixtures speak for themselves – there are some wild scores, suggesting a vastness in skill and experience. That said, there weren’t great alternatives. Let’s say all but Austin deserve to be in D2; then the Valkyries stay D1, don’t play in a regular season, and scrounge for games around the country – and still get the automatic bid to AC championships.
All that aside, Austin will win the ACR4’s top berth to the ACC. The Valkyries has been the strongest team in this region for some time.
There are a lot of questions to be answered, but at the end of the day, the best four teams from each conference should be at their respective championships. The NC will be close if NOVA, Chicago North Shore and Boston advance. The AC is a little tougher. Seven of the 14 teams in the AC were promoted into DI in fall 2013. Red River accounts for five of them, and that region is getting the same weight in playoffs as ACR1, which has two true DI teams playing year-round in Canada and a third that is currently the highest ranked DI team in the nation? No.
Stay tuned as more information on regional and conference playoffs become available.
Update (Feb. 5, 5:43 p.m. ET)
American Conference Championship
ACR1 (Pacific Northwest) v ACR4 (Red River)
ACR2 (Southern California) v ACR3 (Rocky Mountain; Denver Black Ice)
National Conference Championship
NCR1 (Midwest) v NCR4 (Mid-Atlantic)
NCR2 (South - N/A; winner of Mid-Atlantic #2 v Midwest #2) v NCR3 (Northeast)
Updates every minute - View full tournament