This weekend is a big one for the new American College Rugby Association (ACRA). While the DII women’s colleges got into their Round of 32 last weekend, both the DI and DII teams will contest their rounds of 16 Saturday and quarterfinals Sunday.
The DI brackets were confirmed recently and reflect some flexibility in terms of eligible teams. Half of the Northeast conference is heading to playoffs: Norwich, Army, Quinnipiac, American International College, Boston University and UConn. And the former Midwest is sending three teams: Northern Iowa, Minnesota and Kent State (Mid-America conference champion). These two regions ground ACRA, so there was no dispute as to whether their league seasons and standings would feed into the playoffs.
That left seven spots to fill. The Ivy League was to contribute three teams to ACRA playoffs, but the entire conference was not on board. Ivy champion Harvard is taking its automatic bid to USA Rugby’s Round of 16 in the spring. Princeton (#4) and Cornell (#5) – which was slated to participate until a couple of days ago – are also not participating. Ivy runner-up Dartmouth will take the top conference seed to ACRA playoffs, and Brown, which finished third, will take the second seed. Penn will be the third Ivy rep in the post-season.
There was some confusion when SUNY Geneseo took the Empire’s top seed to ACRA’s DII playoffs, as conference mate Buffalo (a 2013 DII national semifinalist) had gone undefeated throughout league. Turns out that both Buffalo and Syracuse took at-large bids to ACRA's DI playoffs. Both are former DI programs that were re-categorized as DII when the country was carved up into college conferences. There was mutual distaste for DI teams playing in a DII league, so these at-large bids to ACRA's DI playoffs suit both parties. The only issue is that Syracuse finished fourth in Empire - behind DII schools Geneseo and Ithaca - so their inclusion in a DI playoff is questionable to say the least.
At-large bids also went to Air Force and Navy. Both compete in conferences that are not aligned with ACRA. The Mason-Dixon conference was informed mid-season that Navy was applying for an ACRA bid, and their conference standings had to be reworked as all of the Navy matches were stricken from the records. Air Force was a surprise addition as well and joins the Midwest portion of playoffs.
"Last year there was some discussion of the PMRC [Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference] East joining ACRA, due to our spring weather conditions,” Air Force Academy coach Lisa Rosen said. “The Air Force Academy pitch sits at about 6,500 ft., right against the mountains, and gets a ton of snow in the spring. Last year we had a league match and playoff matches scheduled before we could even practice outside, so a fall 15s competition makes a lot of sense for us. As it turned out, the rest of the league decided not to make the move this year, but to reassess next year.
“I was contacted by Amy Rusert, who runs the DII [ACRA] competition, and she suggested that we reach out to ACRA and apply for an At Large seed,” Rosen explained. “After discussing it with the team, we decided we would like to give it a try. We are still playing our USAR D1 matches, though we've had to do some rescheduling due to the government shutdown, but in the long term we would like to focus on spring 7s and fall 15s. It just makes sense for us given the spring weather in Colorado.”
Rosen’s explanation for her team’s inclusion was one of the motivators for ACRA’s creation: prohibitive spring weather. And Air Force’s take on the new league is one mimicked by many schools around the country. Teams want to see if ACRA is going to succeed first, before throwing their collective weight behind it. Half of the ACRA Round of 16 is legitimate – teams progressed through conference leagues and championships to earn bids to playoffs. The other half is a bit piecemeal, as whole conferences didn’t commit to ACRA or stand-alone teams requested inclusion. This process, though not ideal, was necessary for year one, and if all goes well through the championships, then expect ACRA to have a more dedicated following next year.
See the DI brackets here.