USA Rugby officially released the list of conferences and participating teams for the 2011 launch of their new collegiate competition. Slated as a level above Division I, the 31 team competition is being referred to as Division I Premier.
The teams which have joined the initial four conferences in Division I Premier represent some of the very best that college rugby has to offer. Overall, 14 of the 16 teams who had reached the Collegiate Sweet 16 in 2010 have moved to the competition, with only Bowling Green and Syracuse not joining.
Bowling Green officially declined invitation due to concerns over travel, but there is no word as to whether Syracuse was ever in the mix to join one of the new conferences.
The two most intriguing teams headed into play are Claremont, whom will be making a major jump. The 2010 Division II National Champions will be skipping over Division I right into DI Premier. They will certainly have their hands full this upcoming season.
The other team of major interest is Life University. Life has long been known as one of the top rugby programs in the United States, but has only fielded teams in men's competition. Life has added an undergraduate side and have to be immediately counted as one of the top teams in the competition.
Division I Premier Conferences
The Rugby East Conference will consist of Dartmouth, Penn State, Ohio State, Army, Navy, Kutztown, Rutgers, and Delaware.
The Pacific Conference will be populated by the likes of Cal, Cal Poly, Central Washington, Claremont, San Diego State, St. Mary’s, UC Davis, and UCLA.
The Western Conference will be host to Air Force, Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Utah, and Wyoming.
And finally, the Mid-South Conference will be made up of Arkansas State, Life, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.
While issues with the conference break-downs were inevitable, overall, a fine job was done. Each conference has plenty of natural rivalries which will give the competition immediately marketable matchups.
For most of the teams involved, the new competition will serve to bring them high level games on a weekly basis, instead of a couple tough games, sprinkled around plenty of blowouts. The increased competition also serves to fuel a rise in the level of play on the field and the validity of rugby on campus.
The most interesting prospect in the entire competition is seeing how some teams, accustomed to success, will deal with adversity. There are a lot of good teams involved, and at least one team is going to end up as the doormat in every conference.
Play kicks off in March with each team playing against each of the other teams in their conference once. The top two teams from each conference move onto the Playoffs, to compete for a chance to be the inaugural champions of Division I Premier.
With 31 of the top college programs moving to a new division, Division I is also seeing new life and a renewed competition structure.
Long tied to an outdated competition system, Division I is restructuring into conferences that are more in-line with other college sports. To date, 15 new conferences have been assembled with the hopes of one more coming on board.
An exciting byproduct of this realignment has been the creation of conferences which are modeled after existing collegiate sports conferences. The Ivy League was the first to make this move and have since been followed by schools from the ACC.
Changes which have been made this summer have made a significant impact on college rugby and gives new hope to the future of the sport in America.
You can find more of Ted Hardy's writing at Rugby America.