Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference Release
The Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference released its Fall Schedule on Saturday, 30 July at 12pm EDT (11pm CDT). A schedule release roundtable aired on the Conference’s Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/BTURugby) at that time.
Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference
The Conference – in its current format – was founded in 2012 with the advent of D1A Rugby. The Big Ten and D1A remain aligned in their mission to cultivated the nation’s most professionalized, high-performance environment for collegiate men to train and compete.
While the COVID-19 Pandemic presented severely dampened operations and momentum, the league will get back on the front foot in 2022. The Conference is emboldened by the announcement that the United States will host the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033. It is the Big Ten’s ambition to be leaders in the oncoming golden decade of rugby in the United States.
To preview a few exciting initiatives on the horizon, the Big Ten XVs Championships will return to broadcast after two years off the air. The Championships are returning to a premier stadium venue. The Conference has expanded and is looking to add several more clubs in the coming years. The vision and strategy of the Conference will be shared in more depth during the virtual Big Ten Rugby Media Day. That event will be held towards the end of August. The Conference will distribute invitations, date, and time for that event next week.
After the successful inclusion of Notre Dame and Penn State in the Spring 2022 Big Ten Rugby 7s Series, we are excited to announce that Notre Dame will join the Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference as a full member starting this Academic Year.
Notre Dame joins Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin as current full members of the Big Ten. Commissioner, Joe Rasmus, hopes this is the first of several programs to join the conference in the coming years.
“I am thrilled to have the Fighting Irish in our league. The program has a track record of performance and professionalism. I am confident Notre Dame will challenge our seven other members to improve and grow on and off the field. At the league level, we’re excited to have participation and feedback from Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Justin Hickey. Justin has a tremendous wealth of experience and we are fortunate to have him join our ranks.”
“We’re excited to join the Big Ten Rugby Conference,” remarked Coach Hickey. “First, we’d like to thank the Big Ten rugby teams for welcoming us. We’re looking forward to providing our students with a meaningful conference competition in 15s and 7s and doing so with like-minded teams and institutions.”
Joining the Big Ten is perhaps a chance to add weight to the matchups that already dominate the Notre Dame schedule. Coach Hickey added, “As a program, we have a long history and healthy rivalry with a number of Big Ten Rugby teams dating back to our early years as a club. Formalizing that relationship makes a lot of sense.”
Now, Notre Dame’s Midwest derby matches carry the weight of conference championship implications. The Conference hopes this will enhance student-athlete experience and provide a little bit extra motivation for improvement and growth.
For stalwart fans of Big Ten Rugby, the XVs competition will look slightly different in 2022. The league has traditionally played a single round robin with a championship game.
This year the league will split into geographic divisions.
• West: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin
• East: Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame Ohio State
Teams will play a three-match single round robin within their division. Divisional games will be played between 2 September and 29 October. The Conference backloaded as many of these matches at the end of the round robin window as was possible.
Placement within Divisions will seed teams in the two-weekend Big Ten Championship Series. The Semi Final Round will be played on 5 November on the campuses of high-seeds. The Final Round will be played on 12 November at Stinson Rugby Field (Wilson Dr, Notre Dame, IN 46556).
The top two teams in each division will advance to the Major Semi Finals (EAST 2 at WEST 1 and WEST 2 at EAST 1). Winners will advance to the Grand Final and losers will play in the Consolation Final.
The bottom two teams in each division will play off in the Minor Semi Finals (EAST 4 at WEST 3 and WEST 4 at EAST 3). Winners will play in the 5th Place Match and losers will play in the 7th Place Match.
The new format was motivated by three factors:
• Logistics of Expansion
• Allow Programs to Schedule More Growth-Driving Parity Matches
• Reduce Consequences for Experimenting & Focusing on Development in Early
To achieve a long-term expansion strategy, the Big Ten must keep travel burden and costs down to a manageable level. Commissioner Rasmus commented, “If student- athletes spend more time in vehicles, their grades can suffer. If programs spend more on gas, that’s money they cannot invest in the future of their clubs. Those outcomes are unacceptable for us. We are mindful to avoid those outcomes in our decision-making processes.”
Several years ago, the league experimented with a format to provide teams more games against evenly matched opposition. This universally improved on-field capability and narrowed the gap between the top and bottom of the league.
For many members, the best matchups for development are still against Conference opponents. Teams were allowed and encouraged to schedule cross-division opponents. Eight such matches were scheduled. Those matches will not impact conference standings.
Historically, two losses in league play knocks a team out of contention for the Big Ten XVs Championship. Given most teams assemble the third week in August and the first league matches are played on the first weekend in September, programs have minimal opportunity to use matches to experiment and develop.
Commissioner Rasmus commented, “The old structure heavily punished early season risk-taking which likely puts a ceiling on team performance. And some groups just need time to jell and build continuity. A couple early losses could be a demotivator for them and then they never achieve their potential. Or we could end up in November with the best team in the league out of the Championship game. Neither of those are desirable outcomes.”