Midwest Premiership (D1) – Men
This season, the Premiership has settled into ten (10) Clubs after the self-relegations of the Milwaukee Barbarians in 2021 and the Palmer College Dragons in 2022. With both sides moving out of the Western Conference, the Union negotiated with the Chicago Lions to move from the Eastern Conference to the West to create balanced conferences with five (5) teams each. The move could shake up the dynamics in both leagues as the Lions will surely compete near the top of the table against last year’s winner, St. Louis. Metropolis and Kansas City will look to improve on their promising seasons last year and Wisconsin will look to make a statement in Division 1.
In the East, the Chicago Griffins will look to win the conference and the Premiership for the third year in a row. With the Lions out of the conference, the path could be easier if Detroit and Pittsburgh can’t keep pace – both of whom have shown flashes of promise throughout the year. Cincinnati, who was much improved in the second half of the season last year will also be looking to improve as Cleveland is also still looking to make a statement in Division 1.
A big wild card this season across the entire competition will be how the Chicago Hounds of Major League Rugby (MLR) look to distribute their professional players across the Union during their offseason. While it seems logical that many would remain in Chicago playing for either the Lions or Griffins, eligibility rules currently limit the number of professionals that can appear on a roster for a D1 club which could result in spilling over to other clubs.
The Premiership will feature both conferences playing an eight-game home and away schedule beginning on August 26th and lasting through October 28th. The top two (2) sides from each conference will earn a place in the Midwest Playoffs with the first seeds hosting the runners-up from the opposite conference in the Semifinals on November 4th. Those winners will then face off at the Midwest Championship in Chicago on November 11th. The Premiership Champion will earn a bid in the USA Club Rugby National Championship Pathway the following spring.
Midwest Premiership (D1) – Women
As previously reported, the women’s hybrid league has been transitioned to a formal D1 competition and added to the Premiership. Like the men’s side of the ledger, the Western Conference for the women was also plagued with the self-relegations of both Wisconsin Women and Palmer College Dragons. This left four (4) teams remaining who will play a six-game home and away schedule beginning on September 9th and completing on October 21st. This league features two of the best women’s clubs in the county, last year’s champion, the Metropolis Valkyries and the previous year’s champion, the Chicago Lions. With them will be last year’s Women’s D2 Champions, Milwaukee Scylla, and the Chicago Rugby Club Women.
In the East, all five (5) teams from the hybrid competition will remain in the D1 league. The Eastern Conference Champion of the past two seasons, Pittsburgh Forge will continue to look for ways to jump over the Valkyries and Lions in the West. There to challenge them will be both sides from Ohio, Columbus and Cincinnati, who will look to improve on solid seasons from last year. The league is rounded out by Detroit and Buffalo, both of which are looking to return to their former selves.
The top two (2) sides from each conference will earn a place in the Midwest playoffs with the first seeds hosting the runners-up from the opposite conference in the semifinals on November 4th. Those winners will then face off at the Midwest Championship in Chicago on November 11th. The Premiership Champion will earn a bid in the USA Club Rugby National Championship Pathway the following spring.
Men’s Division 2
After a large-scale reorganization prior to the 2022 season, the Men’s D2 competition looks to mature this cycle. The competition will feature twenty (20) sides spread evenly between four (4) geographically friendly leagues.
In the Eastern League (Eastern Conference), Fort Wayne will join the league after Pittsburgh’s second side was relegated. Fort Wayne competed well in the Central League in 2022 and will look to challenge their fellow Indiana side, the Impalas. Akron and Queen City both competed well in their first season in D2, but turmoil within Ohio may result in both sides not being as strong as they were in previous seasons. The Columbus Rugby Club looks to rebound after relegation from D1 and a rough 2022 season in D2. They could create lots of problems for the top of the table if they are able to return to their former selves.
The Central League (Eastern Conference), saw a bit of a shake up with some of the Chicago-based sides being shuffled around. For 2023, D2 Champions Chicago Blaze will need to contend with Lincoln Park in addition to Grand Rapids, Southside Irish, and the Westside Condors. The Blaze is still the favorite, but will likely not have as easy of a path as they’ve had in previous seasons with tougher competition within their league.
In the Western Conference, the Great Lakes League will feature last year’s league winner, the Green Bay Celtics along with both sides from Milwaukee (Barbarians and Milwaukee RFC), the Chicago Lions D2 and Fox Valley Māori. Both the Chicago-based sides, the Lions and Fox Valley, will be working hard to improve on a rocky 2022 season where they struggled a bit in Division 2. While Green Bay remains the favorite, any of the other sides in the league could give them a run for their money.
In the Northern League (Western Conference), last year’s winner, the Eastside Banshees, will look to return to the Midwest Playoffs. They could be challenged by Des Moines Rugby Club who’s seen some upgrades to their roster. It remains to be seen how Palmer will compete at the D2 level and if St. Paul will continue to turn heads with their impressive 2022 campaign in D2. The league is rounded out with the second side of Metropolis who could also see a boost in their roster depending on Division 1 recruiting.
All leagues will play an eight-game home and away schedule beginning on August 26th and lasting through October 28th. The winners from each league will earn a spot in the Midwest Playoffs with the top seed hosting the second seed from within their conference in the semifinals on November 4th. Those winners (Conference Champions) will then face off at the Midwest Championship in Chicago on November 11th. The Premiership Champion will earn a bid in the USA Club Rugby National Championship Pathway the following spring. It remains to be determined if the Midwest’s D2 runner-up will continue to earn a spot in the NCS.
Women’s Division 2
This competition has also seen its fair share of realignment. With some tweaks in 2023, the competition now features a tremendous amount of parity and geographic competitiveness. With the relegation of both Wisconsin and Palmer, as well as the inclusion of Upstate New York teams Rochester and Uticuse, the division now features an even sixteen (16) teams split evenly over four (4) leagues.
The newly created Upstate New York League (Eastern Conference) will feature North and South Buffalo along with Rochester and Uticuse. Both Buffalo sides enjoyed tremendous success in 2022 and we look for North Buffalo to come out on top once again pending the level of competition they receive from the newcomers.
The shuffle in the East created the new Greater Ohio League (Eastern Conference) featuring the two (2) sides from northeast Ohio, Cleveland and Akron, paired with Dayton and Fort Wayne Rugby. Fort Wayne has been one of the best Division 2 teams in the Union and is the likely favorite in this league. With that being said, Akron also had a tremendous season in 2022 and could pose quite a threat to their counterparts from Indiana.
In the Western Conference, the Chicago Area League will feature the Chicago Sirens, County Will Morrigans, Grand Rapids, and Palmer College. This is a tough league to predict as both Palmer and Grand Rapids historically field very strong sides. County Will had a strong season last fall as well and could make some noise in this league as well.
Finally, the Northern League (Western Conference) will feature two sides from the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area, the Minneapolis Menagerie, and the Twin-Cities Amazons along with Oconomowoc and Wisconsin. This league is also tough to predict given Wisconsin’s relegation from D1. Could they pose a threat to Twin-Cities’ dominance in this league?
All leagues will play a six-game home and away schedule beginning on September 9th and completing on October 21st. The top two (2) sides from each league will earn spots in the Midwest Playoffs. The first seed from each league will host the second seed from the “sister league” within the conference during the Quarterfinals round on October 28th. Those winners will face one another in the Midwest Semifinals/ Conference Championships on November 4th before those winners move onto the Midwest Championship in Chicago on November 11th. The winner will earn a bid in the USA Club Rugby National Championship Pathway the following spring. It remains to be determined if the runner-up will continue to earn a spot in the NCS.
Men’s Division 3
The Union’s largest competition, Men’s D3, features more than fifty (50) sides competing in eight (8) geographically local leagues largely following the Local Area Union map. Each conference hosts four (4) leagues. Given the number of teams that compete at this level, the Union expanded playoffs to include sixteen teams in 2022 which was met with overwhelming approval.
In the Eastern Conference, the Eastern League is comprised of teams from Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. Last season, the Cleveland Rovers won the league quite handily with the South Pittsburgh Hooligans as the runner-up. This year’s wild card will be the Pittsburgh Forge’s second side who competed at the D2 level last year. Will that club have enough depth to challenge the Rovers or Hooligans for a spot in the D3 playoffs or will the likes of the Cleveland Crusaders D3, Greensburg Rugby, Canton (recently promoted from D4) or Presque Isle challenge for the title? This league will feature a round-robin schedule with each team playing the other once for a total of six (6) league matches. Competition will kick off on August 26th and conclude on October 14th.
In the Southern League (Eastern Conference), which features teams from Southern Ohio and Indiana along with Northern Kentucky, Louisville and Dayton will look to return to the Midwest Playoffs. They will be challenged by a new second side from Cincinnati RFC, the Cincnnati Kelts, Lexington Blackstones, and White River Rugby from Indiana. Despite some changes to the league, Louisville and Dayton will be considered the favorites once again. This league will also feature a round-robin format with each team playing the other for a total of five (5) league matches. Competition will begin on August 26th and conclude on October 7th.
Like the Southern League, the Central and Northern Leagues of the Eastern Conference will also feature six (6) sides playing a five-game round-robin schedule. The Central League features several strong clubs including the Columbus Castaways, last year’s D3 Champion, Detroit RFC, the second sides of both Fort Wayne and the Detroit Tradesmen and the Michiana Moose and Toledo Celtics. This amount of solid talent will likely create one of the most competitive leagues in the entire Union and outside of Detroit RFC, it’s tough to determine which other team will make it out of the competition. The Central League kicks off on August 26th and concludes on October 7th.
The Northern League is made up of teams from Michigan. This competition will also be tough to predict as Capital Area Crisis may be the favorite but will see serious competition from newly promoted Flint as well as from Kalamazoo, Michigan (Ann Arbor), Traverse Bay and Tri-City. This league also kicks off on August 26th and wraps up on October 7th.
In the Western Conference, the CARFU League will likely be controlled by last year’s winner, the Chicago Riot. They will face competition from the second side of the Chicago Blaze, as well as Lake County Rugby, the Northwest Indiana Reapers, the Northwest Woodsmen, the Peoria Pigs and the Rockford Ravens. In 2022, Peoria gave the Riot a run for their money and are poised to do the same unless one of the other sides makes a surprise jump in the standings. This league begins on August 26th and concludes on October 14th with each side playing a six-game round robin against each other side within the league.
The Wisconsin League (Western Conference) also features seven sides playing a six-game round robin. This league features the three (3) second sides, Green Bay (D2), Milwaukee Barbarians (D2) and Wisconsin Rugby (D1) along with traditional D3 sides of Fox Cities, Milwaukee Black & Blue, Oconomowoc, and Oshkosh. Fox Cities and Oconomowoc are the early favorites, but Oshkosh can always threaten for the top of the league. Any of the second sides can also be a force depending on the recruitment and development of their top sides. This league also kicks off on August 26th and concludes on October 14th.
The Iowa League (Western Conference) is the largest league in the Union featuring nine (9) teams playing a robust eight-game round-robin schedule. This league will kick off on August 19th and conclude on October 14th with each team only receiving one bye week to fit all the matches in. Last year’s playoff sides, West Des Moines and Dubuque will be the early favorites, but it remains to be seen how perennial contender Bremer County will fair after a rocky campaign in D2 last season. The rest of this giant league is made up of Cedar Rapids, Clinton Muddy River, Iowa City, Iowa Falls, Northeast Iowa and the Quad City Irish.
The final Men’s D3 League is the Minnesota League (Western Conference) and features the St. Cloud Bottom Feeds, the second side of the Eastside Banshees, newly promoted Red River Ruffians, and the Rochester Rogues. The wild card in this league is Red River, who won back-to-back Midwest D4 Championships and should compete well at the D3 level. St. Cloud is also always strong and should compete with Eastside D3 for a playoff spot. This league also begins on August 26th and concludes on October 14th.
The Men’s D3 Playoffs will feature the top two (2) sides from each of the eight (8) leagues. In the first round, the Midwest Play-in Round on October 21st, the second seed of each league will travel to the top seed of their brother league – Allegheny/ South, Northern/ Central, CARFU/ Wisconsin, Iowa/ Minnesota. Following that round, the Quarterfinals will be hosted by the any Southern, Northern, Wisconsin, or Minnesota leagues remaining. If none remain, then the higher seed will host. The Midwest Semifinals/ Conference Championships on November 4th will be hosted at a neutral site announced later this season. The Conference Champions will meet at the Midwest Championship on November 11th in Chicago for the right to continue to the USA Club Rugby National Championship Pathway in the spring. Like D2, it is unclear at this time whether the Midwest’s runner-up in D3 will also have a bid to the NCS.
Men’s Division 4
This competition is split between two conferences with the East featuring one (1) large league and the West being split between Chicago and Minnesota/ Iowa.
The Eastern League will feature a large eleven (11) team league with all sides playing five (5) league matches that are locally oriented. The exception to this is Marysville who will only play four (4) league matches. To keep everything even, standings will be kept on a per game basis. This league will feature the second sides of the Columbus Castaways (D3), Dayton Area Rugby (D3), Detroit RFC (D3), Louisville (D3), the third side from Pittsburgh (D1, D3), and the traditional D4 of the Columbus Coyotes, Columbus Rugby from Indiana, Findlay Scars, Maryville Rhinos, Westside Outcasts, and Ypsilanti Rugby. This league will begin play on August 26th and conclude on October 14th. The top eight (8) teams will then play three (3) rounds of playoffs with the winner representing the Eastern Conference in the Midwest Championship on November 11th in Chicago.
In the Western Conference, The CARFU League will feature seven (7) teams playing a six-game round-robin schedule. The matches against the McHenry Vikings will not count in the standings. This league kicks off on September 9th and concludes on October 21st and features the second sides of Lincoln Park (D2), and Chicago Riot (D3) along with the traditional D4 sides if CRC Silverbacks, the Chicago Dragons, newcomer Milwaukee Beer Barons, and the Kenosha Mammoths. The top two (2) seeds will play a second match on October 28th for the right to play the Minnesota Champion in the Midwest Semifinals/ Western Conference Championship on November 4th at a neutral site.
The Minnesota League features five (5) teams playing a four (4) match schedule beginning on September 2nd and concluding on October 14th. This league features the second side of the St. Paul Jazz Pigs (D2) along with the traditional D4 clubs of the Sioux Falls Crow, Mankato Marauders, La Crosse Rugby, and newcomer River City Rugby. The top four (4) teams will play a playoff on October 21st with the winners competing in the Midwest Quarterfinals/ Minnesota Championship on October 28th. That winner will move on to play the Minnesota winner in the Western Conference Championship on November 4th.
As of the writing of this article, the Women’s Festival League is still being formulated for Fall 2023. What is known is that several developing women’s sides from all over the Midwest are working together to put together a festival schedule for the fall and those matches will be announced soon. The plan is to hold geographically friendly festival events on a conference-basis every other weekend from late August/ early September through late October. The Union also has preliminary plans to again include a Women’s Festival All-Star Match at the Midwest Championship on November 11th.