The Austin Blacks played the Dallas Reds on Saturday with the top spot in the Red River Men's D1 Club Conference at stake, and that's when it all went haywire.
Long story short, the game was called because of heavy rain just after halftime and there's an ongoing discussion about what it all means. The Blacks were leading 22-0 at the time, and if that result stands, the Blacks will be the #1 seed in the D1 Quarterfinals, playing either Life West or Belmont Shore (the Glendale Merlins could be in here but it's only a mathematical possibility, not a realistic one).
The Blacks traveled to Dallas to play at Lake Highlands Park, where much of Dallas-area rugby is played. The park is run by the Dallas Parks, but the organization gives a ton of leeway to the Reds in using the rugby field—and it's a rugby field; Dallas Parks even lists it officially as a Rugby Field on its website.
On Saturday, it was raining like the end of the world, but there was no worry from the Reds. Why? Because they had always been allowed to use the field regardless of weather. According to Texas Rugby Union President Kirk Tate, the Reds have not, in any recent or long-term memory, been told not to use the field
So while the water pooled on the field, and some other games got set to be played, no officers from the Reds were on-site. They didn't need to be, because they were assuming everything was fine.
In fact, the Reds were practicing in a gym away from the park.
Not The Ref's Call?
Meanwhile the Blacks were sloshing through the water and asking the referee if the game should be called. Tate said this was not the ref's call.
"Unless we're talking about a safety issue, we're not going to put that burden on the referee," said Tate.
An earlier women's game was then called off, but the Reds showed up just as the rain let up. The host club offered to sluice some standing water of the field (to some magical water-holding area, apparently), and then the game kicked off.
The Lone Ranger
Austin started strong despite the rain and led 22-0 at the break. Then, just after halftime, a park ranger showed up, informed everyone that the park had been closed since 10AM, and sent everyone home.
The result is now under consideration by the Texas Rugby Union Competitions Committee, which has asked for, and received, some advice from the USA Rugby Competitions Committee.
Did the Reds screw up? No, says Tate. "The Reds have been allowed to play in most weather. They have a lot of control of how they use the field. So it's reasonable that they would have expected to be able to play the game."
Why the change? The rain was very hard on Saturday in Dallas. In addition, Dallas Parks had invested additional funds into making the playing surface nice, and it's possible that either the ranger on his own, or someone in the Dallas Parks office decided to change the rules without telling anyone.
Should the referee have called the game? Tate says no, but there is an argument that deep standing water (high enough to slosh over the sides of rugby boots) poses a danger. Anyone pinned at the bottom of the ruck can attest that being face down in a couple of inches of water with a big weight pinning you down isn't fun. Just ask the French knights at Agincourt.
It was winner take all. There is no playoff this year in the Red River. Austin went into this game 8-0 and Dallas was 7-1, but only three standings points behind. A Dallas win could well give the Reds the #1 seed and a supposedly easier national quarterfinal. (Good luck with that, watch the PRP this year, Belmont Shore and Life West are equally terrifying.)
When is a game a game? This was pondered in detail a couple of years ago by this writer here. Basically, you need a policy—pick a percentage, 75%, 65%, 50%—that states when a game halted early should keep the result. Baseball says a game can be official after five innings (55%) of the game has completed (or 4.5 innings if the home team is leading, which would be 53% of a 8.5-inning game). This doesn't happen often, but you've got to be ready in case lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes, or a grouchy park ranger happen.
What's the big deal? Dallas was losing, so just accept the loss and move on. Yes, very true, but on February 16, Austin was leading Dallas 41-15 with ten minutes to go, and Dallas scored three tries to make it a 41-34 game. Dallas legitimately figured they might be able to pull a soggy rabbit out of a soggier hat.
By the way, the Mens D1 Representative for the Texas Rugby Union, is David Dodge, who is also the Dallas Reds club president. A lawyer in his day job, Dodge has seen difficult negotiations before. Tate said Dodge knows all about proper legal ethics and when it's appropriate to recuse himself. Tate said he would expect Dodge to step back.
What next? Dallas, according to some reports, want the game to be picked up where it left off this Saturday. That's probably a non-starter given that no official decision has been made, and it's Wednesday, and many Austin players are going out of town on the Easter weekend. Austin is willing to keep playing, and they have a suggestion.
Which is? Play on May 4, which is the date of the Red River playoffs for other divisions. To be played at ... (wait for it) ... Lake Highlands Park in Dallas. Or ... we could just accept the result as-is. The May 4 solution appears to be what will happen, and the game will be re-started from where it was left off on Saturday.
And you thought this was just going to be a story about a rainout.