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The Upper Midwest and the Northern Lights Men's D2 college conferences are seeing some changes for the fall campaign.
With only a few weeks until the season kicks off, this is where they stand.
Fighting Penguins Move
The biggest change sees longtime powerhouse Minnesota-Duluth, who has fallen off a bit in the last couple of seasons, move from the Northern Lights to the ultra-competitive Great Midwest.
The Fighting Penguins will compete in the Northern Division alongside Marquette, Northern Michigan, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Platteville, UW-Stout, and UW-Whitewater. Whitewater and Duluth have had a long rivalry and now they will compete in the same division.
Northwestern University, who had previously competed in the conference, was supposed to return after a stint in the Wisconsin RFU, but the program ran into some disciplinary issues and will not compete in the conference this season. Instead, Western Illinois, who petitioned to join the Great Midwest, will compete in the South Division against DePaul, Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, and the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Northern Lights Adds Teams
The departure by Duluth from the Northern Lights isn't the only change happening to the conference. Three schools—South Dakota State, Minnesota-Moorhead State, and Winona State—will join Northern Lights to make it a seven-team conference. Perennial favorite North Dakota State will lead the way along with North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Mankato State.
The conference has gone under a bit of a reorganization. These seven teams, along with the top two NSCRO programs in the region, St. John’s and St. Thomas, have formed a hybrid conference of nine teams. There will be a single final four with the teams going to their respective postseasons after the November 2 playoffs.
“We chose to do a hybrid conference to create a home for top NSCRO teams to compete against top DII level teams,” said Conference commissioner Greg White. “The competition level was equal so it was a fair place to put all teams.”
The change in structure was designed with the USA Rugby national playoffs in mind. Although North Dakota State won the conference last season, NDSU will only received an at-large bid to nationals as USA Rugby elected to not offer an auto qualifier to the conference.
“Our goal is to get an automatic qualifier back for the conference this season,” White concluded.