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Todd Lunow phioto

The division II men’s college season is set to get underway next weekend so here is a look into the DII landscape. Unlike the DIA and DIAA divisions, DII plays only during the fall campaign. A champion will once again be crowned on the December 3-4 at yet to be announced location.

The biggest change in 2017 is that New England College Rugby Conference is now defunct. There were only five teams last season, and with Rhode Island moving to the Liberty Conference, Norwich and Middlebury were accepted to Rugby Northeast leaving Vermont and New Hampshire. New Hampshire elected to play an independent DIAA schedule and Vermont was forced to play an independent schedule after being denied entry into Rugby Northeast.

In addition to the NECRC, the Colonial Coast members voted to return to the NSCRO Division. Boston University, which is too large for small college rugby will play in the Colonial Coast but will seek an at large bid to the DII playoffs.

Twelve conferences along with some independents will battle it out to determine the playoff teams. Usually, conference winners receive an automatic bid to the playoffs, with some of traditionally stronger conferences receiving two or three bids to the playoffs.

The existing conferences are as follows:

WIIL

We will start with the Wisconsin and Illinois division as the reigning champs hail from this group. After several years of falling just short, Wisconsin-Whitewater defeated Furman to capture its first national title since 2011. The Warhawk only graduated a handful of players and will likely be in the mix for a national title once again.

The WIIL Conference is traditionally strong and has received three places bids to the playoffs in recent years. The conference is broken up into the north and the south with the top four from each division making it to the conference playoffs. Last year Illinois State and UW-Milwaukee showed well in the playoffs and look for them to chase for the title.

Northern Light

The class of the Northern Lights has been Minnesota-Duluth for some time. The Fighting Penguins had won three consecutive national titles prior to 2016 and are always a threat on the national stage. Duluth ultimately proved they were vulnerable last season, playing closer than usual conference games and eventually falling to Furman in the national semifinals.

North Dakota State was one of those teams that challenged Duluth last season. NDSU won two playoff games before falling to Duluth 43-31 in the elite eight. NDSU will be looking to build upon a solid 2016 during this fall.

Southern Rugby Conference

After a number of years of success and several national titles in NSCRO, Furman had moved up to DII. The Paladins have been slowly returning to national prominence on the DII stage and last year, with a senior heavy and experienced squad, knocked off the reigning champs, 32-29. Furman ultimately came up short against Whitewater.

Furman went undefeated through a strong Southern Conference. UNC-Charlotte proved to be a worthy opponent, and defeated a good VMI team in the playoffs. The 49ers fell to the Coast Guard but have proven they are a real contender down south. UNC-Wilmington, who is also always a contender, missed out on the playoffs for the first time in several years. Look for Wilmington to have a bounce back year in 2017.

This conference is represented by schools from North and South Carolina.

 Rugby Northeast

This conference became much stronger with the addition of Middlebury and Norwich. The Cadets made the final four last season and Middlebury made the playoffs after moving back down to DII.

Bentley, Southern Connecticut, and Providence all finished with a 7-1 record last season, with Bentley and Southern Connecticut winning the tiebreaker and making it to the playoffs. Both teams lost opening round playoff games but with the addition of the two new teams, this conference will make everyone battle tested coming into the playoffs.

After joining the conference in 2016, Roger Williams went 8-0 and earned a berth to the playoff.  The Rhode Island school had a bit of a set back last season but will add to an already difficult conference.

MARC

The Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference consists of teams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Rowan had been the leader in this conference, making it to the final eight the last several years. The New Jersey school, however, has decided to move to DIAA and join the Keystone conference.

York College, who fell to Southern Connecticut in the round of 32 in 2016, will be looking to fill the void. Drexel, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Bloomsburg will also compete for the conference title.

Cardinal Conference

The Cardinal Conference saw two teams go to the playoffs last year and the conference is a little bit more top heavy than some of the others. North Carolina State, who came from the now defunct ACRL, stormed through conference play last year. The Wolfpack reached the final eight before being overmatched by Furman.

The Virginia Military Institute has been a perennial contender in the Cardinal Conference. VMI has been bounced from the first round of the playoffs for two consecutive years and will be looking to go deeper this year.

The conference is made up of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina schools.

Rocky Mountain

The farthest western division features a group of teams from Colorado. Western State came out of nowhere last year to win the division while Colorado School of the Mines finished second. Both schools lost in the round of 16 to Northern Lights Opponents. The Mines gave Duluth a tough go and Western State dropped a tight 12-7 affair to North Dakota State. 

The rest of the Colorado schools have a bit of catching up to do in the conference.

Great Lakes

Grand Valley State has been the team to beat in the Great Lakes. GVSU lost to Illinois State in the playoffs after dominating its way through conference action.  There toughest competition came from Oakland University last season.

All of the teams from this conference are from Michigan.

Gateway

The Gateway Conference features schools from Missouri and Kansas. Principia surprised St Louis University and UMKC to take home the title. Principia fell in the first round of the playoffs, however.

New England Wide

The New England Wide is made up of Connecticut and Massachusetts schools. The Coast Guard won the conference last season and made a good showing in the playoffs.

Hartford University had an interesting finish to last season. They were undefeated going into a last game winner take all bout with the Coast Guard. Inexplicably, Hartford took a forfeit and the Coast Guard went on to the playoffs.

Look for both teams to compete for the conference title this season.

Tri State

The Tri State consists of 13 teams from the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. The conference is divided into two divisions. The top four teams from each group make the conference playoffs and the winner advances to the national playoffs.

Traditionally, the Tri State sends one squad to nationals. Sacred Heart won the conference last season before seeing its season ended by Furman and the year prior to that RPI advanced.

This year, Sacred Heart and William Paterson will look to battle it out but newcomers United States Merchant Marine Academy, who came from DIAA, will be very competitive in the conference.

Upstate New York

The Upstate New York division will be wide open this year after SUNY Cortland elected to go to the Liberty Conference. Niagara is also out of the conference, leaving six teams to battle it out. Geneseo, Buffalo State and Oswego all should contend for the title.

WIILNorthern LightsSouthern Rugby Northeast
UW-WhitewaterMinnesota-DuluthFurmanBentley
UW-MilwaukeeMankato UNC-CharlotteBryant
Northern MichiganNorth Dakota StateAppalachian StateMiddlebury
UW-StoutNorth DakotaElonNorwich
MarquetteSt. Cloud StateUNC-GreensboroProvidence
UW-LacrosseWestern CarolinaRoger Williams
UW-PlattevilleWake ForestSt. Michaels
Illinois StateUNC-WilmingtonSouthern Connecticut
Northern IowaEast CarolinaStonehill
LoyolaCollege of Charleston
UICCitadel
DepaulUNC-Pembroke
Illinois WesleyanCoastal Carolina
UNC
GatewayGreat LakesNew England WideTri State
Pitt StateHopeWestfieldHofstra
MaryvilleCalvinSpringfieldMarist
Central MssouriGrand Valley StateHartfordRPI
PrincipiaFerris StateQuinnipiacSacred Heart
Missouri S&TOaklandCoast GuardSiena
UMKCSaginaw Valley StateWPIUnion
Central ConnecticutMolloy
Western ConnecticutMontclair State
NJIT
Seton Hall
College of New Jersey
USMMA
William Paterson
MARCCardinalsRocky MountainUpstate New York
California University of PAGeorge MasonColorado School of MinesBuffalo State
IUPUMBCColorado CollegeFredonia
LehighVCUWestern StateGeneseo
ScrantonNorth Carolina StateMontana StateLeMoyne
York Old DominionColorado MesaOswego
BloomsburgRadfordColorado SpringsRIT
DrexelVMIMetro State
Millersville
Lafayette