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DII boasts one of only two undisputed national championships left in men’s college rugby. The other is run by the National Small College Rugby Organization. Unlike their DI counterparts, virtually every DII conference in the country plays toward the same title.
That doesn’t mean the playoff system is simple, though. There are 17 DII conferences and, at last count, 161 teams. 12 of those conferences receive automatic bids to the DII sweet 16 – Cardinals, Capital (formerly Potomac, or still kind of Potomac, it’s confusing), Gateway, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic (MARC), New England, New York Upstate, Northern Lights, Rugby Northeast, Southern, Tri-State and WIIL.
The remaining five conferences either won’t send a team to the sweet 16 or their champs will have to win a play-in game to get there. They include the Deep South, Colonial Coast, New England Wide, Rocky Mountain and Gold Coast.
The weekend set aside for the play-in games is Nov. 14, with the rounds of 16 and eight set for Nov. 21-22. The sites for the first round of nationals have not been set, but Furman will again play host to the semifinals and finals Dec. 5-6 in Greenville, S.C.
With a dozen automatic bids out there to be won, that leaves four at-large or play-in bids. Last year, there were five play-in games contested by a mix of champions from weaker conferences and runners-up from more traditionally strong leagues.
That seemed to work pretty well, save Louisiana Tech not making the trip to play Colorado College on behalf of the Deep South, and the fallout may be that the Deep South has to get lucky to be involved in the postseason at all this year. At best, the conference’s champion will have to play into the Sweet 16.
There is a committee tasked with figuring out play-in games and any potential at-large bids, and they’ll likely make the champions of the Colonial Coast, New England Wide and Tri-State participate in play-ins like last year, given none of their representatives made it past the round of 16. The Gold Coast, should it choose to get involved like in 2013, will need to play in, too, and probably against the Rocky Mountain.
Last year, runner-ups from the WIIL, Northern Lights, Cardinals, MARC and Capital all participated in play-ins, as well. If all five of the non-AQ conferences engage in the play-ins, there is only room for three conference runner-ups. One would have to think the WIIL and Capital would be shoe-ins for two of them.
So, there is a lot of uncertainty, yet, with just over a month to go before the play-in games. Below is quick synopsis of each AQ league and who’s doing well.
This league is big at a first glance, but it’s a hybrid, with several teams not competing for a DII playoff berth. There are NSCRO teams, second sides from DI programs, and there’s a team of college-aged players not actually attached to a college. So how it all mixes together for a conference playoff is complex. Hurricane Joaquin has caused some scheduling issues, but right now VMI, Mary Washington and Old Dominion are all undefeated, with MWU and ODU having tied each other.
This league gives the WIIL a run for its money as the best in the country. On the top end, with Towson and Salisbury both legitimate perennial title contenders, it’s better than any conference. Georgetown, the third-best team, could win multiple conferences. After that it falls off.
Even though this league is essentially a two-team race every year, there is a four-team playoff at the end of the round-robin schedule. Towson and Salisbury meet this weekend as a likely preview for the Nov. 7th conference title game.
Saint Louis University has dominated this conference since its inception, with Principia, Southern Illinois and Central Missouri threatening occasionally over the years. In 2015, it’s Missouri S&T giving the Billikens fits. The Miners are undefeated, having beaten SLU 12-5. The only hurdle left for S&T that could see the defending champs get back in the title race would be UMKC Oct. 24. The Roos are a capable bunch, but they’ve struggled with consistency. If the Miners beat the Roos, they’ll emerge from the Gateway.
Looks like Grand Valley State is going to represent the North Division and Xavier the South. The Lakers think this is their year to make a run, and the Musketeers have posted some lopsided wins. Only one will emerge for the national playoffs.
The top team from this league last year, Notre Dame College, is off to DI. Rowan, which played its way into the Sweet 16 as the conference runner up, is undefeated at 3-0 in the South Division. IUP, a team with a rich playoff history, sits atop the North Division at 3-1. The top two teams from each division will face off in the conference semifinals and finals Nov. 7-8 in Cumberland Valley. With the departure of NDC, it’s tough to see this league getting a second team into the postseason fray.
This is one of the most tradition-rich and parity-riddled conferences in the country. Aside from winless Boston. U. and New Hampshire, everyone else is in the fight with five weeks of play left. Rhode Island, Vermont and Coast Guard all sit at 4-1, Coast Guard having beaten Vermont 17-8, Vermont having beaten Rhode Island 32-5 and Rhode Island having downed Coast Guard 33-17.
There is no playoff in this league, so the conference table will settle it all. Whoever finishes second come Nov. 14 will have a compelling argument for being included in a play-in.
The conference playoffs will be played Nov. 14/15 in Rochester, N.Y., with the top four teams playing for the bid to nationals. If the playoffs started today, Cortland (5-0) would be the top seed facing fourth-place Oswego (3-2), and second-place Niagara (4-1) would play Buffalo State (4-2).
No one has been able to unseat Duluth for years, and it’s unlikely anyone will this season. Through two games, Duluth has a point differential of 161-10. If there’s a team capable, it’s Winona State, who is also undefeated in dominant fashion. There is no playoff in this league, so the champion will be determined by a round-robin schedule. At the end of it, whoever finishes second has a shot at a play-in bid.
This league strays from the traditional points-based standings commonly used throughout rugby in favor of winning percentage. The top four teams at the end of a round-robin schedule play off. Roger Williams is the team to beat at 5-0, having beaten second-place Bentley and fourth-place UMass-Lowell already. Bryant, 3-1, is still in the mix, too.
No team has played more than three conference games in this league, and one of the two divisions has just five conference games on the schedule, so it’s still pretty undecided. The conference championship is slated for Nov. 7.
Coastal Carolina and UNC-Wilmington are undefeated in the Palmetto Division, and Furman is lurking at 2-1. In the Dogwood, the only undefeated team is Eastern Carolina, 1-0. Western Carolina is 0-2. Everyone else seems to still be in the mix with just one loss a piece.
Two divisions of six and seven make up this league, with the top four from each division making it to the conference tournament. There is a third division, the Central, but its teams compete in NSCRO.
Everyone in the North has a loss. Vassar is in first place having played one more game than everyone else. RPI and Siena also have one loss each. Vassar’s loss was big, 56-14, at the hands of RPI, but Vassar beat Siena 31-10, and Siena beat RPI 16-12 at the beginning of the season.
The division winner will be decided this weekend when Siena plays Union and RPI faces Marist. RPI takes the title with a bonus-point win. Siena is too low on bonus points to get to first, but second is within reach if RPI falters.
The South is more stratified. First-place Molloy (5-0) faces third-place Sacred Heart (3-2), and second place NJIT (4-1) faces Seton Hall (3-2) this weekend to settle it all. All four of the aforementioned have clinched a conference playoff berth.
This conference is split into two divisions of seven teams apiece, with the top four from each crossing over in the conference playoffs. The first round is played at the home of the higher seed Oct. 31. The semifinals and finals are Nov. 7-8 in Cottage Grove, Wisc.
Whitewater will be the top seed in the North, with Milwaukee, Northern Michigan and Lacrosse probably getting to the postseason, too. The top team from the North will be either Northern Iowa or Lindenwood-Belleville, to be determined when they meet Friday. Illinois State and Loyola look poised to make it, too.
The North has supplied the conference champion every year of the league’s history, but Northern Iowa and Belleville are new to the league and have been dominant through the year. This conference playoff could be more competitive than in years past.