With the DI-AA teams and conferences set, the College Competitions Committee has some decisions to make. Chief among them, perhaps, is what to do about the Varsity Cup teams in DI-AA?
If Dartmouth, for example, wins the Ivy League, but turns down the conference’s automatic bid to the DI-AA playoffs because its dates clash with the Varsity Cup, what happens to the Ivy’s bid? Does it get passed down to the Ivy’s second-place team, or does it become an at-large bid?
No clear-cut answer to that question. Obviously, it sucks for the Ivy League’s second-place team if the bid becomes an at-large. And if that were to happen, and Dartmouth were to continue to play in the Varsity Cup and it were to continue to have dates that intersect with the DI-AA postseason, it could mean no playoffs for an Ivy team for as long as the Big Green continue to dominate the league.
On the other hand, guaranteeing an automatic bid to a conference, even if it’s not for the league’s champion, has consequences, too. It essentially discourages larger or really competitive leagues and rewards leagues that get to a minimum seven teams and slam their doors shut. It says, no matter how bad the level of play in your league is (not that the Ivy standard is subpar, as I'm just using them as an example), we’ll give you a bid, even if your champ doesn’t want it.
And what’s the point of a National Championship? From USA Rugby’s perspective, it’s the one thing it really provides its members that keeps them CIPPing every year. But for the Competitions Committee, it’s to crown the best team in the country in that division, and more at-large berths theoretically means more good teams in the postseason.
Another potential Varsity Cup related conundrum the Competitions Committee may have to solve is what to do if a team like Cal is really deserving of an at-large bid. If the committee agrees the Golden Bears deserve a bid, and they give them one, Cal could potentially put a team in the Varsity Cup playoffs and an entirely different team in the DI-AA playoffs in the same weekend. They have the resources to pull off playing in both competitions.
USA Rugby has long had a rule limiting college clubs to a team in only one postseason, but since the Varsity Cup is not a USA Rugby competition, USA Rugby can’t prevent them from playing in it and the DI-AA postseason. The Competitions Committee, though, could factor that into their decision-making process when it comes to awarding at-large bids.
What’s the right thing to do? If you ask some coaches, they’ll say not let Cal compete in DI-AA. But, in actuality, it’s probably to give the Golden Bears an at-large bid if they really deserve it.
This year, as everyone seems to be pointing out in our comments section, is going to be a weird one, with BYU and Air Force not vying for a 15s National Championship of any kind and Cal, Utah, Navy, Arizona and Dartmouth all playing in college rugby's second tier. But, even with so much still in flux and apparently off kilter, the College Competitions Committee has some potentially impacting decisions to make.
These decisions are big for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they affect more than triple the teams and players than decisions on DI-A do, as DI-AA contains over 100 teams. Secondly, if DI-A and DI-AA become one in the future, this Competitions Committee will be making the decisions impacting all of DI, and their decisions this year could set the precedent for how the top tier of college rugby is administrated going forward.