(This story originally ran July 16 on the premier side.)
The conferences competing in DI-A are now set: Rugby East, Mid-South, Big Ten, West, California and Allied (ARC).
The California league is the newest, but it will absorb the two seeds to the playoffs left by the old Pacific Conference. The league is comprised of a mix of former DI-AA and Pacific Conference teams: UC Davis, St. Mary’s, Stanford, Cal Poly, Sacramento State, San Diego State, UC Santa Barbara and Santa Clara.
Central Washington will compete in DI-A as an independent, playing a hybrid schedule made up of games with West and California teams. CWU was a sticking point for the formation of the California conference, as some members were wary of having to travel to Ellensburg, Wash. on a regular basis. Central Washington will have an avenue to the playoffs, though it is not yet clearly defined.
The West has also picked up two teams new to DI-A: New Mexico and Northern Colorado.
“I think Northern Colorado’s in great shape. They’ve got a very strong recruiting class coming in, and their approximate location makes them ideal,” said USA Rugby collegiate director and long-time Wyoming coach Rich Cortez. “New Mexico is coming in and given assurances that they’re in good shape, so we look forward to them.”
The path to the playoffs is set for everyone except Central Washington. The Rugby East, California, West and Mid-South leagues all get two bids to the quarterfinals. The Big Ten and ARC have the right to challenge for bids.
The champ of the ARC can challenge the Mid-South’s second seed for the right to go to the quarterfinals, and the Big Ten champion can challenge the Rugby East or West second-seed. If the Big Ten winner comes from the East Division, they challenge the Rugby East No. 2, and if they come from the West Division, they challenge the West Conference’s No. 2.
The creation of the Varsity Cup, an independent competition, has contributed to DI-A forming into its current shape. As a result of USA Rugby mandating that any team competing in DI-A must participate in the DI-A postseason, Air Force, Notre Dame and BYU have defected from DI-A in favor of the Varsity Cup. Other teams invited to participate in the Varsity Cup, like Penn State, Army and St. Mary’s have chosen DI-A.
By RUGBYMag’s count, that pushes the league membership to 36 teams, up from 25 in 2012. Below is a list of the teams in DI-A, separated by conference. This list is unofficial.
Allied Rugby Conference (5)
Sam Houston State
Big Ten (10)
San Diego State
UC Santa Barbara
Rugby East (4)