D1A Playoffs: What to expect

D1A Rugby: D1A Playoffs: What to expect
Photo Credit: Mark Aikman (above) & Jay Morrison (homepage)

BOULDER, Colo. – The 2015 D1A Playoffs will kick off Saturday, April 11, in Madison, Wisc., when the opening whistle blows for a match between Big Ten Universities Champion Wisconsin and No. 11-ranked Penn State out of the Rugby East Conference. Wisconsin and Penn State will be two of the 12 teams competing for a D1A National Championship, but college rugby fans will have to wait until April 18 for the final three opening-round matches to take place.

Amongst the 12 teams to reach this year’s playoffs will be five out of the six Conference Champions. The winner of the Red River, Oklahoma, has been banned from the 2015 D1A Playoffs due to using ineligible players during its fall season. Air Force (West), Army (East), Life (Mid-South), and Wisconsin have all wrapped up conference-winning regular seasons, and Saint Mary’s of the California Conference is expected to be added to that list with a win over Santa Clara Saturday.

In a 12-team playoff bracket, four teams will receive first-round byes. The teams to be granted a pass into the April 25 Quarterfinals will be the four Conference Champions with the highest ranking in the Canterbury D1A Top 20. Therefore, Air Force, Army, Life, and Saint Mary’s are each expected to receive opening-round byes.

Beyond the Conference Champions, the eight highest-ranked teams in the Top 20 will fill out the D1A Playoff bracket. However, No. 8 Kutztown and No. 13 Indiana will not compete in this year’s playoffs. As they did last season, the Golden Bears are putting their spring efforts solely into sevens, and will bypass the D1A Playoffs. Indiana, which went undefeated in the BTU regular season, was not permitted to play for the BTU Championship and won’t be allowed to compete for a National Championship as part of a postseason ban due to using ineligible players during the fall of 2013.

With just four D1A regular season matches left to play, only two teams appear capable of jumping Wheeling Jesuit for the final spot in the Playoffs. San Diego State and Santa Clara hit the road for their final California Conference matches, and if either team can pull off the upset against No. 7 Cal Poly or No. 2 Saint Mary’s, respectively, then the Aztecs and Broncos could slip into the 12th seed of the Playoffs.

Arizona, which currently ranks 17th, faces Oregon State Sunday, but a win over a team that has struggled as mightily as the Beavers have isn’t likely to entice D1A Rugby’s Top 20 voting committee to push the Wildcats ahead of Wheeling Jesuit.

D1A Playoff Schedule:

April 11 – Wisconsin vs. Penn State (Madison, Wisc.)

April 18 – First Round (Conference Champion or higher-ranked team to host)

April 25 – Quarterfinals (higher-ranked team to host)

May 2 – Semifinals (higher-ranked team to host)

May 9 – D1A National Championship Final at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State