The 2019 D1A Playoff bracket has been announced with arguably the strongest field ever. The 16 team field consists of seven conference winners and nine at large teams all vying for the national crown. The tournament will begin April 13 and run through May 4. Every game will be broadcast live on FloRugby, with the semifinals and championship also being aired on CBS Sports. The final will take place at Stevens Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University.
In years past, playoff matchups were determined by the D1A rankings regardless of geography. In order to improve the competition and make the travel easier on our member clubs, the 2019 bracket will feature east and west regionals. Seeding’s were determined regionally, with conference winners still receiving top seeds and a home match.
“This new format will ease the burden of travel on our member clubs and make for a healthy slate of competitive matches throughout the competition,” said D1A Commissioner Kevin Battle. “Coming out of either the east or west region will prove to be a difficult task.”
Not only does this change make it easier on the competing teams, old and new rivalries will exist throughout each round of the competition. Local rivalries like Cal versus St. Mary’s or Life versus Lindenwood make the path to the national championship all the more intriguing.
With this new format, which region provides the easiest path to a national title? Traditional D1A powerhouses are located across the country. Of the DIA Top 20, 12 teams are part of the east region and eight play in the west.
The West has claimed a staggering 34 of the 38 national titles since USA Rugby started keeping track in 1980, with Cal claiming a lion’s share of those titles. However, St. Mary’s and BYU have captured a combined five titles in the recent decade to stake claim as two of the top programs out West and up until 2015, BYU had never lost to a college opponent on home turf.
Central Washington has been a formidable opponent since going Varsity in 2014 The Wildcats have long been the leaders of the Pacific Northwest and in recent years have tested the standard bearers out west.
Arizona continues to make its mark under head coach Sean Duffy, reaching the playoffs the last three seasons. The Wildcats were bounced two years ago in the semifinals by St. Mary’s and last year gave a Penn State team, which upset BYU on the road, a very tight game.
While the titles may be lacking in the east coast, newer programs like Life and Lindenwood have made strong statements in the last five years. Life has captured three D1A national titles including a convincing win over Cal to capture last year’s title. Last year Lindenwood traveled to Moraga and upset St. Mary’s, bouncing the Gaels in the quarterfinals and stopping a six year streak of national title appearances.
While the east has its share of perennial powerhouses, it also has claim to two of the strongest conferences in the country with Rugby East and the Mid-South. Army and Penn State have led a strong field on the east coast joined by three other ranked teams. The Mid-South which has a staggering four squads in the top six and five in the Top 20, makes it the strongest conference in the country this year. Along with Life and Lindenwood, Arkansas State and the recent addition of Navy makes all of these teams battle tested as we begin the knockout stages.
The 2019 field is likely to produce a few classic games and possibly some upsets. Will the east or west win the day? Will traditional powers stay atop the podium or will a new program take home its first title?
It all starts April 13.