Today, Oct. 15, is the deadline for D1A college teams to declare their intention to participate in the spring playoffs.
If any team makes that declaration and backs out of the playoffs, it faces serious penalties going forward. Regardless, declaring for the postseason doesn't mean you get to play in it. You've still got to win games and qualify, either by winning your conference or being ranked highly enough to get an at-large bid.
Why Do Some Teams Not Declare?
The biggest reason is 7s. With there being 7s series and 7s championships in the spring, some teams, and entire conferences, like to play their 15s in the fall and 7s in the spring and don't like the interruption.
But there has also been that little thing called the Varsity Cup. A few teams have tried to play in both the VC and D1A, but for the most part college rugby programs have decided on one or the other.
But... About the Varsity Cup
The Varsity Cup lost its partnership with United World Sports and with NBC, and then various coaches who were in leadership roles within the Varsity Cup group have stepped away, or stepped down, or moved their teams to D1A.
The upshot? The Varsity Cup is basically no more. The teams you expect to see participate aren't taking part in the competition anymore. Most are looking to be in the D1A postseason. Dartmouth is going to declare D1AA and look to be in the D1AA spring playoffs. Even more telling, Navy has declared for D1A inclusion after being a Varsity Cup stalwart for years. Even more telling than that, Cal has declared for the D1A postseason. No Golden Bears, no Varsity Cup.
So Who Has Declared?
As of last count, for the 16-team playoff, 44 teams have declared their intention to play in the spring D1A postseason. This list includes exactly zero Liberty teams (as expected, the conference's teams said they would only want to play in a fall league season).
The list includes everyone in the Rugby East except Kutztown (which loves its 7s), everyone in the Mid-South (including 2016-17 Varsity Cup finalist Arkansas State), everyone in the PAC (including Cal), and everyone in the Red River and the Rocky Mountain. Four teams from the Big Ten (Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) have declared along with four teams from the California, including defending D1A champion Saint Mary's.
There are five independent D1A teams, including BYU and Utah Valley, which are listed as affiliates to the Rocky Mountain, and Navy, which is now listed as an affiliate to the Rugby East. Those three, plus the other two, Central Washington and Grand Canyon, all have said they will play in the postseason.
No more Varsity Cup. D1A is basically unified. The 16 best rugby programs (with perhaps the odd exception) will play off over four weeks for a national title. Today is the last day to say you're in for the postseason.