Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rugby East Drop: Fighting For Spots In The Top 20

by Ryan J. Trost
This is American Rugby – Rugby East

A third of the way through Rugby East’s fall season and one thing at least is becoming clear. The top tier of the conference is still very much the top tier. Minus Army’s narrow victory over Iona in week-one, they, Penn State, Kutztown and Wheeling have been absolutely dominant against the rest of the conference in the early stages.

Indeed, Iona is still the only lower seed in the conference to challenge that top group in recent years. Even that challenge though has only consistently ever been issued to the Black Knights. After playing it close with Army in week-one, Iona was dismantled by Jesuit in week-three, 44-19. They will face a fresh legged and newly tuned Kutztown this weekend, before finally earning their bye week at the halfway point of their season.

KU, in its season opener, laid 95 points on West Virginia, a team Army defeated by 64 the week prior. Facing Iona this week, the Golden Bears have an opportunity to make their case to the D1A voters about why they should stay higher ranked than the Black Knights. The hot-and-cold nature of Top-20 voting system has seen KU and Army swap places in every weekly publish thus far, despite Kutztown not playing any matches until last week.

Take the jump to read more.

For fans these lists are all just fun and games, good fodder for argument over a couple of pints after training. It’s a different story for certain teams though. According to Alex Solomon at the D1A office of USA Rugby, “The top-12 teams at the end of the year qualify for the D1A Playoffs. If a team within the top-12 does not participate in the Playoffs then the next highest ranked team takes its place.” Thus, if making the playoffs is one of your team’s goals, then the rankings absolutely do matter.

One team with such goals (and questions regarding the current rankings) is Wheeling Jesuit. The Cardinals came into week-three ranked #20. They put the throttle down on Friday night, running off 27 unanswered second half points against Iona (who stayed within 11 of Army in week-one), only to be dropped out of the Top-20 altogether in response.

Maybe the voters just don’t believe in Iona. When Army beat the Gaels in week one 16 – 5, they tumbled in the rankings too, though only from 8th to 10th. They jumped back to 7th a week later, on the strength of a 76 point win over WVU, but fell again this week (back to 8th) despite pulling double victories in under 24 hours (against St. Bonaventure: 67-12 and U. Buffalo: 50-0).

Such is the fickle world of ranking and predicting though. There are a lot of things currently happening in the Big Ten, West and Red River conferences, which also affect the rankings, of course. At least we know the rankings aren’t just a one person opinion piece. In email exchange this week, Solomon said the Top-20 voting committee is 11 members strong and comprised of all seven D1A conference commissioners, three highly esteemed national rugby correspondents and the D1A head commissioner, Kevin Battle.

In all honesty, we at the Rugby East Drop don’t mean to complain, only to note. It’s a tricky game for the commissioners and writers who are a part of that 11 person committee. Until we have more non-conference crossover opportunities (and one official season for all) the Top-20 will remain a moody beast. The same issues plague the ranking systems in the BCS and NCAA Basketball as well.

Still, it will be interesting to see what result the Wheeling v West Virginia match this weekend has on those rankings for week-five. Wheeling wants their spot and they know Army and Kutztown both improved their standing in the list after blowing out the Mountaineers. Just, seems odd to pick on WVU as a measuring stick when teams like Iona are currently more competitive within the conference.

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