Monday, July 14, 2014

College Rugby has Opportunity to Create True "National Championship"

A few weeks ago, our head writer and founder here at This Is American Rugby, Curtis Reed, wrote a piece on the impact of Arkansas State joining the Varsity Cup. Anyone with an interest in college rugby should give it a read but in short he argues that there is simply not enough talented teams left in D1-A to continue justifying this dual championship format. With the loss of Arkansas State, St. Mary’s and Life sit virtually unopposed on top of D1-A. This is a terrible situation not just for fans of competitive play but especially for those hoping to see the continued growth of the sport here in America. Luckily however, Arkansas State’s migration could turn out to be the best thing to ever happen to college rugby.

As it currently stands, there are now 13 teams in the Varsity Cup when including Arkansas State. With this awkward number of teams, the 12 team tournament that is usually staged will no longer be feasible. This presents two options. The first and much more cumbersome option would be to stage the same style tournament but simply have a complex series of byes and/or play-in games to make the proceedings work.

Although this could certainly work it would be far from an ideal scenario. However, there is in fact a much simpler and much better option that would benefit rugby fans across the country. Not to get to math heavy, but as anyone who has filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket knows, tournaments require no byes or complicated proceedings if the number of teams participating is divisible by 8. As I’m sure anyone reading this can figure out, 13 is not divisible by 8 but 16 certainly is. All it would take to run a clean and simple tournament would be the inclusion of 3 more teams.

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Which three teams you ask? Well that is where this gets especially good for rugby fans. Ask any well diehard college rugby fan last year who the best teams in the nation were last year and there were 8-9 names that came up. There were clearly two dominant teams in the Varsity Cup hierarchy (Cal, BYU), one team very good but slightly below (Central Washington), and one or two more subservient contenders (UCLA, Navy). There was also an almost identical situation in D1-A (St. Mary’s and Life at the top, followed by Arkansas State, with Lindenwood right below). With Arkansas State’s departure the balance of power clearly shifts to the Varsity Cup but what if it shifted totally in its favor? If the Varsity Cup took Saint Mary’s, Life, and Lindenwood from D1-A as the three teams it needs, every single rugby power would be unified in one tournament.

One of the main problems of both the Varsity Cup and D1-A playoffs is the prevalence of blowouts even in the semi-final matches. With this new system the odds of that happening would be reduced drastically. Not only would the semi-final matches be much more competitive but even the quarter-finals would offer up a bevy of great rugby matchups. Let’s imagine for a second the 8 who made the quarterfinals were 1.St Mary’s (I’m a homer I know) 2. BYU 3.Life 4.Cal 5.Arkansas State 6.Central Washington 7.Lindenwood 8.UCLA/Navy. Although there certainly would still be the possibility of blowouts, any rugby fan would love for the chance to see Cal vs Arkansas State or Life vs Central Washington. No matter how these matches turned out, it would still leave 4 amazingly skilled teams left in the semi-finals to battle it out and give us an amazing final as well.

Combined with NBC’s backing of the Varsity Cup, this could truly open up rugby to scores of new fans. While NBC has been hesitant to broadcast anything but the Varsity Cup final in the past, this set-up would eliminate many of the reasons that they have for doing so. The new format would help to eliminate many of the boring matches filled with overmatched squads trying to avoid being embarrassed and would introduce more teams with established rugby fan bases who would turn out to watch both in person and on TV. Although concerns that these three schools are not “name brand” schools are certainly legitimate, neither was Boise State or TCU or Northern Illinois before they crashed the BCS football party. These schools are certainly small but the quality of rugby that they bring and the exciting matches that would result would eventually win people over.
What this really comes down to is fans want a legitimate national championship and this proposed tournament would eliminate any questions of who the true national champion really was. Any team that could traverse this impressive gauntlet of rugby talent would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind who the best team in the nation truly was.


  1. As neat and tidy as this would be, it will not happen without a fight from USA Rugby. USAR needs college rugby far more than college rugby needs them. A loss of that dues revenue could be potentially crippling for them and USAR knows it.

    However, USAR needs to cut back and focus on the national teams and developing grassroots rugby. Let the colleges go and do their own thing.

    1. Teams that play outside of the USAR playoffs still pay dues to USAR. And even if they didn't, losing dues from 6-10 college teams is not going to cripple USAR.

      You're right they need to be more hands off with regard to college and club, though.

    2. Matt is right! Let college club rugby do it's own thing. Many conferences will not have enough oompf to make the long haul and the college clubs may have to join a local union's club competition. Not a terrible thing, especially when one considers that eligibility is no longer the elephant in that room.

      Between Title IX's defecation storm and the fact that there is currently no professional competition for college ruggers to matriculate to stateside, college rugby remains a club sport in 80-90% of the colleges and universities in the nation.

      Collegiate sports in the USA respond to conformity pressures. If we want college rugby to change, we build a foundation of 5-6mm 8-13yo kids playing rugby every year and we throw our support and purchasing force behind the first professional competition that puts on a match or season in the USA (regardless of what we think of their motives or methods). The universities and colleges will conform to the pressures they are supplied and to the pressures that are demanded of them. Otherwise, 25 major colleges supplying 25 full-ride scholarships is a pipe-dream riding an acid hit.

    3. Agree scholarships for Men's Rugby are way off. The best college rugby can hope for is to develop a revenue model that cover travel costs and other critical items like coaching and trainers. USA Rugby has not done much to develop revenue for college matches . The colleges should work with groups who can help them generate revenue.

    4. One only needs to look at the Mid-South conference to see what proper competition does in terms of forcing programs to keep up with each other. Life U now has it's hands full with an AK State program that will be a force in years to come because they are recruiting like mad; likewise with Lindenwood & Davenport. Scholarships can be had right now in these programs and more will flow as they continue to beat each other to the top.

      The Eagles have been crap for so long because their minor league system has basically consisted of a single Cal Bears program that routinely beats their opponents by 75-0, learning nothing in the process. Only in the past couple of years have they had any valid opposition and thankfully that tide is finally turning. Hopefully Cal will go many years without winning a Varsity Cup because that will mean they'll have to work harder to keep up with the competition.

  2. The single most important factor regarding the development of rugby in the States is to get as many college programmes competing against each other for the elite rugby athlete in the form of full rugby scholarships. This is the holy grail and if there ever comes a day when 25 major US colleges are offering 25 full rugby rides then there will be no stopping USA Rugby. Grassroots rugby will explode as soon as Mummy & Daddy can see a pathway for junior to grab a $100,000 education and not have to slam his head into a brick wall playing football. Imagine the cream of the crop the Eagles will be able to select if there were 25 major rugby playing colleges going at each other tooth and nail? Not just Tier 1, we're talking top 5 but it won't happen until the scholarship money starts to flow.

  3. USA Rugby could still get some dues revenue without running the national competitions. USA Rugby should focus on the National Team and not run competitions. Team USA Basketball doesn't run the NBA or college basketball or high school basketball. USA Rugby needs to understand that they add little value to running national competitions and they should let others with stronger capabilities and resources run with it.

    1. They should be all about the national team and grassroots (including ref and coach development). If the colleges want some assistance, fine, but USAR shouldn't be trying to overextend themselves by trying to hang on to every piece of rugby in America. When they cry about being understaffed, they only have themselves to blame.

  4. 2 things, 1) I work security at a high school and in the summer time the soccer program participates in a summer league where they play against other schools in the area, its equivalent to preseason matches xv's play before there actual season. chance to test players and see whos good where and so on, one day I was talking to one of the coaches and he informed that the program its self has seen a big increases in kids wanting to come out and play soccer INSTEAD of football. because 1) mom and dad are now being made aware of the long term issues that a concussion and constant contact on the head can have on there kid. 2) kids them self's are now seeing that they can have just as much fun playing soccer then football and there is a certain environment and stigma that goes with being a football player in high school and many kids just don't want that.

    now I should state that the schools football program is still doing fine and draws the bigger crowds of sports played on campus. but still it is a upward trend I think we could all agree on that kids are slowly ditching the helmet and pads and taking up other sports. this is where USA rugby needs to be aggressive and really market them selfs and assists youth programs to go after not just younger kids but high school kids to show them that as brutal as rugby looks on tv in reality its actually safer then if they where to play football.

    now #2) if varsity cup is the thing clubs want to be in I have a solution that can make everyone happy and give more clubs a chance at the varsity cup title. why not combine varsity cup and D1 rugby, the top #12 teams qualify for post season play and that would be the varsity cup. the bottom 12 , teams 13-24 would then qualify for D1 national playoffs. think of it as what college football has, in D1 programs play for bowl games , obviously now there is a play off system now but that's the only the top 4 football teams.

    football programs are excited when they win bowl games and are just as happy when they atlest get a chance to play in one, it helps recruiting and essentially tells potential in coming freshmen that there program is good enough to play for a trophy which what kids doesn't want one in college. so for the varsity cup if you are a program like uc davis or uc santa cruz and you finish #12 and get a chance to play in the varsity cup you then get to use that as something to rally the student body, show local high school rugby players who are interested in going to your school that you have to potential to play against the BYU Cal and Arkansas states in the country.

    NBC complains that the tv ratings aren't where they want them to be, well start broadcasting the semi finals or first rounds then. still have a set location for the final, have a set location for semi and plan to show first round matches even if its just online.

  5. College conference administrators should be approaching the Varsity Cup to negotiate for a play-in option for their top teams.