Friday, May 13, 2016

Change Is Needed For College Rugby

Let's just start out with stating that for anyone hoping that this article is about how to truly crown a national champion you are going to be disappointed. The divisions are deep and it's going to need a change of personnel before anything resulting in a compromise can happen. Instead, this article is going to be about putting aside differences for the sake of improving the quality of college rugby and delivering what all fans want: more matches featuring the top teams.

Realistically, the Varsity Cup and the DI-A playoffs aren't going to merge anytime soon. Frankly, while it would be nice to have an undisputed champion in college rugby the realities of the situation have it so that the Varsity Cup works well for the likes of Cal and BYU while DI-A serves the needs of St. Mary's and Life. If college rugby were in a stronger position overall then there could be an argument for merging the two but as it stands each teams needs to do what is best for them and that means separate championships.

Take the jump to read more.
That doesn't mean there aren't things that can be done to improve the quality of play and improve the number of high-level matches for the top teams. As much as it may be painful to say, there is a stark divide in college rugby between teams that are high performance and teams that are there for the social aspect and the fun. Being high performance often means having the support of your school like Cal, BYU, CWU, Life, St. Mary's, and Lindenwood all have. It also means you have great coaching and good facilities. It means that you are consistently drawing in the best players. It shouldn't come as a surprise that many of the players that go on to play for the Eagles come from on of these schools.

That's not meant to knock teams that don't fit that category. College rugby is a fantastic thing that helps take young people and turn them into adults. It helps create bonds and teaches life skills. It also helps keep people physically fit. We shouldn't get rid of the likes of the DII and DI-AA championship just because those teams may not be high performance. We need to continue to support and encourage them.

So what should be done? In an ideal world the top men's teams should follow the example of the top women's DI elite and form a competition that focuses on the elite schools. Imagine eight of the top college teams in the country, let's say BYU, Cal, Life, St. Mary's, Central Washington, Lindenwood, Arkansas State, and the likes of a Utah or Army, and you have them play a seven or eight match regular season against each other spread out over the year. Who wouldn't want to see that?

Such a competition would do away with the blowouts that so often characterize the regular season and even the playoffs for many of these teams. Cal ran up well over 100 points on Texas in the Varsity Cup. That doesn't serve anyone any good. Instead, now Cal is playing BYU, St. Mary's, Central Washington, and Life all during the regular season. That's a lot of high-level matches doing a lot of good.  Some teams already do play each other. That's great but why not add more teams and formalize it. You could even have promotion/relegation to make things fair.

If this was just a regular season competition existing outside of regular league play or post-season play it could complicate things a lot less. Think of it as just delivering high-level matches with the post-season still being the Varsity Cup and the DI-A playoffs. Given that most of these teams run out second sides in league play anyways they can still keep that portion of their schedule. Plus, having only seven or eight matches spread out throughout the year leaves room open to play a PAC schedule or a Mid-South schedule.

However, before anyone goes off thinking that this can happen anytime soon, chase those thoughts away. While this is an ideal scenario it's almost certainly never going to happen. For these schools to agree on this it would have to come with a big subsidy for travel. It would also have to come with a nice financial incentive to put themselves out there. After all, if there is anything we've learned from college rugby it's money, or better put who controls it, that drives a lot of discussions. Additionally, U.S.A. Rugby would have to sanction the competition and that's not happening anytime soon.

The bottom line is that the status quo for college rugby simply isn't working. It may be good for some of the fans but the entire potential college fan base is often left disinterested by blowouts and disagreements. From a high performance aspect the colleges are still producing players but not at the level they could be producing players. A move to form an elite regular season league would solve both of those problems, it's just too bad that it's not going to happen.

College rugby, at least at the elite level, faces a choice soon. With PRO Rugby emerging and the Eagles, both in 15s and 7s, continuing to build, the demand for colleges to produce players is going to increase. If they can't then they risk losing some key players to professional rugby. Colleges at the elite level can either embrace the fact they need to take a step up or they can simply be looked upon like the other levels of college rugby, a worthy cause but without much appeal outside of their home school.


  1. It would be great to have an article (if there is one already, I apologize) on some of the issues related to the divide you describe in the article above. It's clear there is a fracture but clear on how college rugby got here. (again, sorry if this is already out there somewhere.)

  2. Colleges are already losing the *best* USA college-aged players to academies overseas. Look at some of the young players overseas - Titi Lamositele, Mose Faulau, and Victor Camptat among others. The best players will go to overseas academies and to PRO Rugby. They should though. Tier 1 Nations regularly have college-aged kids playing professionally and playing internationally at the senior level. Our best players should skip college, no offense to the clubs. That's not too say that we shouldn't have high performance programs, because we should and we will need them to develop those other players who aren't ready for PRO Rugby at ages 18-23.

  3. I'd personally like to see a competition emerge involving the smaller schools with either high performance or varsity status. I'm talking about a competition with the likes of St Marys, Life, Lindenwood, Davenport, Wheeling, AIC and a couple of others.

    I think that something along those lines would develop into a competitive competition over a relatively short timeframe.

  4. The top teams should be competing with each other. Hopefully, the next USA Rugby CEO will be able to resolve the battle of egos that caused the breakup of elite competition and create a competition that showcases the quality of the top level of college rugby and the kids that play it.

  5. Because there aren't enough weeks in a regular school year to have both a an "elite" conference, with a playoff resolution, and for teams to play their traditional rivals, and then have a national championship. (Recall, Cal's beef with the Collegiate Premiere Division set-up was that playoffs/finals interfered with reading week and school exams.

    All you're arguing for here is to have a smaller, modified Varsity Cup – while not looking at the other interests that have motivated teams to stay in Div-1A.


    To play a college sport against the college opponents with which you identify, and;

    The may-the-best-man-win spirit of rugby, which has a bias towards INCLUDING teams in a competition, not excluding teams based on the selfish need to direct an outcome in your favor.

    Varsity Cup can thread the needle to call the competition a 'national championship" (lower case) -- and so give a legal mea culpa when NBC calls it the Collegiate National Championship (proper noun), but in the end the teams that agree to play in open competition (not an engineered private cup), for those keen to have a go at each other, are the true champions. Congratulations Life and St Marys on their Finals achievement.

  6. What is not specifically mentioned in the article was the split was about finances, and trying to change the eligibility of players from 5 years of starting college to 5 years from finishing High School. Cal left for financial reasons and BYU left because of the eligibility rules fiasco!

  7. The varsity cup was created to take steps towards monetizing collegiate rugby, a necessary & somewhat unfortunate development which USA Rugby has somehow began moving backwards on in recent years (where are those ESPNU USA Rugby D1 broadcast contracts we used to see?). I payed to play D1A rugby on a championship team which also beat Cal and BYU in the same season, and hate to see premiere student-athletes put in this much work and have to pay for school and rugby simultaneously as I did. Although their approach may not be perfect, UWS LLC or the Varsity Cup is developing a version of collegiate rugby which generates revenue through broadcasts and ticket sales, which therefore creates a legitimate enterprise and further attracts colleges to sanction rugby as a school sport, which then increases rugby scholarship funds. Colleges are businesses, college sports is a huge industry and ruggers are only suffering financially due to USA Rugby's failure to format our sport's top Men's and Women's collegiate competitions for the collegiate sports industry. Why don't people want to create paid jobs in the rugby industry rather than volunteer positions? By the way, not saying rugby should be NCAA because it shouldn't and I doesn't have to be as far as I know.