Monday, February 26, 2018

Recycled Idea: A Truly Elite College Competition

As we wind down our fundraising drive we thought we'd dust off a few ideas that we thought are worth another look. Today we look at college rugby. 

A few years ago we wrote that the status quo in college rugby isn't working. That is definitely not to say that college rugby isn't entertaining or isn't a crucial part of American rugby. It most definitely is and there is an argument to be made that college rugby is the heart of American rugby. Many players get their first taste of rugby in college and the thousands or programs around the country help sustain the game. However, if you are looking at college rugby from an entertainment and a high-performance outlet there is still something missing.

Since we wrote that article a few years back things have changed. The Varsity Cup won't be played this year and for the first time in a very long time it appears that all the best college teams in the country will be playing for the same championship. That's going to be a great thing but from an entertainment perspective it leaves somethings to be desired.

Take the jump to read more.
College rugby has the potential to be the biggest thing in American rugby. If you really think about it there are built in fanbases for most of the teams. As long as they can integrate well into their school, like how Cal and St. Mary's do, then you can have thousands of people at your games and thousands more casually following. Professional teams, whether its PRO Rugby or now MLR, have to build their fanbases, college teams have that built in.  These fanbases are passionate and will cheer for their team regardless (you'd be surprised how many people feel their college team gets slighted even though they aren't that good).

TIAR is currently holding a pledge drive. If you liked what you read consider a donation.

The fact that this year's college quarterfinals are going to potentially pit teams like Cal and BYU or Life and St. Mary's against each other, with even better semi-finals, is only good for the game. This year's quarterfinals and semi-finals should draw a lot more interest than in past years.

At the same time there is still a lot left to be desired. Sure, intense playoff matches are great but they are also fleeting. What elite college level rugby needs--and this will come as no surprise to anybody--is better competition. Teams like Cal, BYU, St. Mary's, Life, and Lindenwood already do a great job of trying to find elite competition. Simply look at their schedules. However, there is a difference between playing teams in an ad hoc fashion and in a formal fashion.

St. Mary's and BYU or St. Mary's and Cal clashing in the spring is great but it doesn't bring the same intensity as in competition--hence the excitement around this year's playoffs. So as the article asked two years ago: what do we do about it?

The response then is the same one we'd give today: "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?"

Not only would a competition featuring the top eight teams from around the country (and maybe you could throw the Glendale U-23 in here and other programs) given those teams more high-level competition that also leaves room for matches against traditional opponents, but it also creates something marketable. As we mentioned before, these teams already have built in, passionate fanbases but there isn't a good way to market them. Three weeks of post-season play isn't enough. Instead, you can now offer up a product that would be valuable to sponsors wanting to tap into the college markets and you could potentially sell television rights more easily.

This is a simplified and ideal version of things. If anything is true in college rugby it's that things are very complicated and there are a lot of actors involved. Still, it would be a major shame if college rugby at the lite level stayed the same over the next few years. Maybe there are plans going on behind the scenes. We hope so. There is a lot of potential in college rugby and it needs to be tapped.


  1. Didn't the Varsity Cup have exactly this aim?

  2. I believe the Varsity Cup was invitational, and too close to CRCs. Top clubs had to choose which one to attend, with a few attending both.
    CRCs is invitational as well, with national programs (CAL, UCLA) mixing it up with local schools to bring in the fans.
    This proposal is for a merit-based tournament.