In case you missed it, you should go back and read Eamonn Hogan’s article (you have to be a member of the site to read it) on “The Battle for the Soul of American Rugby.” Essentially, Hogan lays out the arguments for having the U.S.A. Rugby national office involved in club rugby. The heart of the discussion comes down to CIPP dues paid by organizations and players to U.S.A. Rugby. Some clubs and players feel that as CIPP payers they deserve the National Office to serve their needs, while the National Office in turn needs those CIPP dues to fund other projects.
Hogan explains that if clubs were simply to play on their own and ignore U.S.A. Rugby it would be detrimental for the game in that U.S.A. Rugby couldn’t claim to have control of rugby in the U.S. and might not receive support from the IRB. Additionally, Hogan notes that at the same time, U.S.A. Rugby hasn’t exactly been transparent, causing confusion amongst clubs. In his conclusion, Hogan says that U.S.A. Rugby must increase their public profile, support the national teams, and show that it has real plans to grow the game in the country. As such, they should not be the focus of everything that is wrong with rugby in America.
In this author’s opinion, Hogan is dead on. U.S.A. Rugby, as imperfect as it may be, should not be the center of blame for rugby’s current status in this country. However, neither side (the smaller clubs or the National Office) are going to give in on this issue, nor should they. The real problem is a lack of money. Frankly, there is not enough money to fund U.S.A. Rugby without CIPP dues and not enough direction to organize clubs without it. The big question then becomes how do you get more money?
Currently there are two main ideas for raising money. The first is raising CIPP dues. This is what has been done in the last couple of years but without the disagreement of certain clubs. One of the greatest things about playing organized local (within driving distance) rugby in this country is the relatively low cost. If U.S.A. Rugby were to raise CIPP dues again, some of these clubs might not feel it’s worth it to continue to pay them (even though they get insurance out of the deal).
The second thought is having U.S.A. Rugby raise money. However, this becomes a “chicken and the egg” scenario. It takes money to raise money, and if U.S.A. Rugby doesn’t have enough money to hire staff to work on fundraising they’ll never be able to raise anymore money. U.S.A. Rugby is understaffed as it is and with rugby continually growing in this country, they simply can’t keep up with everything on their current budget.
So on the surface it appears that the situation is unsolvable without either side feeling disenchanted. However, there is a third option that would not please everyone, but at the same time would not alienate them: get rid of some national championships.
We have simply outgrown having high school and some club national championships. They are expensive to run, they can’t include all the deserving teams, and they are frankly a relic of the past when there were fewer clubs in this country. If U.S.A. Rugby were to only hold collegiate championships and the Elite Cup for club rugby, they would save tens of thousands of dollars every year that could be put toward hiring new fundraising staff, improving the level of officiating, and better organizing club rugby.
U.S.A. Rugby has already begun to streamline the club game in this country by creating a new blueprint for DI rugby that would see 48 teams regionally based. These clubs would have to meet certain organizational and results criteria to be entered into the league. The hope is that this plan would reduce costs for certain teams as well as increase the competitiveness of DI. There are going to be questions as a result of this change (such as where geographically isolated teams play) but those will be answered in time. Additionally, U.S.A. Rugby has established the Elite Cup as a new competition that is supposed to act as the top division in this country.
This new structure should eliminate the need for club championships at any level below the Elite Cup. If a team playing in DIII or DII wants to play for a national championship, they should focus on improving enough to play DI. Having DIII and DII teams incur huge travel expenses to be called the best DIII team in the country doesn’t make much sense. If that team wants to show that they are good, they should work their way up through what hopefully becomes a regional promotion and relegation system. Similarly, with the advent of the Elite Cup, which is supposed to feature the eight best teams in DI, there is no need to have a DI championship. By default, the DI champion will be the Elite Cup champion (the issue of what to do with teams like NYAC, SFGG, and OPSB that don’t want to play DI still would have to be worked out).
Similarly, there is no longer a need for a High School Championship. There are now thousands of high school rugby clubs in the United States, and narrowing them down to the final eight without incurring huge expense and controversy (everyone remembers last year’s selection controversy) has become unnecessary. Rarely do you hear of the traditional high school sports crowing national championships; instead you hear them rejoicing that they took state. Rugby should be the same. Look at a state like Utah, Colorado, California, or New York. Each has dozens of high school programs and are growing. They would be better served playing local rivals than worrying about making it to nationals. In regions where they are few teams, U.S.A. Rugby could use the money it saved on not holding a national championship to invest in youth programs.
Only in the college game does it make sense to have multiple national championships. Because many institutions are at different levels, the NCAA should have different national championships. It is much harder for an entire school to move up than one club, and if rugby is ever going to receive recognition as an NCAA sport, it would be wise to have its schools lineup with NCAA schools.
Overall, it’s time to stop letting everyone feel like they have won a national championship. Instead, teams should be content with winning regional championships and moving up if they desire. By ditching most national championships U.S.A. Rugby can save enough money to better structure club rugby, invest in youth, and fundraise, all while giving club rugby the same benefits it enjoyed before.
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