USA Rugby is considering eligibility changes that could broadly redefine the collegiate game, moving it away from hopes of establishing a varsity presence on campus.
Still under consideration and likely to be discussed this weekend at Chicago meetings of the directors and the congress, the revisions include expanding eligibility to six years, allowing students to play for universities they don’t attend, and permitting part-timers.
College-level competition, and especially the national championship or rivalry matches such Army-Navy, has been considered among the sport’s most marketable properties. Changes that draw rugby away from mainstream intercollegiate sports, whether sanctioned by the NCAA or otherwise, could dilute that appeal.
The current eligibility rules shadow NCAA standards with a five-year clock and a full-time enrollment standard. If adopted, the proposals could undermine USA Rugby’s high-profile initiative encouraging women’s teams to gain recognition as NCAA varsity programs. Title IX legislation, the entryway to NCAA status for hundreds of women’s clubs, is unquestionably tied to the traditional university sports model.
A raft of proposed high school revisions have drawn similar worries. Growth in Northern California, Oregon, Tennessee, and other places where the sport has consciously mimicked varsity programs could be compromised, advocates of the ‘state based’ model suggest.
‘I don’t understand the logic behind giving a player 5 years to play 4 years of high school rugby. If older kids are the issue, add a maximum age like the state athletic associations do,’ says Marty Bradley of the Tennessee HS Rugby League and the University of Tennessee.
As with its women's NCAA agenda, USA Rugby is promoting state-based organizations at the high school level, encouraging these leagues to connect with statewide governing bodies.
The number and scope of changes reflect the union’s move this summer to solicit eligibility suggestions via online forum. The move drew plaudits for engaging the American rugby community. But now it may be that the volunteer committee charged with culling the responses is disconnected with traditional American sports frameworks and as well as union objectives.
“We required significantly more time for consideration beyond the original deadline, and will publish the final regulations as soon as possible,” membership director Kristin Richeimer said in an email.
Regulations for 2006-07 remain in place. Fall seasons in the East and Midwest are due to open soon.