Nine colleges at the core of the famous Atlantic Coast Conference will form a rugby analog beginning with the 2011 season, more evidence of realignment with the sports education model.
The move stems from this year's innovative reorganization of Rugby South's university competition, which introduced a four-conference setup including the Carolinas League. But the spring season isn't long enough to permit both ACC matches and national playoff games, so USARFU's championship has been sidelined.
The announcement follows the 2009 debut of the Ivy League rugby conference, and news of a college 7s championship to debut in June, broadcast live by NBC. Meanwhile, plans are firming for a national collegiate premier league, also to begin in 2011. Some 15 teams including BYU, Cal, and Penn State intend to participate in the competition, American Rugby News reported.
The commonality is rugby's capitalizing on the marketability of major college teams and conferences. The upshot is teams are concluding their fortunes lay in their own hands, through the adoption varsity standards (if not varsity status), not in a top-down model.
USARFU's strategic plan echoes the view of college brands as valuable in reaching a wider audience, but developments have exposed the slow-moving organization as trailing rather driving change. Although ACC officials and premier league coaches have taken pains to disclaim ambitions of breaking away from the union, Boulder hasn't much figured in the new competitions; was taken aback by NBC's announcement; and has yet to hire a staffer dedicated to college rugby, after agreeing to the position last fall.
Like the Ivy League, both the ACC and premier league require administration across territorial lines. The ACC league also will mix teams from divisions 1 and 2, something that's already at work in the Rugby South format.
The national league anticipates including a regional promotion/relegation mechanism, which is one reason the Carolinas League quickly advanced to the planned ACC format, according to Wake Forest director of rugby and ACC official Pat Kane. '[The national league] represents a chance for collegiate teams from schools within traditionally high-profile conferences like ours to capitalize on that recognized affiliation,' Kane said in a prepared statement.
A Southeastern Conference (SEC) competition could be next, according to Rugby South officials. Meanwhile, the ACC hopes to take in the 3 schools that aren't part of its 2011 schedule. 'While it would be tough for Miami and Boston College to be involved at this point, again, the door remains open to them as well as Florida State,' Virginia Tech director of rugby and ACC official Andy Richards said in a statement.
The ACC schedule is the latest evidence that spring remains the collegiate championship season. As part of the announcement, officials said the Atlantic Coast Invitational Tournament will move to September and convert to a 7s tournament. Richards cited seven-a-side's Olympic status as well as the crowded May-through-May schedule as the impetus.
Separately, Rugby Super League has rescheduled its final for May 29, Memorial Day Saturday, acceding to requests for all domestic players to be available for the opening national team assembly the next day.
2011 Atlantic Coast Rugby League
North Carolina State