A pair of Canadian universities will join the fray when the new Northwest conference kicks off later this month.
Vancouver's University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser will vie with seven Washington and Oregon 'state schools' in a Division 1 competition that's independent of Pacific Coast territory and Pacific Northwest union. The conference champion earns a berth in USARFU's national playoffs, although the Canadian schools will not be eligible.
American teams routinely cross the border looking for strong opposition in the Canada's leading rugby province: Seattle competes in BC's senior first division. The move by UBC and Simon Fraser marks the first time Canadian outfits have gone the other direction.
The duo are looking to play against student rivals. But college teams are scarce in Canada's top rugby province, which relies on age-grade sides associated with senior teams.
UBC has been competing in the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League, which produces the lion's share of Canadian internationals and is often considered North America's strongest senior competition. The Thunderbirds are expected to field a reserve side in many of their Northwest games, while the first XV is to play an independent schedule, including its long-running series with American national champ Cal.
The formation of the Northwest College Rugby Conference is further evidence that America's territories and local unions are having less to do with organizing core activities.
Unlike the high school game's intended goal of state-based competition, however, the collegiate level's new trajectory has not been clearly articulated. USARFU has said it hopes to mimic conventional NCAA conferences, without describing how this applies to the 31 entrants in the Collegiate Premier League, or framing guidelines for a startup organization like the NCRC, which is not remotely close to the Pac 10's membership.
The Northwest initiated a 7s championship last October, won by Central Washington, and has picked up a handful of commercial sponsors including Marriott and Pepsi.
2011 Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference
British Columbia, Central Washington, Eastern Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Simon Fraser, Washington, Washington State, Western Washington