Cal's withdrawal from 2012's division 1 championship signposts the diverging paths of conference and 'superleague' competition.
The perennial university powerhouse intends to pursue a Pac 12-driven schedule, the school said last week in a press release. Dartmouth, Tennessee, and others have already exited the fledgling national championship in order to play traditional and local rivals.
The change of heart validates the work of USARFU's college management committee, which last November set out a plan for transitioning universities to self-governing, NCAA-style groupings. The new approach is shifting American rugby's largest demographic group from the aegis of territorial unions, the traditional governing unit, and also complicating the national body's efforts to create a commercial superstructure.
Given the Bears' status as 26-time national champs, coach Jack Clark's support for the nationwide league had galvanized its launch. But he was of two minds, last year telling the New York Times that although the college superleague was 'a step in the right direction', the conference route 'would be the best path'. Thus the news is not so much Cal's changing course as the accelerating swing.
Conference-specific business arrangements have been outstripping the benefits which Boulder offers. Last February the newly formed Atlantic Coast league signed a marketing and equipment pact with adidas, while the Ivy League has consistently been able to attract commercial interests.
'It was less the expense incurred and more the lack of income that was disappointing', Clark said last week in a prepared statement. 'The [division 1] competition will eventually find some sponsorship and USA Rugby has indicated it will partially fund some of it, but the model has a ways to go to better what teams can do on their own'.
Additionally, as 'brand name' schools command a fan base regardless of the sport, entrepreneurs like the USA 7s College Rugby Championship are using invitational formats in order to maximize sales and TV ratings, and so to underwrite participants expenses.
Despite record attendance at last May's division 1 final, USARFU has yet to land such agreements for its division 1 competition or national 7s tournament, and so hasn't provided consideration for the teams. Its universal mandate precludes the exclusivity of invitational formats.
Moreover, in seeking to accommodate everyone, the union has run into scheduling problems. Several heavyweights skipped this month's 7s championship because the late date conflicted with finals, underlining a point Cal made about the 15s championship being pushed back into mid May.
For the Bears, a league schedule that complements other campus teams, supplemented by high-profile invitational matches, may help the program boost its habit of outdrawing many of the school's varsity sports. Dartmouth, Penn State, Stanford, and other schools with dedicated rugby facilities are similarly positioned to become mainstream activities.
Though the 2012 Bears will likely miss playing Brigham Young, a fixture that has become the American season's most anticipated game, Cal will hold to its previously agreed schedule as if it were competing in division 1. The fixture list includes five other Pac 12 schools, essentially half the conference.
Cal also signaled it will look to build up its fall 7s schedule.