Will this year's Americas Rugby Championship be the last?
There's little evidence to say so, other than the reported demise of the Pacific Islands equivalent. Yet the very possibility highlights USARFU's reliance on senior and college teams for international player development.
The 10-day ARC is really a live-action training camp for the extended Eagle squad prior to November's internationals. Boulder now has no representative system, no cross-border league, no pipeline to overseas pro clubs.
Last week's declaration of an 8-team West coast senior league echoed the Varsity Cup in demonstrating that in America, the initiative lies with the competitors. As if the underline the point, Boulder promptly distanced itself.
In 2005 it seemed otherwise. The International Rugby Board unveiled plans to underwrite high-performance initiatives in second-line countries, hoping to promote a more competitive World Cup and simultaneously tap into the American sports market. In particular, monies were earmarked for the new North America 4 and the Pacific Rugby Cup.
With the IRB's encouragement, USARFU's board then voted to abandon the historic prohibition against using dues for international rugby. A year later, the Kevin Roberts-led directors declared it would focus on professional rugby; the congress (essentially the old board) was to focus on amateur rugby, comprising 99 percent of the membership, albeit without any power to direct spending.
Eight seasons later, Dublin has acknowledged the progress of 1 or 2 'tier 2' teams into the World Cup quarterfinals would be considered a successful return on investment. As such, the IRB's patience with its portfolio of 10 or so tier 2 countries is limited, especially as tier 1 countries compete for the same monies and playoff spots.
Thus, after 2008 the NA4 was truncated into the ARC, much as the IRB consolidated and then shuttered the first edition of the Pacific Rugby Championship in 2000-01. There also have been reports the PRC is to be discontinued.
Domestically, the board allowed the Inter-Territorial Tournament to wither after 2008 (for the colleges, 2010 was the end), while some members of congress hounded the Rugby Super League into obsolescence, hoping for a more inclusive competition. The two had been founded in 1977 and 1996, respectively. Meanwhile, USARFU's College Premier League shriveled after but one campaign.
Managing American rugby competitions, historically cash poor, is nothing if not an exercise in practicality. Over the past decade, USARFU and the IRB have allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
It's time to ask the counterfactual: what if the Dublin and Boulder had devoted millions to the RSL and ITT? At a 2005 lunch in Berkeley (which I attended), that is what Tom Billups, Jack Clark, Dave Hodges, and Dan Lyle suggested to the IRB's high-performance consultant.