Traveling to the 1996 national championships, three prominent Eagles were erroneously congratulated for skipping the day's Canadian test in San Francisco, for 'putting their club first'.
Everyone knew the importance and timing of the playoffs, domestic rivals told them at the airport.
In fact the trio had helped the US win that afternoon, and were racing to reach Hartford in time for OMBAC's second-round contest. The San Diego team prided itself on having the depth to make sacrifices for the greater good.
How quaint the story now seems. Nearly 2 decades after USARFU expanded its division 1 title chase to 16 teams, club-country conflicts persist. But very few Eagles play in domestic matches anymore.
Moreover, virtually no one understands the playoff structure. If college rugby is splintered, the senior game is fragile and bordering on entropic.
Northern California demonstrates the depth of disorder. Though it is ostensibly one of the country's strongest regions, it's regular-season champion bowed out of the playoffs. Moreover, prior to the start of the year organizers agreed to accommodate Old Puget Sound Beach, granting exemptions and stipulating the Washington team could finish no higher than second.
San Francisco Golden Gate's withdrawal combined with OPSB's mandated position generated unintended consequences in the crossover round with Southern California. As an ostensibly weaker team was promoted to first place, SoCal's fourth seed seemed to gain a favorable draw compared with its third-place finisher. Not surprisingly, SoCal shuffled its seedings, as first reported by Rugby Magazine.
Elsewhere, two regional playoff spots are simply forfeit, an unsatisfactory outcome of an issue which first reached USARFU last year.
Such problems reflect the disconnect between administrative bodies (whether territorial or 'geographic' unions -- a story in its own right) and the so-called competitive regions that govern the preliminary rounds. Whyever are there two distinct units in a recreational pursuit primarily intended to foster competition?
League organizers normally aspire to a slate of 'hard and fast' matches, so as to promote the best teams and talent. While every organization ought to enjoy a degree of latitude in order to address local conditions, when rivals must change their structures by result, it is a sign supervision is required. None has been forthcoming, as Rugby Magazine noted.
Then there is the halfway status of eight teams from the rump Super League, this year designated the Elite Cup. It is evident that financial worries do not entirely explain the demise of a competition which debuted back in 1997. First USARFU designated the Super League the union's top competition, a dubious technical proposition, then turned its back as regional administrators hounded RSL members.
Real skill is required to manage nationwide competitions in a continental nation; Americans have it. The wonder is how USARFU managed in the amateur age, when there were a handful of full-time staff and annual revenue barely exceeded $1 million. These days intake has increased tenfold and there are nearly 50 paid staffers.
The 2012-13 senior playoffs open next week.