The 2010-11 Season saw a dramatic change in the structure of USA collegiate rugby. Starting with matches in March of 2011, the Collegiate Premier Division with 31 teams competing in 4 conferences for the title of national champion became the elite college conference. Wherever the idea for the new division came from USA Rugby was an early supporter. The following are comments by USA Rugby Collegiate Director, Todd Bell, made during the early stages of formation, “This competition is one of the visible results of USA Rugby’s commitment to college rugby. The end goal for us is to showcase the college game as a high level competitive sport in America…Pairing a dynamic and action-packed Olympic sport with well-established university brands is a great opportunity for rugby to attract new talent and expand the fan base.”
Various people have differing views on the success of the new division but the idea of using “well-established university brands” as an impetus for spreading rugby has caught on. By May of 2011 six new conferences had been approved by USA Rugby with a June 1st deadline for other conferences to apply for approval. The six conferences are: (Division I) East Coast Rugby Conference, Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference, Southwest Collegiate Rugby Conference, Atlantic Coast Rugby League, and (Division II) Rugby Northeast men and Rugby Northeast women.
Southeastern College Rugby Conference Commissioner, James Farrar (South Carolina), saw the move to these new conferences as inevitable, “Due to the recent restructuring efforts by USA Rugby, collegiate teams all across the nation will soon be faced with the challenge of transitioning into a network of competitive conferences similar to that of the NCAA,” http://www.rugbyamerica.org/2011/01/08/sec-rugby-conference-being-formed/. The new SCRC conference (http://www.secrugby.com) will consist of the following teams playing for a Division 1 title: (full members) Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and (associate member) Arkansas.
From the Deep South Union three teams (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and University of Alabama) will be moving to SCRC Division 1 play next season following seasons where none of them made the play-offs in their 4 team Division 2 USA Rugby South Southeastern division. The effect this sudden leap in class will have on these programs is anyone’s guess. Also, how will national powerhouse LSU feel after a season competing against these weaker programs? WWW.DeepSouthRugby.net asked Deep South Union President and Disciplinary Director for the newly formed SCRC, Charles Dube, a few questions about the upcoming changes to conference structure and his opinions on some of the issues involved. Below are the questions and Dube’s responses.
DSR.net : Why did it come about? Was there internal pressure from schools, external pressure, or a combination? Was it thought that aligning with the old SE football conference would build student body and alum support?
Dube: I can’t exactly say where or when the movement to conferences actually began. I know that 18 months ago there were general discussions about the college game and how it was being put forth to the American public. One of the things most people realized was that colleges recognize other conference foes and rivalries. For the most part the USA Rugby college model was play whoever is around you for travel purposes. Therefore the push was to move toward a conference model that pitted schools against their regular rivals in other traditional NCAA sports. The pressure to change the college rugby model was more of an answer to how to move the college game forward and put a product in an environment that would allow for the best amount of growth or at the very least recognition from the schools and alumni.
DSR.net: Did the inclusion of 7s in the Olympics and what will hopefully be a higher profile for this version of the game influence the conference development?
Dube: As far as the 7’s model goes and its Olympic inclusion, I don’t think it was a factor in the push to form conferences. However, I believe we will see an annual SCRC 7’s tournament held each year in the early Fall. The 7’s season will probably grow by a month or two to encompass the late Spring, Summer and early fall months through the Olympic conclusion. It will be interesting to see how the College Rugby Championship or CRC, now in its 2nd year, will grow.
DSR.net: Will there be 2 six team divisions within the conference and if so, which teams will be in those divisions?
Dube: How the bracketing will be arranged and the schedule of play has not yet been released.
DSR.net: Traditionally the SEC rugby has been an LSU vs. Tenneessee playoff. I suppose this is expected to continue for awhile, but is there a belief, hope, dream that the new conference will inspire some broader competition?
Dube: I would imagine that teams like LSU and Tennessee will continue to hold the edge over some of the other teams on the western side of the conference. However, as more high school teams develop and these teams play regular competition that is of a higher standard the hope is that there will be improvement in play throughout the conference.
DSR.net: LSU and Tennessee were in the College Premiere Division and didn’t do that badly. LSU ended up ranked 20th and Tennessee 22nd out of the 31 teams in the league. Are they leaving for financial reasons?
Dube: For teams leaving the CPD, I think it comes down to some cost and benefit analysis. It is not for me to say what any team’s expectations were going into the CPD, but after the season ends you would feel they would sit down and determine if the costs associated were in line with the goals of the club. Perhaps a chance to stay closer to home and play recognized teams from their region of the country was a motivating factory in deciding to leave the CPD. It could have been strictly financial, travel times, there is any number of factors that could cause a team to decide to leave the CPD and play elsewhere. I think there were a few teams around the country that could have competed in the CPD, but for whatever reason chose not to do so.
DSR.net: I am imagining that this conference will be closed, so a developing team like U of West Florida will not have a way ever into this conference. Is there a vision that these Bayou conference teams will just continue along as Bayou Div. 3 until they reach a level where they will be Bayou Div. 2?
Dube: What to do with the remaining teams in the Deep South becomes an interesting competitions question. I believe that for the 2011/2012 season the best course of action is to simply move all of the remaining Deep South Bayou teams up to Div II. In doing so ULL comes back into the fold and we can keep an Eastern and Western bracket for the next year. The difficult decision will lay in planning the 2012/2013 season, as USA Rugby will require teams such as ULL, Tulane, USM, and Troy to play Div I based on university enrollment, size, and NCAA divisional football play. I am committed to sorting out as much of the Bayou League Collegiate bracket as possible before stepping down in November.
DSR.net: In an article in RUGBYmag (http://www.rugbymag.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=798:college-rugby-state-of-the-union&catid=101:op-eds&Itemid=302 )
Pat Clifton writes, ” The SWCRC is not the only conference who has excluded a team or two that makes geographical sense. The SEC opted to not include Arkansas State and Florida State, amongst others, because they wanted to stick with the traditional SEC schools. Both, especially Florida State, fit the geographical map of the SEC. Florida State’s coaches also refuse to say anything negative about the SEC’s decision, for the record. ” Do you have any comment on Arkansas State or Florida State being excluded from SERC?
Dube: As far as commenting on FSU and Ark. St. being left out of the SERC, I don’t have too much of an opinion. I am not close to either of those programs and while it geographically makes sense to include those teams it does change the nature of the conference. While I feel for those teams excluded, I also recognize the independent conferences’ ability to control their own destiny and as such chose to limit those who are eligible to play within their respective conferences. Both FSU and Ark. St. are great programs and I am sure they will be tremendous assets to whatever conference they call home for the 2011/2012 season.
Dube suggested we contact James Farrar (Conference Commissioner) for answers to follow-up questions on how Arkansas’s associate membership would be different from full membership status of the other 11 teams in the conference.
Here are James Farrar’s responses:
First allow me to provide you with some background on the membership process before I answer your remaining questions:
Prospective programs are allowed to apply for either a Full Membership or an Associate Membership. Teams that declare and are accepted under the “Full Membership” status have full voting rights and representation on the Board of Directors. Those teams that declare and are accepted under the “Associate Membership” status will have no voting rights, though they will maintain access to certain other services as approved by policy of the Board of Directors. Membership status is determined by a tiered dues system. The amount of the dues will be determined at a later date by the membership as a whole once our annual expenses have been projected.
DSR.net:Why is Univ. of Arkansas an associate member? How will they be different from the other 11 teams?
1) All of the traditional Southeastern Conference teams, aside from Arkansas, elected to apply under the Full Membership provision. This status provides them with representation on the Board of Directors, access to both the 15’s & 7’s competition, as well as access to developmental programs and All-Conference events. Arkansas chose to apply as an Associate Member, electing only to participate in our annual 7’s tournament due to the travel commitment needed to compete full-time. Arkansas has committed to the Central-
West Conference for their 15’s matrix and additional services.
DSR.net:Has anything been decided yet about brackets and scheduling?
2) SCRC Competitions Director Nick Burgess is in the final stages of completing the brackets for the Spring matrix based on feedback from our members. Once it is completed we will release the schedule for all to publish.