Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
While we’re all excited about the new Division I Premier competition (aka CPL)… it would be naive to get too comfortable with the idea or plan out how it will look in another ten years. The whole competition is going to go through plenty of growing pains even it the first year of play. However, the long-term prognosis for the competition remains cloudy at best.
While I wish massive amounts of success on the CPL and all the teams involved, I think that the competition is merely serving as a placeholder while the new conference alignments in Division I work out the kinks.
The fact of the matter is that the CPL is a means to an end for the here and now, but not the ultimate end goal. For the immediate future, the CPL fits a valuable role in collegiate rugby by giving teams that want to take the next step a vehicle in order to make it happen in an environment filled with other like-minded teams.
The long-term goal for everyone is to establish autonomous NCAA-like rugby conferences across America and that process has already begun.
Even esteemed Cal Bears Head Coach, Jack Clark, has openly stated that the CPL competition may not be the ideal medium for college rugby down the road and aligning conferences along more traditional NCAA boundaries is the best way forward.
Just look what has been accomplished in the past year. The Ivy League, Atlantic Coast Rugby League (ACC), and Southeastern Rugby Conference (SEC) formed right along NCAA conference alignments. Once these conferences get their legs under them, no one will be able to deny their potential.
From another perspective, the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference didn’t align along traditional boundaries, but did so along more realistic geographical points and may serve as a reminder to everyone out there that these new conferences don’t have to be “exactly” like conventional NCAA conference structures. The important part is that they work in a beneficial way for the teams involved. The NCRC did this while at the same time fostering some traditional NCAA rivalries.
College hockey did well in forming conferences along the same lines as the NCRC when opportunities to align parallel to traditional conferences did not exist. Rugby is fortunate in that they can have it both ways. Conferences that are similar to NCAA counterparts and conferences that are similar in function, but make better sense geographically for the teams involved.
While the CPL is great for the immediate future, I don’t think anyone will argue that from a marketing standpoint, selling the SEC or ACC is infinitely easier than selling any of the four CPL conferences.
What conferences may spring up in the future?
It’s hard to tell, but we might not be far from seeing the PAC-10 align. Most of the member teams from the conference are getting together this coming weekend for The Storer Classic (aka PAC-10 tournament). Could a super-secret meeting be in the cards?
Who knows what the future holds? What is known now is that the seal has been broken and these are not the last of the realignments headed in college rugby’s direction.
The Big 10 is another realignment just waiting to happen. Most of the teams (along with some extras) are already playing in the Midwest-East & Midwest-West Conferences. Just a little tinkering, direction, rebranding and you’ll have a pseudo Big 10 Conference.
The Big 12 is another one that could realistically happen, although I think something closer to the long-gone Southwest Conference is a better fit. The University of Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Arkansas, and Rice made up the powerhouse conference that evolved into the Big 12. Throw in a couple other teams such as Sam Houston State and TCU and you have a pretty strong conference that makes geographical sense.
It is just going to take some time for the above mentioned conferences to get their legs under them and begin to build strong infrastructures and brands. At that point, I just can’t see the CPL staying in operation in its current form.
So, take pleasure in the CPL for what it is right now. Enjoy the big games that fill the schedule on a weekly basis and the revamped playoff schedule. The competition is going to deliver the goods in terms of the product on the field.
However, don’t overlook the work being done by conferences like the Ivy League, Atlantic Coast Rugby League, Southeastern Rugby Conference, and Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference. At a time when some are already discussing promotion/relegation systems for the CPL, such thoughts might only be a waste of time.
When the time is right, the teams from the CPL will meld into the upstart Division I Conferences and not the other way around. The NCAA screwed up with the whole DI and DI-AA garbage and now the BCS and FBS insanity. Rugby can learn from those mistakes and come out better for it.