Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Yesterday, RugbyMag reported that the Elite Cup competition was scrapped for this season after a dispute amongst remaining teams in the competition. The Elite Cup was brought online for the 2013 season after the Super League dissolved. Tabbed as the replacement for the RSL, the Elite Cup was a considerably light competition model with the entire eight-team competition only playing a total of 15 games. As part of the “Pool” portion of the schedule, teams in the East Division each played two games and the teams in the West managed to play three games apiece. The top two teams from each division played each other to decide who would play in the Elite Cup Championship. San Francisco Golden Gate edged Life 31-26 in what came to be the first and last Elite Cup Championship.
The competition highlighted the trouble of playing any sort of trans-continental elite competition. Just as with the Super League before it, travel expenses mounted and demands of such a difficult schedule kept the competition to a minimal amount of games. Hardly enough to improve the overall level of play among the top clubs in the USA.
The Elite Cup then took a major hit in the off-season with the formation of the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP). With the creation of the PRP, the Elite Cup lost reigning champion San Francisco Golden Gate as well as the Denver Barbarians and Glendale Raptors. This shift left Old Puget Sound Beach as the only remaining team in the West. The relatively close nature of the PRP also allowed the budding elite competition to provide a 12-game regular season for each of the teams involved which was a massive step up compared to the Elite Cup and Super League. That marker alone gave the PRP an instant advantage in regards to the number of high level game opportunities. Something that has been lacking in domestic rugby.
With the Elite Cup gutted, it was no surprise to find out of the competition’s demise. The question that remains is whether the clubs left on the East Coast can regroup into their own elite competition, go on to play independently, or meld into Division I for good.
Boston, New York Athletic Club, Old Blue, and Life make and excellent core of squads to build upon, but they’re going to have to reach a bit to fill out an eight-team competition. Life remains isolated in the Southeast and accommodations will need to be made in order to spread things out for a proper Atlantic Coast competition.
It can be done though. The 2013 Division I National Round of 16 included teams like former RSL member Potomac Athletic Club as well as the Middlesex Barbarians. There also remains a number of solid clubs along the coast. To make matters a bit more interesting, there is also a case for New Orleans who has made massive waves in both 15s and 7s. New Orleans finished 3rd in Division I in 2013, besting the Denver Barbarians in the 3rd place match.
A team like New Orleans could be added to complement Life in the Southeast, but even that is a stretch with New Orleans being a good 7-8 hour drive from Atlanta and a flight away from any team in the Northeast. Any thought of adding Life or any other team in the Southeast would inevitably mean that the teams located in the Northeast would need multiple flights to make it work.
The most likely scenario would be that Life ends up left out and the teams in the Northeast work something out on their own for a 6-8 team Elite competition ranging from Boston to Washington DC. NYAC, Boston, and Old Blue could add 3-5 teams from the New England/Empire Rugby Conference and the Mid-Atlantic Conference. Some of which will be a step behind in regards to level of play, but those are some of the same concessions that the PRP made in order to get their competition up and running. Taking the Top 3-4 teams from each conference would make for a solid start to an Atlantic Coast Rugby Premiership. As the two conferences stand right now, that would be NYAC, Boston, Old Blue, Boston Irish Wolfhounds, Potomac Athletic Club, Baltimore-Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Schuylkill River. That’s not a bad group of clubs.
Obviously, there are issues that these clubs face that the clubs from the PRP do not have to worry about. The major issue that any competition on the East Coast faces is timing and weather. As the PRP is less than a month away from kicking off, most of the clubs mentioned above are buried in snow and ice. This will create a very big timing issue unless the competition pushes into the Summer. One possible solution may involve the competition mirroring the USA Rugby Club season and playing a portion of their schedule in the Fall and a portion in the Spring. Doing so would allow the clubs to play a full 14-game schedule with playoffs. It may not be ideal, but there may not be another option to get that many games.
Regardless of what happens, it is apparent that the time has come for the clubs on the East Coast to take a note from the West and organize on their own. While there has yet to be a minute played in the PRP, excitement for the competition is high and there is a massive upside if all goes well. A competition along those same lines could be built along the East Coast. It is just a matter of which clubs will step up to the plate and if they can work through obstacles.