Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Elite Cup… Gone So Soon?

NYAC-Super-League-Winners1by Ted Hardy

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.

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7 comments on “Elite Cup… Gone So Soon?

  1. Grant A Cole
    January 7, 2014

    NOLA’s move to the Red River Rugby Conference (RRRC) is important and their play has shown improvement even over last year.

    With a couple of exceptions, play in the RRRC D1 is tough and each of the nine teams faces a 16-game season prior to USAR club championship playoffs. I, for one, foresee (& hope for) the RRRC becoming an expansion division of the Rugby Premiership concept. It can be done.

  2. nicolas
    January 8, 2014

    what would be interesting to see, is if PRP is still standing after a few years (2-3yrs) and successful in there own goals team up with BC Union and have some form of “merger” where teams play cross over games that count for overall standing. and end the season with a championship between the both competitions.

    that being said I hope the east cost teams can replicate the same in there own PRP , ARP ? why not also create a south east competition and have a cross competition with each other (ARP and south east)

    from there what would be interesting is if the essentially the champions from west plays east.

    im talking about all of this happening with in the next 5 years of course. I think one of the issues besides money that usa rugby and others have in growing the game and setting up solid competitions is lack of patents. you need to give it times for clubs to get use to everything and let the product get some roots down.

  3. RugbyAmerica
    January 8, 2014

    It will certainly be interesting to see how things develop in the PRP. The key will be to avoid the pitfalls of trying to grow too big, too fast. Quality, not quantity should be the goal with the number of clubs involved. They also desperately need to secure some sort of monetary sponsorship for the competition. Not just balls and kits. Real funding to spend on webcasting games, helping offset costs, and promotion. If I were them, I’d avoid any sort of big merger or expansion for at least 5-10 years so they can build their brand and raise the level on all of the clubs in the competition.

    I hope the East Coast can pull something off. Seems to be a lot of politics involved. I do think they’ll get something off the ground. Maybe not this year, but hopefully for the next competition cycle. The Northeast alone could make something happen. There are enough quality clubs in New York and Massachusetts to make it happen, but they’re going to need a split season to work in more than a 4-5 game schedule. I have a hard time calling any sort of 3-4 game round robin “Elite”. Regardless of how good the teams involved are. It needs to be at least 10 games for the players to get any benefit out of it.

    The Southeast is a problem as there are not any teams remotely in the same class as Life in the region. Not even close. New Orleans is up and coming, but as Grant said… NOLA is better served staying with the Texas teams and turning that competition into an Elite conference, which I absolutely believe can be done. They have enough great clubs already.

    So, Life is left in a predicament where they will either need to become the foundation and build some form of competition in the Southeast. Which will then require them to suck it up while the clubs that join them slowly get up to that level. Or they can pump a ton of money into playing in another Elite competition that may or may not even allow them in due to the travel.

    Personally, I’d like to see something come out of the Southeast. I think the area is ripe for rugby and the weather is great for the most part. Just like the PRP and Texas, the Southeast could play a full Spring schedule and get in a 10-14 game season. It’s just a matter of finding the teams. The entire region is primarily made up of Division II teams that aren’t even close to being Elite. It may take 10 years to get something up to the speed of Life in the region. Very unfortunate. I think the Midwest would be closer to being able to pull off some sort of Elite competition than the Southeast. Life is in a really tough spot.

    Ideally, I’d love to see the PRP, a Northeast based comp, Texas, and one other be officially stamped as Elite competitions in the USA. Funnel prospects to these regions and let’s really build something. Then the champ from each competition could have a playoff and call that the Elite Cup.

  4. nicolas
    January 8, 2014

    agree with the PRP give it time to grow , and need to secure a legitimate sponsor: coke,Pepsi , Gatorade, puma, nike. and so on. clubs i believe need to start to spend a little more money then usual. why not a billboard or two in there respective cities or advertise in newspaper, if anything bi weekly papers probably would make a difference

    but thats also why i have been saying every where else, the prp and its teams need to start acting and treating each other like professional clubs. make it a point not just to win games but also get as many butts in the seats at what ever place the teams play at. if im a high up person with Adidas why should i care about SFGG or OMBAC? okay they win games what else. but if i can see that these teams are drawing in potential new customers for me and have a great product on the field and in the stands then yes i would want to send a little money there way.

  5. nicolas
    January 8, 2014

    i think professional rugby will come in a mixed form of establjushed clubs and a out side investor willing to spend his or her money. NRFL was great, on paper, but were in 2014 and besides some media write up and a fancy home screen they really arent anything. i think its going to be a combined effort of establish clubs making head way and showing investors that rugby is the product to invest in and bring to the masses in N. America. lets face it rugby wont be the NFL of usa anytime soon, short of a total collapse of football and the NFL. But what rugby can be is a in between what Europe has and the super league. meaning i can see clubs averaging between 8-10k with a few games reaching 20-maybe 30k but not bringing in 40-60k fans a game. we have the facilities to elevate clubs and resources. if PRP is successful then i can see the argument becoming more talked about, about breaking away from USARU and elite clubs establishing there own comp. while usa rugby still holds d1 or d2 comp. for lesser clubs that just cant cut it at the high level. but besides PRP the east cost clubs and life are also, and i hope they do, fallow suite and elevate the play of rugby over on the eastern side.

    just like in college football where there was 2-3 years of conference realignment and colleges breaking old ties with each other. its no secret that there is change coming to rugby in N. America especially usa, expect the next 5-10 years with major developments on all fronts and what we all hope. our first Professional league, in one form or another. PRP is the first, and theres a reason why theres a lot of eyes focused on them right now.

  6. RugbyAmerica
    January 9, 2014

    I absolutely agree that the PRP clubs as well as any other club aspiring to be Elite, need to step things up. I think SFGG is a great example of a club that has taken that next step.

    That said, I don’t believe that club rugby will be the vehicle that brings professional rugby to the USA. I believe our Elite Clubs can built to some form of semi-professional setup, but the way clubs are built will make things extremely difficult to turn fully professional. There is too much bureaucracy and self interest in the governance of most clubs. Turning professional means that those people would have to let go of control of their clubs and turn it over to an owner or investor. There’s no way that’s going to happen.

    Any potential owner or investor would be better off starting with a fresh slate. If I found myself with $500 million tomorrow, I invest in the clubs that I have been involved with over my years, but I wouldn’t fund them to professional status. I’d hire the proper team and start a franchise from scratch.

    For all of the things that the NRFL people have said wrong to alienate the rugby community, their base idea is solid. Professional rugby needs to be independent of any existing club, union, or IRB oversight. The only way to achieve that is starting franchises from scratch.

    This is an exciting time though. We aren’t going to have a pro competition this year or the next, but sometime in the next 5-10 years it is going to happen.

  7. nicolas sarabia
    January 9, 2014

    “For all of the things that the NRFL people have said wrong to alienate the rugby community, their base idea is solid. Professional rugby needs to be independent of any existing club, union, or IRB oversight. The only way to achieve that is starting franchises from scratch. ” totally agree, took me a while to come to terms but its true. USARU can benefit from any league like NRFL. look at USA basketball or USA soccer. they claim that the NBA and MLS are there top league but they have nothing to do with how those leagues are ran or what players play in them but because there players now have a top league to play in it in turn has helped those national teams become power houses and be successful on the field and in the arenas that they are able to attract sponsors and be self sufficient.(okay usa soccer isn’t Spain or England but better then 15-20 years ago).

    do you think the PRP and what ever the east cost teams form, can they be our ITM cup or Currie cup when ever a NRFL does happen.

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This entry was posted on January 7, 2014 by in Club Rugby, Men's Club, Rugby News and tagged , , , , .

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