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A GoffonRugby Opinion Column by Alex Goff

Overwhelmed.

Sometimes you feel that way around the turn of the year. So many big, all encompassing issues to discuss. Players, administrators, concepts, patterns, coaches, teams. Where to start? Where to end?

I decided that perhaps my best approach in my GoffonRugby column on this site would be to establish my own patter; my own game plan. What is it that I should be saying? What needs to be said? And should I parcel it out one column at a time?

This, is feel, is perhaps the best way forward. I look back on my piece in July: Self Evident Truths for 7s and I realize that I should be taking this approach in other areas of the game.

If people say Goff has an agenda, let’s give ‘em an agenda. If people say Goff has biases, then let’s spell them out.
So I will start with one ideal; one tenet of rugby truth; one principle of play, and move on.

This week I find myself following up on what I wrote on the College Restructure Mess and giving you two tenets of rugby for the price of one.

Specifically, I want to reply to a commenter who challenged me to ask the members of the Collegiate Committee what their rationale was for linking college rugby division designation to FBS ([College] Football Bowl Subdivision).
I have two answers that are worth putting in a column:

1. USA Rugby specifically said they now want to link DI and DII college with the FBS system. What this means is, if your college football team is DI, then your rugby team should be DI. If your college football team is DI-AA, DI-AAA or DII, your college rugby team can be DII or DI.

This directly links the quality, funding and strength of a college’s football team to where a rugby team should play. It does not take into account the quality, funding and strength of the college’s rugby program at all. There is no sense in that. No other sport in the world judges a team based on how good teams in other sports are.

(And by the way, if you look at this week’s college football Top 25, and compare to the RUGBYMag.com Top 25 from May, when all DI teams were included, there are three, count ‘em, three teams that are listed in both. So obviously there is a disconnection between football strength and rugby strength.)

Now, this doesn’t hurt struggling rugby teams at DI football schools all that much. They aren’t prevented from playing in a DII league, just prevented from going into the playoffs … and if a team is good enough to make the DII postseason, perhaps they are good enough to compete on the DI level the next year. It makes things difficult for some, but for the most part the cause for distress will be somewhat isolated.

But … USA Rugby’s job is not to make judgments on how good the program should be based on their football team’s success. USA Rugby’s job is to open up the doors to competition and help teams walk through those doors. Can’t USA Rugby create a division system based on rugby criteria?


2. The second message I have for all this is a direct reply to the commenter, who asked me to explore the rationale the Committee had in deciding to structure college rugby this way.

Why should I care about rationale? This is a growing problem in how USA Rugby’s Committees do their work – they want credit for meaning well, and don’t want anyone to say they made a mistake.

I certainly believe that the Collegiate Committee and everyone involved in making these rules want the best for American rugby (happy now?). But that doesn’t mean anything if the upshot of their decisions is that people get hurt.

It doesn’t matter whether they cared, whether they meant well, or whether they worked hard to hammer out an agreement, if the end result is bad.

The Collegiate Committee did the right thing in suggesting College Rugby formulate new conferences with new names that are similar in tone to college sports conferences around the country. (They didn’t mean, for example, that the Big 10 has to be replicated exactly. What they meant was, calling a conference College Rugby East or something like that just sounds better.)

Here again, I look at the end result. I don’t care how they got that decision; they made it and it makes sense.

The issues are bigger than just this one, admittedly large, aspect of the game. They bring up two tenets of the sport we should all follow:

A) Learning from other sports is good, but linking ourselves to another sport too closely removes our identity and removes from all of us the mandate to make judgments about how a college rugby program should be developed. It causes us to throw up our hands rather than take control of a problem. Wouldn’t we do better to learn from Cal, Arkansas State, St. Mary’s, UCSB and Life than from any one football program?

B) Volunteers you are on notice. I have been a volunteer – a coach, a league administrator, and a club president. I have refereed games well, and refereed them badly. I have run tournaments. I have owned up to my mistakes (and they are legion) but I also know that a volunteer position doesn’t give you the right to say “I meant well” and leave it at that. Because selfishness, myopia, and knee-jerk reactions can happen even when you’re not paid.

Too many woeful errors in judgment have been perpetrated on the rugby-playing public for me to just shrug and think your rationale was acceptable, so we’ll say nothing. You on USA Rugby’s Committees have a responsibility to learn fully an issue, and make decisions based not on what happened last season, but what’s good for the game, and the players. If you do, I’ll gladly shout about it. If you don’t, I’ll be here.