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Arkansas State has become the 13th contestant of the Varsity Cup, as the competition looks to expand in 2015. While it's unclear exactly how large the Varsity Cup will grow in 2015, tournament organizers are in talks with other programs about joining the competition for the upcoming season.
"The tipping point for us was a new challenge, a new venture, and something the school’s particularly excited about," said Arkansas State head coach Mani Delabaitiki of the move.
"We weighed out all our options in regards to the benefits of us going to (Varsity Cup) or (DI-A), and collectively with the club and the school, the decision was to go to the Varsity Cup, I think, primarily not just because it’s something new, but also the school’s always big on trying to get name recognition of Arkansas State out there, and so they felt this was the best avenue to do that."
ASU had declined an invitation to the Varsity Cup years prior under former head coach Matt Huckaby, but the Red Wolves make the move under the guidance of Delabaitiki, who's heading into his second season on the job. The former Palmer head man was hired at Arkansas State in the fall of 2013 after the departure of Alex Houser. The decision was not solely Delabaitiki's to make, though.
"It was the school’s recommendation, us analyzing what was best for the school, and the team played a big part in the decision that was made, because at the end of the day, this is their team," continued the coach. "The team members were quite excited about joining the Varsity Cup. It’s something different – a chance for us to play schools we’ve never played before."
USA Rugby College 7s National Champions in 2012 and 2013 and five-time semifinalists in USA Rugby’s DI playoffs, Arkansas State instantly becomes a contender for the 2015 Varsity Cup title. ASU was bounced in the DI-A semifinals by Life in 2013 and 2014, by seven and five points, respectively. The Red Wolves lost a thrilling DI-A final 49-42 to BYU in 2012 and were knocked out in the semifinals by the Cougars in 2011.
While ASU was a founding member of the Mid-South conference, and the Red Wolves have enjoyed a mutually beneficial rivalry with Life, it’s unclear if ASU will continue to participate in Mid-South competition in 2015. Only one other Varsity Cup team, Air Force, plays in a DI-A conference, and the Zoomies just rejoined the DI-A’s West after a year-long hiatus.
"That’s one thing, really, I can’t control. All four programs know about each other’s programs and we respect a hell of a lot out of each other. We know what each other’s about," said Delabaitiki of ASU's Mid-South cohorts: Life, Lindenwood and Davenport.
"I know it’s tough, us leaving (the DI-A postseason), but for Arkansas State, we’d love to still be in the Mid-South conference. I think we still are. But at the end of the day it’s really up to the teams that are going to be in it if they are going to add us to the schedule…We have to do what’s best for Arkansas State, the school, and the program. I’ve explained that to the guys in our conference."