You are here
The addition of Arkansas State gives the Varsity Cup a baker’s dozen – 13 teams. For obvious reasons, the competition won’t likely have an odd number of participants for its third season. It’s expected to expand to 14, or more likely 16, for the 2015 season.
“The Varsity Cup is being very selective in our expansion plans, we want the best performing teams which have established institutional support. Arkansas State is a very good example of this expansion standard,” BYU coach David Smyth said in the Varsity Cup press release announcing the ASU move.
St. Mary’s certainly must be considered one of the ‘best-performing teams’, but it looks like the Gaels are going to stiff-arm the Varsity Cup for another year. If they wanted to be in, they already would be. And for some reason, despite the California Conference shrinking and the Varsity Cup’s increased attractiveness, the Gael leadership seems content with its wagon hitched to DI-A.
That’s not to say St. Mary’s won’t change its mind before 2015, but discussions have been had between coaches in the Varsity Cup and the coaches at St. Mary’s, and the Gaels have not committed to the competition.
Penn State and Army make an awful lot of sense, too, but their coaching situations are still in flux, with interim coaches at the respective helms following suspensions. Both programs are being watched over by their athletic departments, and they both have the history of being competitive, so they should be prime targets for the Varsity Cup once their coaching situations are sorted.
Texas A&M might also make sense. With the addition of Arkansas State, and the existence of Oklahoma and Texas, adding a fourth team in the southwest would potentially create a more affordable first round in a 16-team format.
Those are the teams that are most likely to be considered, but the list of teams that should be sought after is longer and includes the likes of Life, Lindenwood, Davenport and Kutztown. (That is, if those teams would be interested in competing. Kutztown didn’t play spring 15s last year, and who knows if the Golden Bears would budge for the Varsity Cup?)
Some conspiracy theorists believe an unspoken reason for the creation of the Varsity Cup was for its founding teams to avoid playing schools like those just mentioned, because they have looser academic constraints or lack big-name value. But there’s no denying Life, Lindenwood, Davenport and Kutztown are among the best programs in the country, and the former three are all one-percenters in terms of administrative support.
Kutztown and Lindenwood are NCAA DII universities, so they play by the same academic rules as Varsity Cup participant Central Washington. Life and Kutztown have displayed the ability, and their administrations the willingness, to show well at events like the Collegiate Rugby Championship, both competitively and with butts in seats.
While it may be a bit too drastic to imagine for this upcoming season, what eventually would make the Varsity Cup the undisputed National Championship would be expanding to 24 teams, with the top eight receiving byes to the quarterfinals and the next 16 teams left having to play in. (See an example of a potential VC bracket below)
In order to make it work with a spring-only playoff schedule running on concurrent weekends, and for teams to build the kitty to travel for the postseason, play-in games would be playable anytime in the competitive cycle. In my example, every single play-in game could be played before February, with most of them going off in the fall. (The Mid-South is looking to implement more fall games, and most other conferences are playing fall 15s, anyway. The warm-weather teams could play in January or December, which many of them do currently.)
The vast majority of the play-in games would be fairly local, so of little cost to the teams participating. It would get more expensive in the Round of 16 for many, and going to 24 increases the amount of postseason games by one for half of the participants, but the same would be true for a 16-team Varsity Cup, which is expected.
If wanting to avoid an all-NAIA final on NBC is of concern, the less shiny brands, like Life, Lindenwood, Kutztown and Davenport, could be corralled into one of four regions, assuring only one of them, at most, sees the semifinals.
But, the point is, all of the top teams in the country would have a shot at winning the Varsity Cup at the beginning of the season, which would suffocate any debate over which tournament provides the true national champion. It would also pave the way for pretty exciting semifinal and quarterfinal games, as listed below, and allow 24 teams to cling to the dream of playing on national television.
No system is perfect. None. But the Varsity Cup decision makers really need to incorporate as many as the likes of St. Mary’s, Life, Lindenwood, Kutztown, Army and Penn State as is manageable if they want to shut the door on the national championship debate. And they can keep their mission alive and integrity in tact in the process.
(For my example below, there are certainly other teams, like Bowling Green or Wheeling Jesuit that would be good fits. These names are just for argument's sake.)