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An elongated vetting process has cost USA Rugby some quality volunteers. The Collegiate Eligibility Committee, which had already lost three members since its formation last year, is now down to one person, following the resignation of Chip Auscavitch and committee chair Marty Bradley.

Curt Huckaby and Craig Coates bowed out of the committee earlier this year, and Rich Cortez was hired away to become USA Rugby’s collegiate director, leaving Michelle Yarbrough as the committee’s lone member. One former committee member said her resignation is expected soon.

Auscavitch and Bradley’s resignations were a direct result of the time it’s taken to release the new college eligibility regulations finalized by the College Eligibility Committee in January. They were approved by the College Management Council Feb. 6, the Rugby Committee Feb. 10 and the Board of Directors March 9.

“As a committee, we worked very hard to not only review 135 waiver requests, but also completely overhaul the collegiate eligibility regulations in an attempt to provide a more fair and even definition of collegiate eligibility,” Bradley said in his resignation letter, procured upon request by RUGBYMag.

“The committee completed a tremendous amount of work during these six months. Unfortunately, much of this work appears to have been in vain as the resulting product has yet to be implemented.

“This process has been horribly mismanaged and is a disservice to everyone that has spent so much time on this project and to the entire collegiate rugby community.” 

The regulations were withheld from publication pending a legal review sparked by concerns raised by BYU coach David Smyth.

“The legal review started a couple of weeks ago when David Smyth told me of some concerns he had about them,” said USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville. “He was getting some feedback from his school, some thoughts, and we passed them onto our lawyers as well.”

The new regulations include starting the clock on a player’s window of eligibility when he/she graduates high school, instead of when he/she enrolls in college. If a player misses school for any reason, he/she can get just one year of eligibility back. It would appear this clause was the root of Smyth’s concern, as BYU often has players leave school for two years on Mormon mission. Under the new rules, those players would get back just one of the two years they missed.  

USA Rugby’s legal review was completed Tuesday, Melville said, and a the new regulations are set to be released, unchanged, either today or Friday.

Bradley resigned Wednesday (Auscavitch had done so last month) not knowing the regulations he was integral in creating were to be released within days. However, Bradley says the fact that they’re going out to the public now won’t change anything for him.

“At some point you’ve got to stand up for what you believe,” he said. “The bottom line is this thing has taken forever.”

Melville defends the time it’s taken USA Rugby, fresh off  a three-year legal battle with Ruggers, Inc., dba Kooga, to vet the new regulations

“We’re trying to make sure that when we post new regulations they can stand a legal challenge, and that makes sense. That’s not happened in the past,” said Melville. “Things are more and more litigious as we go forward, so we look to make sure things we put out there are being legally reviewed. I think that’s important.”

Bradley contends that if a legal review was part of the legislation process, he, as chair of the committee creating the legislation, should have been aware of that, and that the legal review process should have started in January, when the regulations were originally finalized.  

Jim Snyder, the USA Rugby Director of Operations who filled in as interim collegiate director following Todd Bell’s firing in January and prior to the hiring of Tam Breckenridge and Rich Cortez in April, said the timing of Bell’s exit is partially to blame.

“A little bit of it is a mea culpa by USA Rugby and the timing of Todd Bell’s departure and how long it’s taken us to get Tam and Rich in place. That really complicated this, because it was one of those things that was along with a lot of other items that needed to be handled over the last four months, that, being real honest, didn’t get the due attention it deserved,” said Snyder.

“It was merely a factor of the personnel change, coupled with the complexity of the changes, and we wanted to make sure, as a membership organization, that these were indeed fully vetted…It was a combination of those things that made it go slower than optimal, but I think, in the end, they’re going to be announced knowing that the right level of due diligence was done, even if it was done slower than would have been ideal.”

This is not the first time USA Rugby has come under fire from one of its volunteer committees for taking too long to release information. Last year the College Competitions Committee was displeased with how long it took USA Rugby to disperse information regarding the college 7s national championships. Some teams cited short notice as reason for refusing a bid to the event.

Bradley expressed concerns about how the late announcement of the new regulations, set to go into effect for the 2012/2013 season, will affect schools offering financial assistance or scholarships to recruits. Bradley, also the head coach of Tennessee, said he’s known who was coming to play for him next year for months, and it’s possible a team will have already offered a scholarship to a player who won’t be eligible.

“As a membership-based organization, we’re probably not as nimble as if we were a single-man driven private entity. We want to make sure that we’re taking the right steps and we’re getting buy in from all the right constituents as we steer this. We’re a governing body that works on behalf of our members, so getting consensus does take time,” said Snyder.

“I do think our processes can be sped up to get that due diligence done in a more efficient manner…What we tried to address in hiring Rich and Tam is we now have two people who are highly organized, both have a tremendous amount of USA Rugby committee experience, so they know that side of it…so I think while we are going to have to take that due diligence, which takes time, I think we are poised to do it far more efficiently based on the people we’ve got in place.”   

Snyder was complimentary of the work put in by Bradley as the eligibility committee chair.

“He’s been a real stalwart on that committee and has gone really above and beyond in what he’s done, and I personally have a lot of gratitude for the effort that he put forth in that committee, especially in a real, kind of, trying time,” said Snyder.

“Things are in a state of massive flux all across college rugby right now, and in a really unclear time he provided a lot of real great leadership and direction.”