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The Varsity Cup released today its eligibility rules for its competition.

Since the Varsity Cup is not an official USA Rugby competition, they don't have to abide by USA Rugby eligibility rules. Still, the Varsity Cup teams waited until this week to announce their rules, perhaps in part because the participating teams are finished with their conference play (such as the ACRL and PAC) and therefore might avoid a conflict with USA Rugby.

The eligibility rules for the Varsity Cup do differ from those at USA Rugby.

The Varsity Cup universities have adopted the eligibility rules widely used in Intercollegiate Athletics and, for the most part, have adopted verbatim the NCAA eligibility language concerning military and religious service.

The Varsity Cup’s major exception is a departure from the NCAA’s five years to play four. The Varsity Cup has opted for five years to play five.

BYU head coach David Smyth commented on the ease of administering the Varsity Cup’s adopted eligibility rules.

“By using what’s been tried and true the Varsity Cup eligibility rules are concise, simple, and easy to manage,” Smyth said, “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we just want to make it fair and equitable for all the players while making it easy for us to manage in the future.”

California head coach Jack Clark echoed Smyth’s sentiments.

“The collegiate athletic community comprising university executives, conference executives, athletic directors, coaches and the NCAA has an established and well-vetted set of eligibility rules and guidelines which fairly and effectively address military service and official religious missions.” Clark said, “It is pragmatic that university rugby adopts the same eligibility rules where possible. Personally, I am somewhat bothered by rules which treat military personnel unfairly.”

How does this differ from USA Rugby? The National Governing Body's rules as recently changed state that a player's eligibility begins the day he or she graduates from high school. (We will say he from now on as the Varsity Cup is a men's competition.) The NCAA rules count a player's eligibility from the time he begins college (a huge difference if a kid takes a year or two off).

The NCAA does not count time in the armed forces, on official church mission, or in recognized US-Government foreign aid programs towards a player's eligibility. USA Rugby's rules allow any player to apply for a waiver to get back one year.

The difference for the Varsity Cup, then, is that BYU players who went on LDS Mission do not have that time count toward their eligibility.

Similarly, players who took a year off before college, or entered the military, do not have that time count against their eligibility.

Already this year we have seen the new rule prevent a player from playing. Dartmouth's captain, Michael Burbank, was ruled ineligible by USA Rugby because he used up eligibility time during two deployments for the US Marine Corps. Burbank and Dartmouth thought he was eligible through USA Rugby's grandfather clause, because he began school before the new rules came into effect and played under those rules. Regardless, he appears to be eligible under the Varsity Cup rules.