You are here
Of course nothing I came up with was all that earth-shaking, or memorable. But I did come away with a new viewpoint. The Super League, the top competition in the United States, is in trouble. It is shrinking, down to eight teams from a high of 18. It is supposed to be the elite competition, and in many ways still is, but many DI clubs are good enough to be in the league, and good enough to make the playoffs. So how elite is it?
It’s clear to me that the club system needs something of an overhaul, but it’s also clear that blindly merging the Super League and DI does a disservice to both. We’d see too many massive blowouts if we did that, and we’d make an equally massive mistake of spreading the competition too thin. The talen pool would be diluted, and the competitive balance would be skewed.
But I do think that we could support a 24-team Super League both
competitively and in terms of talent, if we could support the competition
But if we did that, what would happen to the rest of DI, about 50 teams spread out over the entire country? We’ve have to expand that competition, because a local league of three or four teams don’t work (as we’ve seen). So maybe you bring up some DII clubs. OK … but who decides how you do that?
Who decides what, exactly, is a DII club? We’ve seen teams get dragged
kicking and screaming into DI, only to fall back down, or disappear. We’ve
seen other teams move up to DI without much trouble.
Trickling down the divisions, I figure in the end USA Rugby, and specific the office of Director of Rugby Operations Jim Snyder might need to establish some parameters.
For example, I see DIII clubs as being recreational Players play for fun.
They love rugby. They play hard, but they are not the elite. Having played
plenty of DIII rugby I can tell you, it’s really fun, but it’s not
producing national team players.
Most DIII teams still field players who figure one practice a week is enough (it was for me!), and who hope to have 15 on game day. It’s no wonder that the last three national DIII champion teams have actually been the 2nd or 3rd side of a DI club.
That’s important to remember. Generally we understand the definition of a DIII club – it’s usually not large. The players might be very young or … of a certain age. They play hard but don’t have pretentions of being high performance athletes. They are often what makes rugby great in this country.
Up at the top, I think we know what the teams and players are, too. The players may be amateur, but they treat the game as if they were professional. They practice hard, and regularly, and add in their own workouts, as well. Players at the highest club level might aspire to the national team, or to be professional overseas, or to win a national championship. All of this is clear.
But the part that we need to figure out is, when do we make the jump from recreational to high performance club?
Because that, in my mind, is the problem. There are DII clubs that behave and approach the game and play on the field as good as many of the very top DI or even Super League teams, and there are DI clubs that are just flat-out not very good – or, if they are good, they are good today, but two months from now, or a year from now, they implode.
In the end I believe we need to change how we discuss clubs. Saying DI, DII, and DIII, just makes it seem like clubs in those divisions are the same, just in a different division – like they are just a couple of players or an economic boost in their town from making the jump to the upper echelon. That’s not true.
Instead, I think we should characterize 15s clubs the way we characterize 7s teams in tournaments. We should have a Championship division (split, perhaps, into different levels), and Open division (which doesn’t have a national championship, but allows people to play and grow the game, develop youth programs, build fields, and do all the things that make the game great, and fun).
Before we start re-working the Super League, and telling teams whether they should be in DI or DII or somewhere else (even as they beg and plead to be somewhere else), we should establish what types of rugby clubs we’re all playing in. We’ve seen what changing the name of a division does for High School Club. Now we should look at the Men’s Club game.