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No one else does it. Canada doesn’t – they have their clubs play in regional competitions, and leave nationals to the provinces. Australia doesn’t. Large countries, even where they have money to pay their players, don’t do it.

But we keep doing it. We keep operating competitions where 32 – thirty-two – teams are put into the playoffs. That 32, by the way, is 54% of the teams eligible for the playoffs in DI. So in an amateur competition, where getting to the playoffs is a significant financial hardship, and requires a team that gets to the Round of 16, QFs, Semis and Final to fly twice, we add in another week to make another 27% of the teams feel good?

Seems silly to me.

So I would like to submit some basic tenets of club rugby that we should all follow when devising competitions. I won’t, at this juncture, get into the idea that the Super League and D1 should somehow merge to make our club game better … you’ve heard me say that before.

Instead, let’s just say D1 stays organized roughly the way it is now:

 

  1. No union can make a club move up or down in a division. Division 1 or 2 is not based on ability alone. It is based on money, depth, and what competition you have available. (Personal case in point. Back in 1998 I helped found a club in DIII. It is still in DIII and doing just fine. But for a while, we discussed the unfairness of being forced to start in DIII. It wasn’t because we were all that good. It was because we had at least six DII clubs within a 90-minute drive, while our DIII opponents were usually 3, 4 or 5 hours away. DII would have, at the time, made more sense for us even if we got thrashed every week)

    This issue comes back to the South. Why does USA Rugby South keep making its DII winners move up to DI? For those clubs nothing has changed. They still have the same structure, depth issues, travel issues. But because they won a championship they’re told they have to give someone else a turn, even if moving up to DI means they lose players, money, and fans. It’s counter-intuitive. Emulate the good, don’t drag the good down.

  2. Consider playoffs a privilege. Making the playoffs is not something that everyone should be able to do. If you are in a competitive league, then you’re in a competitive league – you will still have to win to move onward and upward. Giving playoff berths to more than 50% of the teams in the country is embarrassing.

    (Remember how the NHL used to be mocked for this?)


  3. One of the reasons territories are dying is because they are so stuck in the past. Even as the roster of clubs in their regions change, they are still stuck trying to do things like force clubs to join a DI league to make it viable.

    If GUs take over from TUs, the problem of borders may still exist. The point is, leagues need to be formed based on logical boundaries. Could the South be viable if it merged with the Mid-Atlantic? Could Utah have options if it combined with the West? Could Southern and Northern California become a South and North Division of the same league?

  4. Territories do not own clubs or players. The players and clubs own territories (or GUs, or their leagues). 

  5. Reduce the playoffs. Make winning your league mean something. Create a competition 

 

What we currently have in American rugby is five regions of D1 competition: the Midwest, the Northeast, the West, the Mid-Atlantic (spilling over into the South), and the West Coast.

(New Orleans is kind of stuck in limbo, but would actually be better off playing in the Texas league than where they are right now.)

Five leagues, most of which would be split into divisions but could, if they wanted to, play some crossover games. Five leagues that could lead to a relatively simple playoff scenario for eight teams, then four (QF and SF in one weekend) and a final (on a separate weekend).


That’s what we have. Five leagues of 60-odd teams. Leagues that should be concentrating on providing fun, regular games for athletes who love playing this game and hope, one day, to play at a higher level.

Making “playoff teams” out of over half of them won’t grow the game or give anything but a fleeting warm and fuzzy feeling. Forcing winning DII teams to join that league when they don’t want to won’t bring more people to the sport. Such moves could, in fact, undercut any success or foundation that a club has.

So ... in conclusion, maybe we look at whether the current system works.

Does spreading the wealth via playoff spots change the landscape of the playoffs? Not really.

In 2011, in the Round of 32, the #1 seed beat the #4 seed 7 times out of 8, including two forfeits for 4th seeds that never showed up. In 2010 the score again was 7-1.

Among 2nd v 3rd seeds, the results were more mixed. 2nd seeds were 6-2 in 2011, and only 3-5 in 2010.

In 2011, six of the top eight teams were ranked 1st in their league (Boston Irish Wolfhounds, 2nd in the Northeast, made the semis, and Sacramento Lions, 3rd in the Pacific, made the quarters).

In 2010, four of the top eight were #1 teams, while a #2 team won it all (Las Vegas), and three 3rd-seeded teams made the QFs, one going on to the semis.

So you can get upsets, but it’s also clear that no 4th-seeded teams, not one, made it past the Round of 16, and only two did even that.

Even if we don’t create such radical change as realigning leagues and forming a wild-card play-in to the quarters, maybe we just not put the 4th seeds, and by extension the 1st seeds and us, through the pain.