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Editor’s Note: Evan Lappen’s home club is Rocky Gorge.
Last weekend, four teams entered the Division III Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) playoffs to determine who would represent the conference in the club national quarterfinals. On Sunday, Reading and Rocky Gorge played a hotly contested match, which Gorge won, 32-22, for its first DIII MAC Championship.
Conventional thinking would say that the champion would move on, but due to the USA Rugby Eligibility Regulations, the MAC entry was awarded to the second-place team. However, after a multitude of discussions and appeals, it is the decision of the USA Rugby Grievance Committee that Rocky Gorge will now represent the MAC in East Regionals this Saturday.
The issue at hand is USA Rugby Eligibility Regulation 3.5 regarding senior clubs fielding multiple sides. Part A of the regulation states that teams competing for a USA Rugby Championship from the same club must compete in contiguous divisions. This applies to the current situation because Rocky Gorge has a DI side and DIII, which are non-contiguous and therefore according the regulation, the lower side is ineligible for the national playoffs.
Before going any further, more background is needed. In the 2014-2015 season, Rocky Gorge fielded a DII and DIII side in the MAC. The conference had adopted a new promotion/relegation policy and said if a team won its division, it would be promoted and the lowest team of the division may be relegated based on the total number of teams.
Gorge won DII and was promoted to DI. Wanting to play meaningful games next season and compete for a national championship, DIII wanted to follow DI and requested promotion to DII in May 2015, but the MAC denied the motion, making Gorge play in non-contiguous divisions.
Gorge DIII played the season amassing an 8-1-1 record in the regular season and going on to beat Virginia Beach, 38-19, in the opening round of the MAC Playoffs. On May 11th, three days before the MAC semifinals, Gorge requested a provisional waiver to Regulation 3.5(A) from the USA Rugby National Competitions Committee, but the waiver was denied.
After Gorge won the MAC Championship over Reading on May 15th and Reading was awarded the spot at nationals, Gorge filed a grievance with USA Rugby in accordance with the bylaws asking that the denial of the waiver be overturned, allowing the club to compete at nationals. A committee was appointed by USA Rugby to hear the appeal on May 18th. Members of Rocky Gorge, the MAC, and USA Rugby presented their cases and each viewpoint was considered.
The committee concluded its findings with several facts:
·No deadlines or timeframes were scheduled to resolve the matter in question. Therefore, the appeal was considered “ripe and timely”.
·No eligibility violations from individual players were noted between the two sides of the club.
·Although USA Rugby has the non-contiguous side regulation, USA Rugby allows conferences to make their own arbitrary rules to be in effect with their own clubs. In this instance, the MAC prevented Rocky Gorge from competing in contiguous divisions, thus creating a conflict with the USA Rugby regulation.
·The MAC promotion/relegation policy states that if a team is relegated down a division and already has a lower side in that division, the lower side will be pushed down to the next lower division. However, the same is not true if a side is promoted and the club wants to keep its sides in contiguous divisions. The conflict is that the MAC policy prevented Gorge from complying with Regulation 3.5(A).
According to the Decision of USA Rugby Grievance Committee, this regulation conflict between USA Rugby and the MAC created an, “unfair circumstance,” for the players affected and is a, “violation of their equal protection rights to be treated the same” as other players who are playing for second-side teams.
The committee found that, “Rocky Gorge DIII players have been unfairly prevented from playing meaningful games, and their right to compete for a national championship as a dues paying member of USA Rugby has been infringed.”
Additionally, the committee found that as they earned the MAC title, “to the victors go the spoils.” The decision stated, “it would be unfair if Rocky Gorge was not permitted to proceed forward in the current Men’s DIII USA Rugby playoffs based upon their unique set of facts in this particular circumstance.”
When asked for comment, John B. Bratt, Rocky Gorge’s attorney, said, “The opinion makes it clear that the waiver was granted because Rocky Gorge was the legitimate divisional winner, and it would be unfair to prevent the club from advancing due to a conflict between the MAC and USAR rules.”
Bratt went on to say, “The club is thankful justice was done, and that Rocky Gorge plans on proving it on the field on Saturday on the way to becoming National Champions.”
Rugby Today reached out to Reading RFC and president Dean Andes, who said arbitration has been filed. “At this point the American Arbitration Associates will handle the details regarding Contractual Bylaws of USA rugby.”
“I, as the MAC Chairperson am disappointed with outcome of the appeal. I know there are many others in our larger Rugby Community that also share that disappointment, most of all, Reading RFC,” said Margy Thomas.
“Several questions are worth asking at this point: If Rocky Gorge receives such a waiver, on what grounds would another club be refused? What will the Eligibility Committee do now?”
Though this matter appears unresolved, Rocky Gorge DIII will compete against the Fairfield Yankees in the National Club Quarterfinals in Pittsburgh, Pa.