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Rugby Union is played throughout universities in the United States of America. More than 1,000 colleges have rugby teams. College rugby is the largest section of USA Rugby's membership. For the 2010-11 season, there were over 32,000 college members and 854 college clubs (511 male, 343 female) registered with USA Rugby, roughly a 14% increase from 28,000 college members in August 2008.
Rugby has been played in universities since as early as the 1800's, but it was the 1960's when rugby really found a foothold in colleges, led by the Catholic colleges such as Notre Dame and particularly the Jesuit universities such as Boston College and St. Joseph's in Philadelphia.
Today, college rugby continues to grow in popularity, and rugby is one of the fastest growing sports across college campuses. For example, the National Small College Rugby Organization has grown from 85 teams in the 2007-08 season to 151 teams in 2011-12 and to over 200 men's teams for the 2012-13 season. And in 2011, Wheeling Jesuit University announced it was launching its rugby program as a full varsity sport with scholarships.
The 2009 announcement that rugby sevens would be added to the 2016 Olympic games has led to an increased emphasis in the collegiate ranks on the sevens game and increasing interest from TV and other media. The highest profile collegiate 7s competition is the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC). The inaugural CRC, held in Columbus, Ohio in June 2010 was televised live by NBC and NBC Universal. The result was high ratings, with the CRC ratings beating the NCAA lacrosse championship. The 2011 CRC was held at PPL Park in Philadelphia, again televised live by NBC.
The sport includes a national championship competition (since 1980). California has won the majority of titles, with Air Force being the only other school that has won the championship multiple times. In 2011 the College Premier Division (CPD) was created with the intention of refining topflight collegiate rugby. To do so 31 schools joined together to form a new division of American rugby.
In the United States, college rugby is governed by (in descending order of authority): USA Rugby, territorial unions (TUs) and local area unions (LAUs) (e.g., NERFU). The NCAA has no authority over college rugby. Often called a club sport, each college team is administered by either the athletic department or the student club department. In 2011, USA Rugby continued to urge college rugby programs to adopt new conference structures similar to the conferences used by their other athletic programs. The highest profile example was the formation of the Ivy League Rugby Conference in 2010. This move signals a shift away from the LAUs and TUs as the governing bodies for regional college rugby.
Outstanding college rugby players are recognized as All-Americans by USA Rugby. Qualified All-Americans can represent the United States in international tournaments by playing on the United States national under-20 rugby union team.
Local Area Unions (LAUs) usually set up "league" matches in the primary season, while the teams set up their own "friendly" matches in the secondary season. In the northeast, midatlantic and midwest, the league season is played in the fall; while in the south, northwest and pacific regions, the spring is the primary season.
USA Rugby maintains strict player eligibility guidelines, administered by the local area unions. College players generally have 5 years of rugby eligibility from the time they first enter college, but exceptions can be made for military service or pregnancy.
On-field disciplinary issues are generally handled by the local area unions, while off-field disciplinary issues are governed by the academic institution and the local area union.
The CIPP insurance program provides liability insurance to players, teams, administrators and pitch hosts in exchange for an annual dues payment (currently $30/year). The CIPP program is administered by USA Rugby.
American college rugby is governed by the International Rugby Board and USA Rugby. Within the US, college rugby has historically been governed by the respective Territorial Unions (TUs) and Local Area Unions (LAUs).
Organization of college rugby has been evolving, however. Since 2009 many schools have been organizing into conferences similar to the traditional NCAA conferences. In November 2010, USARFU's college management committee set out a plan for transitioning universities to NCAA style groupings. The purpose of the realignment is for college rugby to be able to capitalize on the marketability of major college conferences. Playing in traditional conferences capitalizes on traditional rivalries, and brings in more sponsorship.
The Ivy Rugby Conference was formed in 2009. The IRC was formed to foster better competition among rugby teams from the Ivy League schools and to raise the quality of play. The IRC has had consistent success in attracting commercial interests. The IRC formed committees to manage the league, independently of the LAUs and TUs. Prior to formation of the IRC, clubs from the eight Ivy League schools had competed in the Ivy Rugby Championship Tournament since 1969.
In March 2010, nine of the twelve schools that participate in the NCAA's Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) announced that they had formed the Atlantic Coast Rugby League (ACRL) that would begin play in spring 2010. The ACRL quickly gained commercial success, announcing in February 2011, before it had even begun its inaugural season, that it has partnered with Adidas as its corporate sponsor. In addition to its early commercial success, the ACRL expects to improve rugby in the ACRL universities by capitalizing on traditional ACC rivalries, increasing the number of fans, and attracting talented high school rugby players.
In December 2010 a core group of founding schools formed the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference (SCRC). By April 2010 the SCRC had expanded to 12 schools composed of the NCAA's Southeastern Conference (SEC). Tennessee won the 2010 Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Sevens Championship beating LSU 19-17, and repeated in the 2011 SCRC Olympic Sevens Championship, beating Florida 26-14 in the final. Similar to other conferences, the SCRC has also enjoyed commercial success, announcing in fall 2010 that the SCRC had formed commercial partnership agreements with Adidas and the World Rugby Shop.
In 2011 the East Coast Rugby Conference was founded, consisting of seven schools. The conference began play in fall 2011.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2012)|
Division and conference placement is primarily based on a rugby club's success from the previous year. Each Local Area Union (LAU) has its own rules of governance, but in most cases, the team that wins its division or conference has the right to advance to the next highest division or conference. Conversely, the club with the least success that year might be relegated to competing in the next lowest division or conference. Because a move to a different division or conference would have an impact on travel arrangements, some college clubs might resist promotion or relegation for budgetary reasons.
Some winning clubs choose not to exercise this right to advance, instead preferring to stay in the lower club division, either because they are a very small college with a small rugby budget, or because they wish to remain competitive against lesser opponents. For example, Furman University (an NCAA Division I institution) is a perennial Division III rugby powerhouse, yet they have consistently declined promotion to Division II. Similarly, Plymouth State University declined promotion to D2 despite winning the 2008 D3 NSCRO National championship.
Other clubs are offered promotion, despite not winning their conference, based upon their strength of play. For example, Iowa State Men's Club was allowed to move up to D1 from D2 because they had performed so well in the 2006 Big 12 tournament, losing to fifth ranked Texas A&M in overtime after winning the competition 2 previously (while being the only D2 team competing). Southern Connecticut State University was moved from D3 to D2 despite losing to Salve Regina University 21-20 in the 2008 NERFU College Men's Division III Rugby Tournament. See also Promotion and relegation.
Most colleges classify their rugby programs as club sports rather than varsity sports. A small but growing number of universities, however, have begun offering rugby as a varsity sport, realizing that varsity rugby can be a profitable endeavor, as a successful varsity rugby program can quickly result in national championships and increased marketability.
|Cal Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||1882||26 national championships since 1980|
|Life University||Marietta, GA||1980||Consistently ranked in the Top 5 nationally|
|SUNY Maritime College||Bronx, NY||???|
|Paul Smiths College||Paul Smiths, NY||???|
|American International College||Springfield, MA||???|
|Cal Maritime||Vallejo, CA||2001||Ranked #1 in its Division (2009, 2010);|
NSCRO runner up (2012)
|Franciscan University of Steubenville||Steubenville, OH||2001||NSCRO 3rd place (2012)|
|Davenport||Grand Rapids, MI||2009||D1-AA Champion (2011, 2012)|
|Lindenwood||Saint Louis, MO||2011||D2 Champion (2012)|
|Wheeling Jesuit||Wheeling, WV||2012||TBD|
|Notre Dame College||Cleveland, OH||2012||TBD|
The National Collegiate Athletic Association identified women's rugby as an "Emerging Sport" in 2002. An "Emerging Sport", a category that includes sand volleyball and equestrian, must gain championship status (minimum 28 varsity programs for team sports and 40 varsity programs for individual sports) within 10 years or show steady progress toward that goal to remain on the list.
Until then, it is under the auspices of the NCAA and its respective institutions. With only 5 teams, Emerging Sport status in any sport allows for competition to include club teams to satisfy the minimum number of competitions bylaw established by the NCAA.
There are currently 5 varsity women's rugby programs: Quinnipiac University, Eastern Illinois University: (Division 1); West Chester University (Division 1); and Bowdoin College, and Norwich University (Division 3). Harvard will offer varsity women's rugby beginning fall 2013.
Since the 2009 announcement that rugby sevens will be included in the 2016 Olympics, college rugby sevens has grown in popularity. The addition of Rugby 7s to the 2016 Olympic games has led to increasing interest from TV and other media, and an increased emphasis in the collegiate ranks on the 7s game. For example, the University of Texas founded its competitive rugby sevens program in 2010. Cal rugby announced in December 2011 that beginning in 2013 it would use the fall term for sevens.
The Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) is the highest profile college sevens rugby tournament in the US. The inaugural CRC, held in Columbus, Ohio in June 2010, was televised live by NBC and NBC Universal, the first time college rugby has been broadcast live on network TV in the US. The result was high ratings, with the CRC ratings beating the NCAA lacrosse championship.
The success of the inaugural 2010 tournament lead to a second tournament in 2011 at PPL Park in Philadelphia, again televised live by NBC. NBC recognized that rugby is growing in popularity, participation and interest.
USA Rugby announced in September 2011 the creation of a new sevens tournament, the USA Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championships. The tournament is held annually at the end of the fall season and features 24 teams. Qualification is based on performance at sevens tournaments during the fall, where tournament winners receive automatic bids, with the remaining places in the 24-team field filled by invitation. Some of the more high profile qualifying tournaments include regional tournaments based on traditional conference rivalries, such as the Atlantic Coast 7s (composed mostly of ACC schools), the Southeastern 7s (composed mostly of SEC schools) and the Heart of America 7s (composed mostly of Big 12 schools).
The inaugural event was held December 16-17, 2011 in College Station, Texas, and was contested by 24 teams that qualified based on performance in qualifying tournaments throughout the fall of 2011. The 2011 tournament was won by Life University, defeating Central Washington 22-17 in overtime. Tim Stanfill of Central Washington was the tournament MVP, Derek Patrick of Miami was the tournament's leading try scorer, and Colton Caraiga of Life University was the tournament's leading points scorer.
Conferences and Conference Tournaments
Beginning around 2010, college rugby programs began realigning into conference structures that mirror the traditional NCAA conferences used by the member schools' other athletic programs. The first high profile example was the formation of the Ivy League Rugby Conference in 2010. Following the organization of the Ivy League schools, the members of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference followed suit in 2010.
Ivy Rugby Conference
Atlantic Coast Rugby League
Following the lead of the Ivy Rugby Conference, in March 2010 the formation of the Atlantic Coast Rugby League was announced, beginning play in the spring 2011 season. The purpose behind the formation of the ACRL was for the Atlantic Coast schools to play other regional schools, which would both reduce travel and create more competitive matchups with traditional college rivalries. Maryland won the 2011 inaugural ACRL, defeating North Carolina in the title match. Despite its name, teams in the ACRL play the XV-a-side Union code popular in American universities, not Rugby League.
The Atlantic Coast Rugby League schools started moving in the direction of setting up their own conference in 2008, beginning with the Atlantic Coast Invitational (ACI) tournament. The ACI tournament changed to a sevens format in 2010. N.C. State won the 2010 tournament. Beginning in 2011, the winner of the Atlantic Coast Invitational has advanced to the USA Rugby National Championship. N.C. State again won the ACI tournament in 2011 defeating Virginia 24-17 in the final.
Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference
The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference, formed by schools from the Southeastern Conference, was created in late 2010 and began play in the 2011-12 season. Florida won the conference title in the inaugural season, defeating Tennessee in the championship match.
Pacific Athletic Conference
Several members of the PAC-12 conference agreed in spring 2012 to form a conference beginning play in the 2012-13 season.
Big Ten Universities
The Big Ten schools have formed the Big Ten 7s tournament, which features a round of pool play followed by knockout play. The inaugural Big Ten tournament was held August 2011, and hosted by Wisconsin. Wisconsin and Penn State both won their respective pools. Both teams were also successful in knockout play, reaching the finals, where Wisconsin defeated Penn State 21-14. Wisconsin's Ben Knight was the tournament MVP. Wisconsin's victory at the 2011 Big Ten 7s earned it the right to compete for the national championship at the 2011 USA Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championships.
The Southwest Conference (SWC) was created in 2011 with the charter members of: Texas State University, Baylor University, Rice University, University of Houston, Texas Christian University, University of North Texas & Sam Houston State University. University of Texas was immediately added. Texas won the conference in the inaugural 2011-12 season. Sam Houston State University resigned from the SWC in May 2012.
Other Competitions: Rivalry Trophies
College rugby includes rivalry trophies such as the World Cup between the University of California, Berkeley and the University of British Columbia (Canada), the Wasatch Cup between BYU and Utah, the University Cup between Texas and Texas A&M, and the Common Wealth Shield between Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Other Competitions: Divisions 2 - 4
1995 Sacramento State
Division III - Governed by the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO)
The National Small College Rugby Organization was created to give a competitive outlet to small colleges which would not otherwise have an opportunity to compete on a national stage. Each year, the NSCRO hosts rugby tournaments for Division III Men's and Women's college teams, and for Division IV Women's college teams.
Division IV - Governed by National Small College Rugby Organization