Medford, NJ – As part of its goal to “foster the growth and development of men and women’s small college rugby in the United States,” the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) has adopted two key strategies to succeed. First is the creation of the Challenge Cup and the second is the encouragement of hybrid leagues. Both have the same goal in mind: to give more schools greater opportunity to participate and succeed in rugby. Due to the unique nature of small colleges, their rugby clubs achieve varying degrees of success that is directly impacted by financial and facilities support from the university, the number of years a club has been in existence and its competitive success. These two initiatives seek to combat those challenges.
“We wanted to make sure that we provided space for varying levels of clubs to play and one of our core beliefs is that neither team benefits from a 55-0 rugby match,” said Greg Noone, Commissioner of the 16-team Three Rivers Rugby Conference.
Men’s Challenge Cup
In the 2014-15 competitive year, NSCRO inaugurated the Men’s Challenge Cup playoff system, an opportunity for more small college teams to find post-league success and receive recognition and accolades from school officials, fellow students and alumnae. Although NSCRO is affiliated with over 240 men’s clubs in total, by having only a single Men’s Championship playoff pathway in existence, it meant for some teams, a club could lose a few matches early in the season and be knocked out of contention for a spot in the NSCRO playoffs. Other teams may not have the ability to compete with the stronger and more established clubs in their conference. Either scenario could discourage a team. With the Challenge Cup opportunity, the chance for post-season play could still exist. The creation of the Challenge Cup has given some teams a longer “life” by providing them with another post-season playoff opportunity for finding success at a level they may have never known or otherwise may not reach. NSCRO has created flexibility with the Challenge Cup allowing Conferences/Unions to create a league structure that gives their clubs the right playoff pathway for success. In some leagues, clubs are eligible for both the Champions and Challenge Cups. However, the Challenge Cup is not an option for clubs who have a history of recent success and NSCRO limits those clubs to the Champions Cup pathway.
“It gives them an opportunity to enhance their relationship with the school, because the school now realizes their rugby club is part of a well run national organization,” said President of NSCRO, Steve Cohen. “In many cases the schools either begin or increase their funding to the club and sometimes provide field and other services to support their growth which they had previously not provided. This along with improved alumni support is also a direct result of their participation in a national playoff system and achieving a national ranking.”
NSCRO carefully created a set of qualifying guidelines which about 90 teams took on the “Challenge” for the 2014-15 season. Four teams qualified for the Challenge Cup’s National Championship held at Founder Fields in Pittsburgh, PA in April 2015. They came from California, Colorado, Indiana and Virginia. All matches were live streamed for fans that could make the trip. The first ever NSCRO Challenge Cup title went to California’s University of the Pacific, the biggest accomplishment ever for a school that began playing rugby in 1908.
“I felt it was a very successful first year. As a result we saw an increase in interest from more conferences in taking part. We now have about 130 clubs that are in the Challenge Cup pathway for the 2015-2016 competitive year,” continued Cohen, who hopes to have a similar system set up for the women’s schools at some point in the future.
The 2016 Challenge Cup National Championship was recently completed. Salem State University took home the Champion’s Trophy with a win over Point Loma Nazarene University. Loma Coach Jason Lee said, “Thank you again for creating such an amazing opportunity for schools like ours. You put on a top notch program and an experience we will always cherish and remember. Hopefully we are good enough to make it back next year.”
An important goal of NSCRO is to allow Conferences/Unions the opportunity to create the best possible competitive league structure while offering their small college the national playoff pathway that best suits their needs. Three years ago NSCRO and USA Rugby collaborated on an agreement to allow D2 and NSCRO teams to compete in the same league. As part of the agreement, USAR allows D2 clubs to play league matches against NSCRO clubs as part of their compliance standard for a minimum number of league matches for qualification to its playoffs. Generally these matches do not count in the NSCRO standings which include just the NSCRO vs. NSCRO match results.
For Conferences/Unions with a large number of clubs, it can allow creation of two leagues. A hybrid league with competitive D2 and NSCRO clubs and a second league of NSCRO clubs who are not currently competitive with the clubs in the higher league. As discussed earlier, this is where the NSCRO Challenge Cup playoff opportunity can be of value to organizations looking at ways to help their clubs develop and grow. Clubs participating in a hybrid league must declare a single national playoff pathway prior to the start of their league season in coordination with their Union/Conference league planning. Additionally, clubs may not be eligible for more than one national championship playoff pathway in a single competitive year.
NSCRO works diligently in creating policies that offer Conferences/Unions flexibility in determining what works best for their clubs.
“We’re seeing great growth in the number of women’s teams joining NSCRO and part of the growth is the hybrid league concept. It’s allowing conferences to provide the appropriate post season pathway for their teams, without there being a lot of disruption to the conference scheduling,” said the NSCRO’s Commissioner of Women’s Rugby, Bryn Chivers.
Pictured above: 2015 Challenge Cup National Champions, University of the Pacific by Matt Rosemeyer