The Rugby XV’s season is officially over. The summer has begun and Sevens season is kicking off in full swing. As we progress another year the question has to be finally asked, when does the South add Division I Club Rugby? Earlier this month, the Pacific Northwest Rugby Football Union recently added Division I Men’s club level to their union. That means the only remaining geographic region that does not currently have a Division I side is the southern region, and it’s time for the southern region to get Division I Club Rugby.
First, it’s not as if the southern geographic region has never had a Men’s Club D1 side. 2012 was the last year there was an official division 1 bracket in the south. Made up of Life University, Atlanta Renegades and New Orleans Rugby. Also included in available division 1 sides were the Boca Raton Bucaneers, and for a brief moment the Tampa Bay Krewe. It wasn’t until the restructuring of the geographic south did all that end. New Orleans Rugby moved to the Red River Rugby Conference and Life University started playing in the American Rugby Premiership in 2013. At the same time, the Atlanta Renegades, Boca Raton Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Krewe dropped down to division II.
There has been a southern team that has had a final 4 finish since 2010
On June 13, 2015, the Austin Blacks took on the New York Athletic Club for the D1 club national championships. Unfortunately for the Blacks, they fell to New York Athletic Club 44-39 in a great back and forth. In the DII club national championship had Atlanta finishing in the top 4 as well this year. Losing to Wisconsin in the semi-finals. In 2014, the New Orleans Rugby Club faced off against an Atlanta based, Life University Men’s Club for the D1 Club National Championships in Madison, WI. The Little Rock Stormers finished in the top 4, losing to eventual DII club championship runner up, Tempe Old Devils. In 2013, Life University faced off against Seattle OPSB for the DI national championships, while New Orleans Rugby Club took on the Denver Barbarians for the third place win. These matches ended in wins for New Orleans and Life. In 2012, New Orleans won the division III national championships over Phil-Whitemarsh. In 2011, New Orleans won the division II national championships over Tampa Bay Krewe. Finally, in 2010 the Tampa Bay Krewe won the division II national championship over Doylestown.
Rugby has become more focused in the South
The rugby growth in the southeast region is hitting new heights. It has been no secret how much rugby has developed in the region. North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and New Orleans area have become hotbeds for high school and youth rugby. In addition, rugby development camps like the American Rugby Pro Training Center in Little Rock, AR, run by Julie McCoy, Tiger Rugby placing a satellite campus in Southern Pines, NC, run by James Walker and Paul Holmes, and the Rugby Academy of American in West Palm Beach, FL, help push the quality of rugby to the next level. The more young athletes are entering into rugby, the more important it is to provide the highest level of rugby to maintain the passion and competition.
There are more qualified teams available
The biggest issue that the South has had for Rugby is the distance and proximity of teams. Unlike many of the other regions, rugby teams are far more spread out among the states. The aforementioned division 1 teams struggled with competition proximity. Boca Raton faced most of their Division I competition during the Ft. Lauderdale Ruggerfest competitions because they were too far out of the way to make consistent trips. New Orleans, Life University and the Renegades were faced with not having enough competition.
Today, we have seen the growth of several DII Clubs that have found themselves in a position where their strength doesn’t match their competition. Chattanooga has found itself in an almost monopolized stance in the DII True South Rugby Championships. Atlanta Old White has been another perennial power team. Despite the Carolina and Georgia Rugby Union combining to provide a valid competition, they have found themselves in the round of 8 for almost 3 years.
There are several additional teams that would qualified to fit the division I build. Looking at the land of potential teams that could move to division I in the Southern geographical region it would be made up of, Chattanooga Rugby, Charlotte Rugby, Atlanta Old White, and Boca Raton Buccaneers. Then bring New Orleans Rugby, and Little Rock Rugby over from the Red River Conference to round out the conference. The division would be split by east and west, with Chattanooga, Little Rock and New Orleans making up the West division, and Charlotte, Atlanta and Boca Raton making up the east.
The commutes aren’t any easier, But they are more equitable. Boca Raton would once again have the hardest time in competition as they would have the furthest distance to go with a 10 hour commute. New Orleans, Chattanooga and Little Rock are all equally 8 hours from each other, and would have the easiest time committing to home and away’s.
The south has always been known for it’s mass quantities of athletes and favorable training conditions. The competition that can be developed is numerous. It’s time for teams to finally take that step up and move to the next level of rugby. Time for the south to get division I club rugby.