USA Rugby forms a College Premier League

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    At a time when people are talking about talking and no one is offering a real concept, coaches from 14 of the country’s top colleges are bucking the trend.

    The coaches from right across the USA have opted in to a College Premier League.

    They have all said yes to the format and are ready to pull the trigger within a definite time frame. The projected kickoff date is spring 2011.

    All the teams that have signed on are ranked, including California, BYU, Utah, Arkansas State, San Diego State, Kutztown, Navy, Penn State, LSU, Texas A&M, Central Washington, Arizona, Dartmouth and Tennessee.

    ARN has had confirmation from every coach that has signed on so far that he and his program are rock solid behind the new league.

    The goal is to get the best teams on a regional basis to elect to participate in a Premier League that eventually would have 32 teams divided equally into four regions of eight teams.

    There would be promotion/relegation on a regional basis, creating a mechanism for a team to annually qualify up and take the place of the lowest placed team in each region.

    The season is tentatively slated to run from late February/March through May. The season would comprise seven regional matches with an eight-team (two per region) postseason. The last two teams standing would have played a 10-game schedule.

    “The potential to grow the game through exceptional collegiate competition exists right now,” says Navy’s Mike Flanagan. “The timing is right; spring is wide open for us to grab an audience.”

    The College Premier League could run concurrently with USA Rugby’s existing college competition, or be stand alone.

    As teams are owned by their universities, they would have the choice as to which competition they play in, or they could compete in both.

    Having stated a desire to establish an elite Division I college competition, USAR could choose to use the CPL as that competition.

    (Darrell Garner photo)

    The coaches who’ve signed on believe there are real benefits to having a College Premier League.

    “A premier competition is needed because it’s the natural progression of our sport as we continue down the road towards mainstream acceptance in the US sporting environment,” remarks Tennessee’s Marty Bradley.

    “It provides top competition for teams involved, plus produces a marketable entity for our sport.”

    In terms of costs, as teams are already spending their own money to schedule extra matches, particularly during the spring in the lead up to the national playoffs, they would use those same expenses to fund their participation in the CPL.

    And there’s a general belief among the coaches that the league would prove to be attractive to potential sponsors.

    “Through greater exposure on college campuses, because of a well-run high performing league, it could increase our opportunities for such things as sponsorship and access to television,” says BYU’s David Smyth.

    “These things in turn provide an avenue to the money that would help in legitimizing the sport of rugby on many college campuses.”

    “A new national collegiate competition is the best way to further expose, grow and market the sport,” comments Arizona’s Dave Sitton.

    “After decades of marginal success in the way of attracting sponsors and the very best athletes, a new structure that includes only college programs capable of championship caliber play, meaningful sponsorship, capable administration and dynamic promotion would advance our agenda.”

    “A new College Premier League is needed to showcase the best that college rugby can offer,” adds Texas A&M’s Craig Coates.” High quality games need to be played on a weekly basis to have any chance of creating a marketable product.”

    The consensus among the coaches is that a Premier League makes the most sense to genuinely grow and market the game.

    “Just a routine example of the business of collegiate sport,” says Cal’s Jack Clark. “Universities under full-ownership of their intellectual property and understanding what’s best for their students are opting into a competition with fellow institutions.

    “Routine, because universities enter conference agreements, tournaments and competition alliances in every sport they sponsor. The intention here is a well-informed approach aimed at the growth of the top tier of US college rugby.”

    It’s expected that coaches of the teams keen to get the new league underway will likely meet during the summer to nail down final participating teams, regions and a schedule.