The U.S. Game gets a makeover?

Now quite Queer Eye for the Straight Guy with fashion, waxing and cooking skills, but there is ongoing discussion about ravamping the American version of rugby competition.

Kurt Oeler’s blogging about Alan Solomons – USA Rugby’s current interim director of rugby – and his call for:

… reorganizing American rugby into four regions while dividing its competitions into two categories: high performance (or professionalized) and community (or amateur).

In a report based on his March visit to San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, and New York as well as the national office in Boulder, Colorado, Mr. Solomons proposes recasting the union along the lines of its founding four territories. Each region would conduct both representative and “grassroots” programs, much as the founding fathers intended.

The primary intention is to define a high-performance pathway from high school through to the national team, coexisting with the recreational leagues that incorporate the overwhelming majority of the players. But the proposal doesn’t discuss funding, a crucial question in providing America’s amateurs a more equal footing with their overseas rivals.

Oeler also discusses how Solomons report meshes (or doesn’t mesh) with the national union’s current strategy review led by the Irish sports management consultant.

I try to follow these discussions and analysis, but since it almost always focuses on men’s rugby (as representing the whole), I can’t help but think, what about us? We just switched our whole season to the fall? We don’t have a super league?

In addition to this, Goff’s writing (subscription required) about the current competition audit by the national union to determine if our current domestic competitive structure needs work and how best to do this. Basically, a lot of people think our domestic competitive structure is weak and we’ll never catch up to other advanced rugby nations if we continue down the same road.

Outgoing USA head coach Tom Billups said repeatedly that America’s domestic competition was not good enough to produce high level players. He is right, and has been vilified for it. In a recent interview on New Zealand television discussing the appointment of Billups’ successor, Peter Thorburn, former USA 7s head coach John McKittrick said the same thing. “There domestic competition is weak,” he said.

Harsh words to hear, but correct. What we in the USA have failed to understand is that having a national champion at, say, Division III, doesn’t make the winner a championship rugby team.

Saying you won a trophy doesn’t mean you’re not a social rugby club. We have to differentiate between social and serious rugby, and one way to do that is to sanction championships.

For men’s rugby, the question is whether even going to a national playoff is worthwhile for some clubs. I spoke to members of one team that made the national DII semifinals some years ago, and the two trips nearly put the club under. After so much time and effort devoted to what is, essentially, a social pursuit (albeit played seriously), many players walked away. The club could have taken all that money raised to travel and started work on owning a field and a clubhouse – something that could put roots down in the community.

It’s a good point though. The vast majority of teams here in the US are social teams. Some might have more serious intentions, but a lot are just happy with a winning record, maybe a league title.

Goff goes on to discuss his own idea of how it should be restructured, focused on the men’s game at various levels. And basically saying, there shouldn’t be national championships for teams that are predominantly social.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out …



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