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Hiatt Navigates Choppy Waters As New NCR Head of Men's Rugby

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Hiatt Navigates Choppy Waters As New NCR Head of Men's Rugby

Steve Hiatt, left, presents Cal Maritime player Michael Mukuru with his confefence MVP award.

National Collegiate Rugby’s new Director of Men’s Rugby, Steve Hiatt, has some choppy waters to navigate, appropriate for the Head Coach at Cal Maritime Academy.

With NCR launching a new Men’s Open Division to augment its traditional small-college competitions, things are a little more complicated. And of course with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those Open Division teams won’t be playing. Some might be, or in some hybrid situation. It is all very fluid, and complex. So complex that Steve Cohen, who had been serving as CEO of NCR and also Director of Men's Rugby decided to step back ... and only hold one job. Cohen remains CEO even as the organization has been on a search for a new Chief Executive, and it's Hiatt who now becomes Director of Men's Rugby.

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And he steps into a situation that is, indeed, fluid and complex. think of how it was all supposed to come together. NCR had a plan, handling its own insurance and membership, but the key to that was getting members to sign up. They won’t be signing up if they’re not playing.

“We built a budget in April,” Hiatt said. “But we know that budget isn’t worth the weight of the paper it’s printed on. Now if the time for us to transition to a position of making it possible for a team to play if it can play, and practice if it can practice. What we need to focus on is facilitation whatever a team is able to do.”

And that’s where the membership comes in, because the NCR insurance is designed to cover teams once they start doing whatever it is they are allowed to do.

What Form Of Rugby?

“Whether it’s full play, practice, or something different, we will keep the teams engaged and covered,” said Hiatt. He did add that NCR is going to have to “watch our pennies” and rely more on volunteers than it expected.

There may be a few NCR members who can actually play rugby games, or at least train in a relatively normal manner, but the majority, if they play at all this school year, will play in the spring. The NCR 15s championships slated for this fall have been canceled, but Hiatt said he expects to see teams play both 15s and 7s in the winter/spring time frame. 

Some teams will give both codes equal time, others will look at a 7s championship season and at 15s in a more relaxed way.

“We want to facilitate that, and we want to be flexible,” said Hiatt. “We might have a national invitational, or there might be some tournaments. And we’ll have all-star teams for men and women.”

And that could be good for athletes whose teams don’t play at all, but who still want to get on the field.

“Remember, the structural landscape of sport is under pressure,” added the former USA Eagle. Varsity sports may play reduced schedules, and if football doesn’t take the field at some schools, their entire sports budget could collapse.

“Rugby has never been a big-budget sport, so we’re experienced in competing with small budgets, and I think we could come out of it all OK,” he said.

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West Reaches For East

So NCR is not going to disappear because most of its dues income is delayed, but it will change. Already we’ve seen other changes in the college landscape, with NCR having a decidedly East Coast and Midwest profile. Hiatt, who is also Head Coach at Cal Maritime and has long been a part of the old NSCRO small-college competition, now finds himself in a situation where teams aligning with USA Rugby are being told they won’t be able to play NCR teams.

Hiatt’s own team could conceivably be left out in the cold, although he disputes both the original premise, and the result.

“NCR teams can play anyone, that’s how our insurance is structured,” Hiatt said, and added that he and many at NCR take issue with USA Rugby representatives saying otherwise. And, he adds, “we have sizable interest on the West Coast, so I think we’ll be fine. 

Engaging Student-Run Organizations

Next up for Hiatt, who also has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, is to ensure that all the teams that signed on to join can actually do so (that means working with student admins to connect with their school administrations). There's a good chance that some of the student-run teams didn't check with their schools before opting to shift to a new governing organization. For many schools, that won't matter, but for some, it will, and Hiatt will likely be in the middle of trying to smooth those bumps.

Related to that will be the formation within NCR of various competitions committees populated by the teams themselves. Small-college, D2, and D1 groups all have new competitions to create. Hiatt will be overseeing that and making sure it comes together.

And finally, there’s that pesky little problem with USA Rugby. Who is being the stubborn one here? Is USA Rugby expecting too much in the way of dues and offering little benefit or risk (see our video on the carrot and the stick problem)? Or is NCR not being creative enough in coming up with solutions?

And these are the waters for Steve Hiatt to steer the ship through.