Goff Rugby Twitter     Goff Rugby Facebook

Oklahoma Makes it Official - No Varsity Cup

College Men

Oklahoma Makes it Official - No Varsity Cup

This article includes some opinion commentary by Goff Rugby Report Editor Alex Goff. The Varsity Cup has announced that the University of Oklahoma will forfeit its opening-round game with Utah.

Utah now gets a bye to the quarterfinals, to be held April 11, where the Utes will meet the winner of Central Washington and Arizona State.

Oklahoma was banned from "any/all post-season" in a ruling by USA Rugby after the current coaching and administration of the team reported that they had discovered eligibility violations during league play in the fall - Four OU players who were not students were used in Red River conference games. Oklahoma rugby has had to forfeit those games and is banned from the post-season. This meant they won't play DIA, and there was some discussion between Oklahoma rugby, USA Rugby, and the Varsity Cup (run by United World Sports) as to whether the ban extended to the Varsity Cup.

The Varsity Cup's announcement said: "The timing of the announcement follows weeks of efforts by OU to seek clarity from USA Rugby whether these sanctions included the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup National Rugby Championship."

This statement stretches things somewhat in that USA Rugby was perfectly clear from the outset what they thought the wording of the ruling meant. The delay in taking action was because Oklahoma disagreed, and the Varsity Cup agreed with Oklahoma. 

This week, OU rugby told the Varsity Cup that there was no wiggle room and they were pulling out of the competition.

“We were patient with Oklahoma while they requested clarification from USA Rugby but will now move forward without the Sooners,” said David Smyth, head coach of Brigham Young University, on behalf of the Varsity Cup. “We considered slotting in a replacement team but ultimately decided not to dilute the competition with an unqualified team. It is unlikely the absence of Oklahoma will affect the quarterfinal round of the tournament.”

The issue at hand speaks to a national governing body's power, but also to the responsibilities of that governing body. USA Rugby was fairly specific in their ruling, saying that Oklahoma could participate in 7s championships, but not 15s. This leniency was in part because Oklahoma reported their violation, rather than having it found out by other parties or covering it up. But the leniency, while perhaps charitable to a program in flux, muddied the waters. In rugby around the world, a ban from rugby is a ban from rugby. If a 7s player in the World Series gets a three-month ban, he can't play 15s during that time, either.

Still, USA Rugby did specifically separate out 15s and 7s. What they didn't do, was go into more specifics. By saying "post-season" they meant any games after the regular season. That could cover all friendly matches, or it could mean only USA Rugby playoffs. Given that USA Rugby has repeatedly said the Varsity Cup is not a post-season, but an independent tournament, the governing body should have named the Varsity Cup specifically as off limits.

But the Varsity Cup runs into the same paradox. Repeatedly calling the VC a "Championship" and with teams saying the Varsity Cup is "our post-season" they looked bloody-minded in then asserting that USA Rugby banning Oklahoma from a post-season shouldn't include the Varsity Cup.

In the end, Oklahoma did what was right in reporting their use of ineligible players, and they probably should have just pulled out of the Varsity Cup when the ruling came down in early March. USA Rugby did what was right in producing a punishment that doesn't crush the Oklahoma program, or penalize its players unnecessarily, but they needed to have held their noses and mentioned "Varsity Cup" in the ruling. The Varsity Cup should have done the right thing and immediately asked Oklahoma to step aside - why? Because it's called the Varsity Cup, a competition celebrating collegiate sports; yet Oklahoma's violation was to use players who aren't even students at the school. It was exactly hat the Varsity Cup is not about, and yet they argued semantics.

And lost.