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Varsity Cup Update - Questions Remain

College Men

Varsity Cup Update - Questions Remain

BYU v Central Washington last season. SW Ride Photography.

With 2017 fast approaching, the Varsity Cup has a few questions to answer. 

The key one is - will BYU be back? It's not a done deal that the Cougars will return to a competition that is still trying to confirm sanctions against them. BYU has come under fire for using ineligible players, although the issue that made it appear that BYU would be pulling out was over one player - Hoseki Kofe. Kofe played for BYU in several season, including 2014-15, but actually entered college in the fall of 2006 (see here), and thus covers nines years of college attendance, which doesn't follow anyone's college athletic rules (even if you factor in time off for religious mission, it's too long).

As a result, the Varsity Cup vacated BYU's 2015 victory in the VC final. Cal, which lost that final, has said they don't want to be winners by default, and so 2015 has no official winner. Since then, during the balance of 2016, BYU has been in conflict with the rest of the Varsity Cup participants over the process of investigating and sanctioning a team. 

It's a strange turn of events given that BYU Head Coach David Smyth helped start the Varsity Cup. (GRR has tried on several occasions to get comments from Smyth but has received no response.)

The upshot, however, is this: BYU is no longer considered the 2015 winner (whether the championship was "vacated" or "stripped" is for others to confirm). BYU has been accepted into DIA as an independent team. Varsity Cup members have come together to create an official charter, and committees on various issues, including eligibility, and those seated on those committees include college athletic directors and assistant ADs, not just rugby coaches. New, tighter eligibility rules will be in effect for the 2017 Varsity Cup post-season. If BYU wants to compete in the Varsity Cup in 2017, the Cougars will likely have to accept a suspension for this coming year, a suspension that will be honored by DIA (no playoffs).

What that means for how everyone gets along is still in question. Varsity Cup teams Cal and Arizona State are now listed as DIA teams also because the new-look PAC Rugby Conference is now a DIA conference. That doesn't mean much except for the DIA rankings, however, it does at least appear to bring USA Rugby and the Varsity Cup closer together.

(It's worth noting that during the four years the Varsity Cup has been in existence, the participating teams have continued to pay USA Rugby dues and be productive members of the American rugby community. About half the Varsity Cup teams have, during that time, produce national team players. In addition, all DIA teams put money into the division, even if those teams are going to opt out of the DIA playoffs.)

However, the BYU saga could also be pushing the Varsity Cup and United World Sports further apart. UWS doesn't own the Varsity Cup - the company just serves as the promoter for the championship game - but there's the strong impression from that company that BYU's absence might sour UWS on promoting the competition. Conversely, Penn Mutual and NBC are, apparently, still supportive of the Varsity Cup even though two of the key liaisons for the Varsity Cup and United World Sports, Dan Lyle and Donal Walsh, are no longer with UWS.

If United World Sports pulls away, the Varsity Cup would still exist, and would still be able to put on a championship game that shows well on TV. If BYU is out, then the pressure to take the final back to Utah every year lessens, and perhaps we will see a new-look Varsity Cup final weekend.

In fact, we will regardless, as teams are now looking at producing a final four weekend, rather than a one-off championship game, with the semifinals on a Friday, and a final on a Sunday (if BYU were to play, then everything would be shifted a day).   

Meanwhile, the Varsity Cup has dropped Texas (basically on the request of the Longhorns, who has finished their commitment to the VC and acknowledged that they were struggling to compete) and has added Harvard, a team that has competed well in the Ivy League and showed a very creditable 20-0 loss to Dartmouth this season. A new rugby facility in Cambridge has bolstered Harvard's rugby credentials.

So ...

  • BYU has not confirmed they will return to the Varsity Cup, and will likely be suspended for a year if they do
  • A suspension from the Varsity Cup would keep BYU out of the DIA playoffs for a year, also
  • Going forward, BYU might think about playing in both the Varsity Cup and DIA playoffs, and given the team's depth, that is very possible
  • Varsity Cup has a new charter and new committees to oversee player eligibility
  • United World Sports is still the promoter of the Varsity Cup final, but even if the VC and UWS part ways, the VC will still exist
  • The Varsity Cup has brought in Harvard to replace Texas
  • The VC final weekend will likely be semifinals on Day One, a day off on Day Two, and the final on Day Three
  • The VC teams are currently: Cal, Arkansas State, Clemson, Army, Navy, Oklahoma, Penn State, Dartmouth, Central Washington, Utah, U. Notre Dame, Arizona State, Air Force, UCLA, and Harvard, with one more spot remaining for BYU or someone else