There’s a tussle in Texas between Baylor and the Southwest Conference, and its decision has national impact. The disagreement is just the latest in a series of controversies in Texas college rugby.
Baylor, along with Texas and Sam Houston State, left the Southwest this offseason for the Allied Rugby Conference. Texas’ and Sam Houston’s resignations from the Southwest were approved by the league, while Baylor’s was not. Baylor remains on the Southwest schedule and the league still considers Baylor a member.
Southwest’s argument for denying Baylor’s resignation stems from an agreement between the founding members of the conference to participate in the league for at least three years. However, Sam Houston and Texas were allowed to leave the Southwest, free and clear, while the league fought to keep Baylor.
The Texas second side will still compete in the Southwest, but doesn’t count as a playoff-eligible team. Therefore, the Southwest is left with just six playoff-eligible teams, leaving them one shy of the seven required to garner an automatic bid to the DI-AA Sweet 16.
The Southwest, while still claiming Baylor as a member, asked USA Rugby’s College Competitions Committee for a waiver granting the conference an automatic bid (which it would need without Baylor), but the committee unanimously voted to deny the request Thursday.
Baylor was a founding member of the Southwest last year, with the Bears’ coach, Clayton Jewett, serving as the conference commissioner, as he still does. But following a coaching change, which saw former Baylor coach Nick Lane replace Jewett, the Bears chose to leave the league.
“After the 2012 SWC Annual meeting in May, where Baylor attended, voted on all matters and approved in all SWC decisions, they tendered their resignation almost a month later,” wrote Scot Courtney, Southwest Collegiate Rugby Conference Director of Discipline, in an e-mail to RUGBYMag.
“SWC Members unanimously agreed to reject Baylor's resignation earlier this summer. Baylor stated that due to their diminished membership numbers and [lack of competitiveness] in 2011-12, they wished to drop to Div II to re-build.”
“We wanted to leave the Southwest Conference. We just weren’t comfortable with the way it was being ran, so we looked at our options,” said Lane. “We had a meeting with the management of [the Allied Rugby Conference], and the players decided that that was the best option. They really liked how it was being ran, and the teams they were going to be playing against, so that’s what we went for.”
In its inaugural season, the Southwest excluded Texas A&M’s second team and Texas Tech. A&M actually tried to get into the league and was denied. Tech didn’t apply for entrance into the Southwest, but, according to the people at Tech at the time, they were discouraged from even trying to get into the league, because its teams didn’t want to travel to Lubbock.
Tech wound up playing in DII, earning a bid to Nationals and turning it down because of travel cost.
Then the three former Southwest teams left to join the Allied, a league started by T 5&1/2 (a company owned by former A&M coach Johnny Smith and current A&M director of rugby Craig Coates). Smith wrote and published an article, in which he quoted Coates, that criticized the Southwest's methodology for excluding teams.
Barring a reversal of the College Competitions Committee’s ruling, the departure of those three teams to a league where they’ll have to occasionally travel to Lubbock, leaves the Southwest without an automatic bid to the postseason.
Adding to the drama in Texas this offseason was confusion over where St. Edward’s was going to play in 2012/2013. In May, the Allied Rugby Conference issued a press release which stated St. Edward’s was going to play in the ARC. Six days later the Southwest announced St. Ed’s would play in the Southwest. We now know St. Edward’s is going to play in the Southwest.
The conference reshuffle drama may not be over, as the Southwest is expected by some to file a grievance with the Competitions Committee’s decision.