When the new college eligibility regulations were announced in May, they caused a bit of an uproar. One of the biggest gripes with the new set of rules was how it impacted military veterans. But until now, those gripes had been mostly hypothetical. At 7s Nationals, they became real when Dartmouth’s Michael Burbank was ruled ineligible.
Burbank says he first enrolled in college in January 2007, before two deployments as a Marine. Under the old regulations, a player's eligibility clock started when he/she first enrolled in college. Now, they start the semester following his/her graduation of high school. But Burbank played with Dartmouth last season, which means he should be eligible via the grandfather clause that allows players who started their college rugby careers under the old eligibility regulations to finish under them, sans the old waiver system.
Burbank had been playing and training with the Big Green all fall and had the honor of captaining the side at Nationals. Thinking he was fine to play, Burbank traveled to College Station, Texas with the team, where his eligibility was brought into question. Dartmouth coach Gavin Hickie said there wasn’t enough time to vet his eligibility through the grandfather clause before the start of the tournament, so Burbank ended up watching from the sidelines.
“It’s not a good feeling to be on the sidelines knowing the team could use my play out there, to have trained all season and built up for a tournament like this and not be able to play. It’s not a good feeling,” said Burbank.
“It just takes the winds out of your sails a little bit, being the captain of the team, especially. But it ended up not being a bad thing. We’ve got great leadership amongst the ranks, so Madison Hughes took the helm and I think he did a great job.”
Should Dartmouth have known Burbank needed a waiver long before showing up at Nationals? Yes. But, the point isn’t necessarily that Burbank was held out of this tournament, even though he could have played under the grandfather clause. It’s that someone in Burbank’s situation that started his rugby career a semester after Burbank did, won’t have the chance to be eligible in the future.
“I would hope they would maybe look at it on a case-by-case basis,” said Burbank. “Maybe we didn’t do the best job petitioning for it, but I do understand why the rule was put in place, for that reason, to make sure that guys aren’t going out there and training four years and coming up to start their college career. But on a case-by-case basis it’s kind of disheartening for certain individuals.”