The consensus is growing that the USA National Team’s problem is its domestic competition model, as much as anything else.
People who know a lot about how mainly amateur rugby countries thrive have, in off-the-record conversation with RUGBYMag.com, expressed consternation that the USA’s top club competition involved some 67 (or so) teams. That would imply that the USA has 2,000 or so players at test level or just below, which we know is not true.
With Canada thinking they don’t have all the answers despite a provincial championship that mocks the USA’s ineffectiveness, certainly USA Rugby should be moving to create a true elite-level competition that provides more than a few games.
Sadly, no USA Rugby is not seriously blazing that trail, but the maverick West Coast Cup is doing it for them. Seven clubs appear to have made commitments to form this league, which will begin play in early 2014, provide all participants at least 12 games, and end in a championship match in early May.
Those clubs are: Belmont Shore and OMBAC of Southern California, SFGG and Olympic Club of the Bay Area, Glendale and Denver Barbarians of Colorado, and Seattle-OPSB.
The group plans to keep the league in the western region, cutting down on travel costs and the stress of crossing more than one time zone border. Most likely fans will see double-header weekends. OMBAC and Belmont Shore, for example, might play in the Bay Area on the same weekend, playing Olympic Club and SFGG on Saturday and Sunday. All the teams involved would play twice that weekend.
(Correction: due to our misunderstanding, we said teams would play two games on some weekends - not so. What will happen is two teams will travel to the same region so that other clubs can save on field costs. So, for example, Denver and Glendale might host visitors at the same field on the same day.)
It’s not ideal to double up on a weekend, but will serve to cut costs.
(For financial reasons, Santa Monica declined to join, and they would have been the 8th team in the league.)
The teams in this league might participate in DI, but only with their 2nd sides, and organizers are working on establishing parameters to that effect. But the key is, this is a league unto itself, designed to bring in the top clubs to provide a real season of competitive games.
A movement to create a similar East Coast league has faltered, with only Life, NYAC, and Old Blue reportedly interested. However, that could come to fruition.
Meanwhile, Canterbury is reportedly stepping in to be the kit provider for the West Coast Cup, and league administrators are working on other sponsorships.
If the West Coast Cup takes off, it could operate outside of USA Rugby’s championship structures. The clubs, then, might agree to allow players from other clubs to suit up for a West Coast team (for example, an up-and-comer from the San Diego Old Aztecs can guest for OMBAC). For that to happen, clubs in America will start having to accept the idea that there should be an elite level of “Major League” teams, and other clubs will compete at a lower level, and affiliate themselves with the top clubs in a “Minor League” scenario.
That idea has been fought against tooth and nail since the old Super League sprang up in 1997.
Last week USA Men’s National Team Head Coach Mike Tolkin said domestic competition is a key factor in the struggles of his players. Domestic players, he said, are just not put under enough pressure in game situations to help prepare them for international rugby. He wants a tighter concentration of top players competing against each other on a regular basis.
If that ends up being the West Coast Cup, it could well mean that aspiring Eagles will be told they need to play in that league to be taken seriously as a player.
USA Rugby is not taking the bull by the horns on this issue, but it seems seven top clubs are.