College eligibility rules: an ongoing discussion

College eligibility rules: an ongoing discussion

With recent concerns from the USA Rugby community about collegiate eligibility rules and their application to U.S. Military personnel, I sat down with USA Rugby Director of College Rugby Rich Cortez to talk about the player eligibility rules and the effort being made by some people to revise them.

To fully understand the rationale behind current eligibility rules, it’s important to first read this short article that was produced by the College Eligibility Committee when the rules were initially adopted.

“Teams now have the resources to actively recruit student athletes that specifically fit these regulatory exceptions and thereby potentially gain a competitive advantage,” wrote the former Collegiate Eligibility Committee Chair. “While clearly that was not the intent of the existing regulations, that is the reality of today’s college rugby world.

“While the issues are clearly identifiable, finding a suitable solution is much more difficult.”

After several long phone conversations, the following is a summary of the points that Rich spoke about:

  • There currently is a push to revise the rules governing college eligibility. A petition with several hundred signatures has been submitted to USA Rugby. The proposal on the table is that for every year of military service, a player gains back a year of eligibility. The intent of the petitioners is to give full college eligibility to military members who leave active duty to attend college and play rugby.
  • Requests for eligibility exceptions are reviewed and approved or denied by The College Eligibility Committee. The current members of the Committee are Rich Cortez, Michele Yarbrough, James Fonda, and Alan Osur.
  • The Committee also reviews eligibility rules annually based on input from membership, and the number of waiver requests received for a certain kind of activity; such as military service, church service, or injury. When needed, the Eligibility Committee makes recommendations to the College Management Council. The Management Council reviews all recommendations and makes decisions about changes to eligibility. If warranted, the Council creates the language for the rule revision.
  • Current members of the College Management Council are Pete Seccia (Chair), Kevin Battle, Craig Brown, James Farrar, Nancy Kechner, Bill Lucas, Ellen Owens, MaryBeth Mathews, Bill Sexton, Matt Trenary, Michele Yarborough, Gray Zischke and Alex Magleby (Male Int. Athlete).
  • The selection process to serve on the CMC will soon be changing to an election whereby CMC representatives will be elected from at least 8 regions throughout the country, by those regions individually. The elected Council members will be expected to represent the teams in their regions (men & women, all divisions) but act in the best interests of the college game from a national viewpoint.

After explaining the structure and function of the committee and council, Cortez went on to explain their challenges. A significant issue that impacts the development of eligibility rules is the cost and complexity of administering the rules. To illustrate this, consider this hypothetical scenario. Suppose that the eligibility rules were very general and only two conditions must be met:

  1. Must be registered as a full time student
  2. Maximum of 5 years of eligibility for college rugby

On face value, these rules sound reasonable. The problem is; how could the rules be enforced? Imagine the cost and effort that would be required to research each player and confirm their eligibility.

Some students will have taken college classes at community colleges, or colleges that do not offer a rugby program. There will be students who waited years to start college after graduating high school and who may be substantially older than most college rugby players. There will be former military students and some of them will have attended college while on active duty. There will be foreign students of various ages who come here on student visas.

Based on a quick tally, the number of athletes petitioning for eligibility would potentially reach in the thousands. The question may not be should these athletes be eligible, but who would be responsible for verifying their status. With such broad rules for eligibility, it would be difficult for the committee and council in its current state to be responsible for screening thousands of players every year.

Currently, USA Rugby and the Universities themselves do not have the budget or personnel that would be necessary to research the eligibility of large numbers of players. Thus, the rules that the council develops must be developed so that they can easily be understood by everyone involved, and applied effectively.

Cortez emphasized that the Committee will always consider the best ways to ensure fairness and player welfare in the rapidly changing and competitive environment that is today’s collegiate rugby.

Cortez believes that “the discussion about college eligibility is healthy,” assuring me that the College Management Council recognizes that the rules may need to be adjusted from time to time, and will surely be in discussion in the coming weeks.

“The College Management Council is open to changes as the game evolves,” said Cortez.

Collegiate eligibility is the newest hot-button discussion in a sea of change in American college rugby. With growth comes growing pains, and USA Rugby will need to continue to adapt and be open to change. Cortez and the entire College Management Council are aware of the difficulties with college eligibility but know there are steps to be taken and are open to their options.

What are your thoughts? How does USA Rugby solve the issue of keeping guidelines fair with given resources?

Dave McFadden is a writer and independent contributor to Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Comments (24)

  • Guest - Marine Bill

    College is not just about getting an academic education, but creating and building leaders in society. Many of these missionaries, volunteers and service members bring a great deal of leadership experience to their classrooms and athletic programs. The younger men and women on these teams can greatly benefit from the leadership provided by these few who chose to serve.

  • Guest - What_a_joke

    Just go join an adult league even though you are actively involved in this campus that has a rugby club. Sorry, but you decided to join the military and now you're older and frankly your contributions may raise the level of competition and we would not want that. Sure college football allows it and sure there are 18 year olds who play professional rugby, but someone had a personal vendetta against BYU and wanted to manipulate regulations in a way that would benefit their self-interests, but that's not the point. err maybe it actually is.

  • Guest - figures

    we all know playing for your university is a unique experience you cant match with club rugby. what this does is penalize folks who needed to take a different path to fund their college education-GI bill much? Now here we are, the Rodney Dangerfields of collegiate sports (we get no respect, i tell ya!) lookin for ways to exclude people from participating. Meanwhile, the Wenkies of the world can get drafted to a MLB team, fester in the minors for a few years, then decide, maybe give that college football a try at 27; and no one blinks an eye. Would like to type more, but Im baking brownies for our club's bake sale tomorrow-our fall travel schedule is going to be a grind!

  • Guest - Vicki Hudson

    Determination of collegiate eligibility for military veterans (or anyone nontraditional student) should be based solely on if the individual played rugby prior to entering college. This is easily verified via their CIPP history. Anyone who enters college and wants to play collegiate has five seasons of eligibility. If they registered as a player with USA Rugby and played prior to entering college they lose a year's eligibility for each registered year as a player. It would be difficult to document actual games played, but it is possible to document cipp registration as a player. If not registered as a player, then no issue. They play collegiate. Denying someone the opportunity to learn the game and play collegiate rugby solely on the fact of their age based upon date of HS graduation doesn't help the game nor is that fair to the individual. Trying to keep out experienced players who later in life is a small number of players to restrict. This affects more the many people who are exposed to rugby when they finally get to college and then find they are ineligible to take up a new sport solely because they entered college later in life than directly out of high school. Decide eligibility based upon seasons played not high school graduation date. Already played for five years, no eligibility for collegiate. Take off one year of eligibility for every year as a player previous. Let those who never played or played less than 5 years the opportunity to learn the game and play collegiate rugby.