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 - Captain Courageous

    The guy that started the petition graduated HS in 2004. Why in the world would he want to play rugby with teenagers at his college and not with a men's club? Of course he is playing the "service to country" card, which is even more pathetic. We have a volunteer based armed service, which assumes you know the benefits and sacrifices of the decision. Grow up!

  • Guest - gk

    In reply to: Guest - Captain Courageous

    Your pathetic and very ignorant.
    Your just afraid he might be much better than you.
    How dare you call any war veteran or any veteran pathetic, without them you wouldn't be able to post your ignorant comment.
    Get a clue!!

  • Guest - Huh?

    In reply to: Guest - gk

    I think the tinfoil hat you're wearing is causing your brain to malfunction. Go watch more Fox News.

  • Guest - George Turner

    Maybe I'm just old school. When I was in college, our team included teacher and grad students from all over the world. I felt we learned a lot from those guys and as a result played better rugby.

  • Guest - Marine Bill

    Captain Courageous: Your callousness and ignorance is demeaning to those enlisted service members that serve this country. Your opinion only leads me to believe that you have little understanding of what drives people to enlist in the military or if you ever served yourself. If you did I feel sorry to those that served with you because you only seem to look at issues through your own perspective rather than holistically.

    I am a service members with over 23 years of service. I didn't have the option of going to college or university directly out of high school and chose a path I thought would allow me the opportunity to save money, gain G.I. Bill benefits and develop my maturity to better prepare myself as a student. To assume service members know their sacrifices, e.g. college athletic ineligibility, suggests that you believe 18 year old service members are given a legal briefing by military recruiters regarding their college eligibility status once they complete their service contract. Your assumption only further demonstrates your lack of knowledge toward military service.

    Having played Men's Division I and II club rugby I recall many friendly games against collegiate teams, particularly one match against the U.S. Naval Academy. These teams were very fit and provided a great skill level, sometimes surpassing our own club. Is it possible the university team offers a better opportunity for this former service member to increase his skills and development? Why deny him/her that opportunity? Because he is a couple years older? Wouldn't that equate to discrimination?

    Former service members deserve all the opportunities to play at the collegiate-level simply because they did "sacrifice themselves" for service to this country. Of course he played the "service to country" card because that is what he did. Just like I assume you play your "elitist card" at every opportunity.

  • Guest - Marine Bill

    I will also add that this same exception should be extended to those that commit themselves to missions greater than themselves, i.e. missionary work, Peace Corps volunteer, etc. The universities benefit greatly from this small percentage of students that bring a wide variety of experiences to their classrooms and, occasionally, their athletic programs. Its not like these few people are getting scholarships for rugby. These people have commitments beyond themselves and are committed to the greater benefit of others. They should be rewarded for what they bring to society and the experiences they share in the classroom.

  • Guest - Marine Bill

    What is the difference between athletes with prior service playing rugby and playing football? I ask because Mike Anderson (running back for the Denver Broncos from 2000 - 2006; Baltimore Ravens from 2006 - 2008) was given four years of eligibility after serving four years in the Marine Corps. After his service he played two years at the junior college level before transferring University of Utah for another two years. There has to be a logical explanation for the variation is eligibility.

  • Guest - Rugby101

    USA Rugby doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. Adopt the NSCRO policy and have the territorial Unions and match officials enforce policy. On match day coaches would have submit match roster player verification form to the match official signed by registrar office and verify student ID to roster. Teams that break policy receive stiff penalties for violation. Military and volunteer service members should be commended for their service, not punished, by filing paperwork and appeals. Wake up USA Rugby or someone with a deep pockets, business sense and a brain will come along and offer a better product and put you out of business. PS BEAT CANADA!!!

  • Guest - Expand the game

    Why oh why do people look for ways to stop people playing as opposed on how to get people playing? I presume it comes off of college varsity sport where the object is to prevent 'ringers' etc. So..... this ruling is applied to college players but not club players then? eg recent NY and SFGG clubs appearing at world 7's in UK with 'non' club players..... one rule for one.. and one for another.....

  • Guest - Simon

    18 year old: "Mom, there's this great sport I'm going to take up at College. It's called rugby, there's no pads. And get this: I'll be playing against full grown men who were in the military"

    Mom: "...."

    The on thing I'm not clear on: exactly what opportunity are the ex Service members being denied? The chance to play rugby, or the chance to play rugby at a college?

    I liked the comment above; if we change the policy to accommodate Service, then we should, on principle, extend it to those who give service of any kind

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