USA Super League Rugby At Cossroads


2012 Super League Winners – NYAC Rugby Club w/ Head Coach Bruce McLane


West Ghana, New York – Last time we discussed The Varsity Cup, a College Championship formed by and for the premier collegiate rugby programs in the USA. Today we look at Super League Rugby and it’s championship that The Varsity Cup is using as a foundational blueprint.

We won’t get into the similarities and differences of the two competitions. We wanna focus on the crossroads that Superleague finds itself in.

Bruce Mclane, the Head Coach of  the Super League Rugby Champion NYAC (and friend of RWU),  wrote a heartfelt article in about the need for the Super League. McLane made a very compelling point: There must be a place for the best domestic players to play.

Brief History: The USA Super League was founded 16 years ago. It was formed by the top rugby clubs in the country to try and create a higher level than Division 1 and guarantee more quality matches and higher quality teams. It was acknowledged by USA Rugby but not supported financially, which has been an obvious problem. It has weathered the storm despite short-sighted decisions such as voting against the membership for the Glendale Raptors (Rugbytown, USA) due to the proximity to Denver and Aspen. But the number of Eagles that play in the  Super League, as well as potential Eagles, make it an important entity. It clearly serves an important purpose for the USA Rugby community.

Yet teams have left in significant numbers. Look at the number of teams that have left Super League over the years:

Philly Whitemarsh
Boston Irish Wolfhounds
St. Louis Bombers
Kansas City Blues
Gentlemen of Aspen
Belmont Shore
Olympic Club
Santa Monica
Utah Warriors
Chicago Lions

The Super League regular season is in the spring. Some players play for D1 clubs in the fall and Super League teams in the spring. Many of  the aforementioned teams left because of cost, player eligibility and the fairness of a player playing Super League one week and then being in its playoffs the next. USA Rugby clamped down on the matter.

The result was a 9-team format comprised of NYAC, Dallas Harlequins, Denver Barbarians, Old Puget Sound Beach, San Francisco Golden Gate, Boston Rugby Club, Chicago Griffins, Life University & Old Blue (NY), fighting to play more games but limiting the cost. Unfortunately, the current model is not sustainable. USA Rugby is caught in a tough spot because it has limited funds and it is tough to find funds to fund such a league. Super League itself has had trouble securing sponsors.

A potential solution may need be the regional all-star team format –  like the provincial model used by Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and others. The players play for the their clubs in the fall and spring, then with the Super League in the summer. If individual clubs want to compete against regional All-Stars, then so be it.

However, the key for Super League Rugby to survive lies with securing sponsorship. Perhaps an envoy should circle the wagons around Indiana University RFC Alum… Mark Cuban.

Mark Cuban at Indiana University RFC Banquet… Allegedly.

That is it for me. You can find us on the Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page or on Twitter @JunoirBlaber and @RugbyWrapUp, respectively. And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.

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About the Author ()

Born in Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Junoir Blaber is a rare commodity; while most Ghanians eat, sleep and dream Soccer (football), Junoir is all about Rugby. A self-proclaimed Rugbyologist, he has been involved in Rugby as a ref, coach, administrator and player since Columbus discovered Ohio. His useful/trivial rugby knowledge qualify Blaber as RWU’s Senior Correspondent & known in rugby circles as The Rugby Rain Man. He can also be found moonlighting for our American partners at

  • Billy D Shoes

    You could also have the Super League winner play the D-1 winner. Some of those teams are excellent.

    • Billy, we are trying to look beyond 1 game. USA Rugby needs to look at meaningful games over a season and look at doing for several consecutive seasons.

  • ToughGuy5

    Mark Cuban?! I need to see pix of him remotely close to a rugby ball to believe it.

    • On an ESPN episode of Homecoming, Cuban said and I quote “Basketball is the greatest indoor game and Rugby is the greatest outdoor game.”

  • Cuban’s a pipe dream. There’s enough money in rugby in the US today, but no one who has the money possesses enough sports and entertainment acumen to revive the RSL. Unfortunately – because of their affiliation with NBC (why not FOX or ABC/ESPN?) – USA Sevens will be the spark that lights the flame first. 15s will probably have to ride on 7s Olympic coattails to attain market share. That’s not the way I’d want it to happen, but that is the way the cookie will probably crumble.

  • Big Bill

    The USA is at the precipise and needs to step carefully. Somebody needs to take the ball and run with it. McCarthy should do it.

    • Which McCarthy is this? Our very own Matt McCarthy??

  • RSL For All!

    The problem is you are taking clubs to this higher playing division rather than regions. I personally don’t want to go see NYAC play a super league match because they are a neighboring, competeing club. I have no allegiance to them?

    I feel the solution would be to have regional teams based on the Unions. MetNY (or whatever it is these days) could have a RSL side that plays against MARFU. This could be partially funded by the clubs in the union and though it would take some of the better players in the club from the team it would give them a shot to play on a bigger stage without being called a traitor for leaving their club and more importantly give clubs a stake in the RSL clubs. Games could be Friday nights and people from each club could cheer on their RSL team as it were there own.

    In Australia the Premiere Grade teams feed players to their local Super Rugby Conference team and it’s an big honor. I think the solution isn’t merging away from D1… it’s giving D1 ownership, through additional union dues, of a union select-side team based on region.

    It’s a pipe dream because of politics but even with a Mark Cuban putting more money into super league no one who plays rugby for NYRC, Village Lions, Buffalo, etc. is going to start watching going to watch them play.

    • I agree with the regional teams idea but you need funding and real schedules. No one is going pro immediately so these teams would have to be able to meet and practice before playing a game.

    • This is a part of the problem that I don’t understand. When the University of Texas plays in the CRC, it doesn’t matter to me how they play or that I am a born and bred Fightin’ Texas Aggie. I will root for the team from Texas, my past animosities toward that small secular college in Austin be damned!
      However, I have always liked the Regional Team idea. A rugger in Houston recently floated the idea of a select-side from the Houston clubs being put together each year for play. There are always three deterrents: money, scheduling, and inter-club politics/hurt-feelings. Right now, this would be a difficult plan to implement in 15s. However, it would be cheaper and easier to implement in 7s (again with this damn argument!). I think that The Woodlands, Katy, Bay Area RC, HARC, Galveston, et al each have enough good sevens players to make a Metro-Houston 7s team.
      While we would all like to see a ITM Cup or Curry Cup level comp in the states. It might be best to roll out the 7s concept first, learn the hard lessons on a smaller scale, then apply the lessons-learned to a 15s competition once everyone begins to see that this idea CAN be done and with success!

    • This idea has promise but you’d be faced with the notion that these Union teams were basically all-star teams with constantly changing personnel. For these players to get better – and make the Eagle talent-pool stronger, continuity is needed… How would you address that?

  • Someguy

    You need a venue and more fans the rest will come in time. There has to be more of a demand for rugby here in the States. When I say venue I don’t mean a pitch in the middle of nowhere or in the heart of the city that to watch the games you simply turn up and watch from the sidelines. Is there any reason that the Super League couldn’t get an exibition match in Red Bull Arena? Put NYAC against any one of the powerhouse west coast clubs or maybe bring in an overseas club from any major rugby nation. I’m not saying bring a Super 15 side to watch us get killed but maybe the likes of some regional or provincial side. There has to be somebody in the US that is a marketing beast that could “sell” the game of rugby to Americans. I think as long as rugby doesn’t conflict with the NFL schedule rugby could have a “professional” home in the US.

    • I discussed them last week but Grand Prix Rugby seems to be making that move, but I think Red Bull Arena is too big a goal. They need a 10-15K seater.

    • Red Bull Arena prices itself out – even for the Eagles. That’s why they played in Houston. Spoke with Coach Tolkin about this…

  • We can feel it in our bones that something is going to finally click and the USA will at long last have professional rugby. It may take 5-7 years, though. It can’t NOT happen with NBC on board. Hell, we wouldn’t be bringing you this site and all the videos while bleeding our bank accounts dry if we didn’t think so!

  • Goeagles

    Completely agreed that a true Super League needs to be with the best players, not just some of the top clubs in the country. Canada plays their Super League after club season with province-based teams. Perhaps club season should run in the fall and a region-based Super League in the spring. I’d rather see the HP funds from the IRB go toward that than trying to hang on to the obvious failure that is College D1-A.

    • This is a solid idea. Clubs can still play in the spring but they know their top players will potentially be playing SL.

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