The new elite cup competition announced Friday is designed to be the crowned jewel of American club rugby, much the same way USA Rugby’s DI-A is designed to be the top level of American college rugby, and it’s genesis sprouts from a competition review which has led to the senior club restructure.
“There was a plan to introduce an elite cup competition in 2014, as part of the review,” said USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville, who will sit as the chair of the new competition’s management board.
“So we were talking to (the Super League). They’d come up and said, ‘Well, we’ve been talking about a cup competition as well…We discussed it with those guys and they came up with some ideas and we said, let’s give it a go and we’ve built it from that.”
Seven of the competition’s eight teams are former Super League teams, with Glendale being the only non-RSL club. Given that the plan is to have the top teams from DI seed the competition each year, the elite cup’s management board looked to the 2012 DI finalists to fill out its inaugural competition.
“We talked to the Super League clubs who were remaining, and we spoke to Glendale and Belmont, who obviously were in the final last year,” said Melville.
“Belmont were interested, but not quite yet. They couldn’t come in this year because they’ve got commitments. Glendale was very keen to come in, so we said let’s go with that. It might go to two pools of five, but at the moment we’re talking about the top eight teams from DI each year going into the cup competition the following year.”
New York Athletic Club, 2012 Super League champs and winners of four RSL titles in eight years, is the only team in the elite cup competition that isn’t playing in DI. But, according to the plan stated in the release announcing the competition, NYAC or any other team would have to compete in DI next season to be eligible for the 2014 cup competition.
However, Melville said that’s not entirely a closed issue.
“It’s not off the table, but it’s something we’re headed towards, to have all eight DI teams,” he said.
Just like the first two DI-A finals were televised, the plan is to have the final of the new elite cup competition televised. Melville said it will definitely be broadcasted, but since he is still finalizing the deal, he could not divulge the broadcaster. Melville has also started discussions with potential sponsors.
“I’ve met with some people this week who were interested in it, so hopefully that would come forward and it would be the Whatever-They’re-Called Cup,” he said.
One thing unique to the Super League was cost sharing, with each team equally shouldering the load of travel costs. It’s not yet decided if the cup competition, which will see its semifinals played at the home of the higher seed and the final potentially at a neutral venue, will operate the same way.
“We’re taking some good things that (the Super League has) done that they felt would work, and cost sharing is one of the discussions we’ve had,” said Melville. “So that’s potentially a way forward. We’ve also discussed it with a sponsor as well, who would probably be interested in getting involved, so hopefully this becomes a commercial opportunity.”