It’s unfortunate. There are 54 players registered with UC-Irvine, and because of the mistakes of one man, their coach, those dues-paying college students won’t get to play in the postseason, despite earning the right to on the field.
Who’s to blame for the Anteaters’ situation? Well, coach Vince McLeod certainly is. He knowingly played an ineligible player in the hopes he’d be deemed eligible by USA Rugby at a later date. He wasn’t, and McLeod tried to cover up his ineligibility, despite being the commissioner of the league in which they played -- the Pacific Mountain West.
Not only should McLeod not be allowed to continue as commissioner, he shouldn’t be allowed to handle administrative duties for UC-Irvine.
But, when RUGBYMag spoke with McLeod following the ruling, the defensive coach did make at least one resonating point -- other teams are playing ineligible players and getting away with it.
McLeod specifically pointed his finger at fellow teams within the Pacific Mountain West, but I can’t confirm or deny any of his claims. However, it’s safe to say ineligible players get played across the country, and there’s often no punishment.
Why? For starters, the eligibility rules are not easy to enforce.
In college, they are, to a degree. The collegiate player eligibility form forces teams to have their players vetted by the school registrar. Theoretically, teams would exchange this form, CIPP rosters and photo identification before every qualifying match. That doesn’t happen everywhere, or in most places.
What sometimes happens is teams put off even completing the collegiate player eligibility form until they reach territorial or national playoffs, only to find out players they’d fielded all season are ineligible for taking less than 12 hours, being beyond their first five years of college or another reason.
I remember sitting in the press box at UC-Santa Barbara overhearing a conversation about a player on a National Round of 16 roster that was CIPPed the week leading up to that event. That’s remarkable. Either that student was the fastest learner in the history of rugby and had earned his/her way onto the starting roster in short order, or they’d been playing earlier without being CIPPed.
It’s time for players, coaches, USA Rugby, college conferences and territorial, geographic and local area unions to take eligibility seriously.
Part of that will have to be communicating much better from the top down.
USA Rugby has the email address of all of its members, or at least the same amount of email addresses as members. USA Rugby uses that database to push its sponsors and events, but not to deliver vital information, such as eligibility regulations and forms or new legislation (like, ahem, a massive college restructuring plan).
That should change. Every season, and sometimes more often, new people take over the administrative duties for hundreds of teams nationwide. Those people need to be briefed.
A larger part of what needs to happen is teams need to start holding each other accountable. Don’t skip the ID check. Don’t forgo the exchange of eligibility documents.
If you want to play social rugby outside the red tape and eligibility rules, do so and have fun. There’s no shame in it. But if you want to compete toward one of the 20-odd national championships in this country, take it seriously. Or no one else will. Not sponsors, not investors, not athletic departments.