Lost in the shuffle of the holiday weekend, the Eagles 7s coaching staff situation, and a number of deals involving American players overseas was Arkansas State joining the Varsity Cup. The Red Wolves formerly were a powerhouse in the DI-A playoffs and their joining the Varsity Cup seems to have tipped the scales toward the Varsity Cup in terms of which competition produces the “most worthy” champion.
Up until Arkansas State’s decision both the DI-A and the Varsity Cup could each claim to have the best teams in the country. The fact that the DI-A champions St. Mary’s beat BYU and Varsity Cup champions BYU beat St. Mary’s this year only adds to that theory. The addition of Arkansas State is not going to all of sudden take that controversy away. For example, Life could go on and storm through DI-A next while BYU does the same in the Varsity Cup. Without playing each other there will always be controversy.
Where the Arkansas State decision comes into play is in depth of the competition which enhances its overall image. Both teams have several teams that simply aren’t up to the standard of top teams in their competitions. As we saw this year there were many blowouts. It was in the semi-finals that things got interesting. The DI-A semi-finals saw Life play Arkansas State and St. Mary’s play Lindenwood. The Varsity Cup semi-finals saw BYU play Navy and Cal play Central Washington. Even with these more evenly matched games there were still blowouts.
By taking Arkansas State and placing them into the Varsity Cup it is now clear that there are four teams in the Varsity Cup that can be considered top tier while there are only two/three left in DI-A. Barring something changing it will be Life and St. Mary’s again in the DI-A final. Lindenwood is the dark horse but will need to improve quite a bit over last year to beat St. Mary’s. Cal and BYU will be favorites again in the Varsity Cup but it’s far more conceivable to see one of them being upset but the likes of Arkansas State or Central Washington.
The Varsity Cup may not be done making more moves. Adding the Red Wolves means there are now 13 teams in the competition. It’s very feasible to see the competition adding three more teams to make it an even 16. Army makes sense given their connections to Navy and Air Force. St. Mary’s also makes sense. The Varsity Cup is more about branding and marketing than DI-A and St. Mary’s brings a recognizable name along with a strong rugby program. That leaves Life. It’s a great rugby school but as we saw in the CRC, United World Sports, the group behind the Varsity Cup, will change things up to make sure they get a brand name school on television in the final.
In the end it comes down to what Life wants to do. Assuming that St. Mary’s and Army join the Varsity Cup that leaves Life either playing in a competition they know they can dominate or face being placed in bracket that is possibly set up to see them knocked out? Our guess is that the Life guys will take the chance to beat the best and go to the competition with the most top teams.
Much of this still has to play out and this is American rugby politics we’re talking about but Arkansas State’s move to the Varsity Cup is a major shift that could change the way college rugby is looked at going forward. Up until now there had been balance but next year there won’t be and that could be all the difference.