According to this story from American Rugby News, some criticism involving the transfer of All-American prop Michael Shephard from Indiana (the rugby home of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban) to Western Conference powerhouse Utah has arisen.
From the story:
Indiana head coach Tom Phillips is upset over what he claims was a year-long recruitment campaign by his Utah counterpart and 2009 All-American forwards coach Blake Burdette to encourage Shephard to transfer.
I’ve seen this quite a bit in the collegiate ranks in the last 10 years or so. One of the teams out here would repeatedly reload the same scrum half year after year… after year… after year… until I swear he turned 35. It appears that collegiate eligibility rules have been lax for many years, with the result being a dearth of talent throughout the country except for a handful of teams that have the resources to attract them.
It’s also a problem to let a handful of elite team’s coaches have access to the best collegiate players in the country. Events like this lead to the belief, correct or not, that coaches take advantage of their position of national leadership for the benefit of their own team.
So what can be done?
USA Rugby should take the lead on keeping track of player transfers, keeping these athletes from jumping from school to school to find a team to play for. It’ll take some effort and infrastructure development on USA Rugby’s part, but it’s necessary for rugby to be taken as a serious sport and not just a chance for frat boys to get together and drink.
This infrastructure goes all the way down, from the national union to each local union. Referees have to ensure that players in collegiate games are CIPP insured, and that those each player has a photo identification to verify against their list from USA Rugby.
After developing this infrastructure, USA Rugby has to drop the boom on players who transfer schools. NCAA college sports have a one-year wait for athletes who transfer schools. USA Rugby should have the same requirement. It’ll suck for athletes who move schools for legitimate reasons. But since there are very few schools who offer scholarships or other enticements for rugby athletes, students should be transferring for legitimate academic reasons.
USA Rugby should also rethink who they get to coach the All-American teams. There’s too much of a temptation for coaches currently working with college teams to (subtly or not) recruit these elite athletes. If we as ruggers, former ruggers, and fans are not willing to make this kind of commitment, then we need to rethink how we want to feature collegiate rugby – one of the growth markets of the rugby world in the U.S. Again, if we all want to make this commitment, then USA Rugby needs to hire an All-American coaching and scouting staff and make sure they are not working for, or enamored with, any one particular team.