Long gone are the days in Men’s Rugby where a team can compete without Rugby micro skills and rugby IQ making up for that lack of experience with hustle, fitness, and attitude. It is is extraordinarily difficult to compete at the national level like the days of old - frankly it is next to impossible.
Our brother in arms at Navy and Army recruit and get 10 blue chip athletes per year ['blue chip' is the phrase used for recruited athletes to the Academies]]. That means that they arrive at the USNA and USMA pitch fully developed players who know their position, know the skills, understand the game, and have fully developed rugby IQ. Currently USMA has a minimum 40 recruited/experienced players on the team of 75.
Other teams we play are similar (Arizona, BYU, UVU, etc.). If you drill down on all the top 20 men’s sides, they are filled with players from outside the US that have been playing since they could walk. Go look at the team make up of Life, Lindenwood, Cal, BYU, Arizona, and many of the teams from the east coast. Most top programs in the country have paid coaches, significant budgets and players available full time.
By contrast, we have players with zero significant experience. We are forced to grow our own from kids that have left other sports programs at USAFA. We try to teach micro skills and our program with two days of availability a week. We currently have the most volunteer coaches assisting that we have had in my 4 years helping. That helps but……. We often travel the way we did 40 years ago and sleep 4 to a room because the players often pay their own way.
We have tried to get players to USAFA with experience but without success. We had 4 players (all fully qualified to attend USAFA with extremely high and competitive resumes. None were selected for fall of 2021. Demographics matter in the process. In one case a kid that was coached by a past USAFA rugby coach locally was turned down by USAFA but accepted by USMA. Kind of a weird feeling when that local kid was on the pitch opposite us a few weeks back.
COVID crushed us. Our coach might paint a more optimistic picture but other coaches and I are a bit more pessimistic. We will probably have enough to field a team next fall/spring but after that……unknown. We lost a year and half of player recruitment and development so going forward it will be tough. It is literally a race - without AD support the continuity of the program is in question.
As to losing - I will respectfully disagree - winning is not everything. Standing up to adversity and facing challenges despite the odds builds character and integrity. Choosing to play better teams is a way to make ourselves better. The gentlemen get a choice in who they play and they will always play USNA and USMA despite long odds. It is too important to them. It was their choice to play Arizona and their choice to not play Texas A&M - it is a cadet run club with coaches and OICs keeping them between the guard rails. It is their choice to play at the CRCs at the end of May.
While some alumni may look at scores 80 something to 20 something, cringe, and decide not to stay connected, others take to heart the value rugby gave them and stay engaged in the rugby community. I recommend you reach out to Denny if you have solutions that have escaped us.