April 11, 2023

Open Letter to Members Regarding USA Rugby Discussions

April 11, 2023

Dear Members,

Over the past few years, there have been varying public discussions and opinions regarding National Collegiate Rugby’s relationship with USA Rugby. We would like to provide you with a summary of NCR’s position, the facts concerning our interactions with USA Rugby, and our commitment to the collaborative growth of collegiate rugby. 

National Collegiate Rugby’s mission is “to foster the on and off-field growth and development of collegiate rugby teams, student athletes and coaches.” We are 100% focused on the collegiate game and 100% of your dues are invested in member services and growing collegiate rugby.

Together with our members and the referee community, we have built the largest collegiate rugby organization in the U.S.

  • NCR serves 600 teams, 40 conferences, and 15,000 players across the nation. Over 70% of U.S. collegiate rugby teams play in an NCR conference.
  • NCR and its members contract with referees to officiate over 6,000 regular season matches in both 15s and 7s, and over 500 high-performance playoff and championship matches.
  • NCR is the only organization that offers annual high-performance All-Star events for men and women.
  • The Collegiate Rugby Championship is the largest college championship event in the country with 120 teams and 1,800 athletes and coaches.
  • We reach over 12 million social media accounts annually.
  • Our programming reaches 500,000 streaming viewers per year.
  • In 2022, we honored 161 All Americans and nearly 500 Scholastic All Americans.

Collegiate Sports Regulatory Framework

NCR is a member-driven, not-for-profit entity that operates as an Amateur Sports Organization under the Ted Stevens Act. This federal law grants certain independent amateur athletic organizations – including collegiate, armed services, and high schools – with exclusive jurisdiction over its constituent players, coaches, and teams.

This regulatory framework is visible across NCAA and NAIA collegiate sports, none of which are required to pay membership dues to national governing bodies. Many other collegiate club sports also operate as independent athletic associations with no participation “tax” being paid to the national governing body. The National Club Softball Association, National Club Baseball Association, and the National Club Basketball Association are just three examples. 

NCR believes that college rugby is best run by an independent Amateur Sports Organization that is entirely focused on growing and supporting the college game. This independent structure provides the focus and dedicated resources to further unify and grow college rugby.

National Collegiate Rugby and USA Rugby

National Collegiate Rugby believes that a strong National Governing Body is critical to the success of rugby in the U.S. The World Cups present an unprecedented opportunity to grow our sport, and NCR is committed to providing appropriate support to USA Rugby to maximize this opportunity.

We are open to various value exchanges with USA Rugby—including monetary fees for shared services—but will only pay membership fees that deliver commensurate value to our members, allow for the continued investment in college programs, and maintain the financial resilience of NCR. 

On behalf of our members, NCR has regularly engaged with USA Rugby with the goal of establishing unencumbered access to referees, removing barriers to competition and creating a productive partnership for the future. We believe it’s important that our members understand key events:

  • 2007-2019: NCR’s predecessor organization, the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO), operated as an independent organization for over 10 years providing a full range of services. Despite NSCRO providing most member services, NSCRO participants paid member dues to USA Rugby for insurance and registration services.
  • Fall 2019: USA Rugby misappropriated $80,000 of NSCRO’s members’ money. These pass-through dues were unavailable to members until USA Rugby was able to secure a loan from World Rugby, putting NSCRO membership services under considerable strain.
  • January-March 2020: As USA Rugby reorganized to avoid bankruptcy, NSCRO evaluated a fully-independent operating model and evolved into National Collegiate Rugby. With encouragement from the USA Rugby CEO, NCR implemented its own membership service platform and insurance offering to ensure the continuity of college rugby for its members and other universities seeking college-focused services. 
  • August 2020 - January 2021: USA Rugby proposed that NCR members each pay $17.98 ($215,000) for a USA Rugby membership. Under NCR’s new operating model, membership fees were fully allocated to fund new infrastructure and membership services. NCR provided a counterproposal to pay $52,000 ($5.00 per member) in December 2020 to be earmarked exclusively for referee and coaching development in support of collegiate rugby. One month later, USA Rugby’s College Council rejected NCR’s membership proposal. 
  • October 2021 - January 2022: At the request of NCR, USA Rugby and NCR held a mediated meeting in Washington D.C. to discuss future partnership structures. USA Rugby and NCR discussed many areas of common interest, reaching a verbal agreement to pursue key actions. In January, USA Rugby provided a formal rejection of all meeting outcomes.
  • July-November 2022: At NCR’s invitation, NCR Executives met with USA Rugby Board representatives in Glendale, CO. During a constructive discussion, the USA Rugby representatives encouraged NCR to provide a proposal for how the two organizations can work together towards unifying college rugby. On August 17, NCR provided a proposal that included a potential framework for college rugby and a working group structure. On November 17, USA Rugby formally rejected the opportunity to work towards a unification strategy.

The Path Forward

We remain hopeful that a positive and healthy partnership can be established with USA Rugby despite the recent challenges. While our organization is exempt by law from national governing body oversight, we know that rugby could be stronger through greater collaboration across all rugby organizations.

With 15 years of success serving the college rugby community, NCR is the best positioned Amateur Sports Organization to lead American college rugby. National Collegiate Rugby has the vision, infrastructure, leadership and resources to accelerate the growth of college rugby and further improve the student-athlete, stakeholder and fan experience. NCR is committed to building a productive working relationship with USA Rugby and looks forward to future collaboration to grow our sport at all levels.

National Collegiate Rugby Board of Directors

Rafael Zahralddin, President

Jayme Pendergast, Vice President

Kyle Smith, Treasurer

Audrey Billingsley, Secretary

Michael Appaneal

Ron Bjorklund

Steve Cohen

Anton Forbes-Roberts

Bobby Hacker

Steven Hiatt

Kevin Houseknecht

Dr. Michael Lewis

Steve Lewis

Jenn Stratton


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