I recently covered the Southern Competitive Region in my structure series and have since received an update from Ted Hardy, Carolinas Geographic Rugby Union (CGRU) Men’s Club Executive Director. As I mentioned in that article the highest level in the Southern Conference is DII a fact they plan to changing one day and the forward thinking minds in the Region, including Ted Hardy, have set in motion elements for toward that change. They have implemented a well-defined promotion and relegation system in order to maintain balance and increase competitive levels. “The system in place doesn’t guarantee that any club is promoted or relegated each season,” Ted says. “Clubs must meet certain criteria to be considered for promotion or relegation.”
Let’s take a look at the changes in each Division beginning with DII where the majority of the changes have been made.
“Last year we were on the verge of not having any D2 structure in the CGRU which would have been a massive loss,” Ted told me. “At our AGM last year our clubs tasked our Board, which had a bit of a regime change, with rebuilding our D2 play with an eye on bringing D1 rugby back to the South.” One task they took on was the overhaul of a lopsided DIII competition. The disparity between clubs can be found in the standings leading to the promotion of Southern Pines Rugby (7-0-1), Chapel Hill Warriors (8-0-0), Charleston Outlaws (6-0-2), and Greenville Griffins (8-0-0) and will make up the D2 North.
In the D2 South the CGRU will welcome Clemson “JV” side a squad similar in structure to D2 South rival Life Running Eagles team that won the D2 National Championship this season. “Clemson is a top-notch collegiate program and we have every reason to believe that they will have a positive impact on our D2 competition,” says Ted. Returning to DII play this season will be Charlotte Rugby (4-0-2), Atlanta Old White (1-0-5), and the Atlanta Renegades (1-0-5) to complete the D2 South.
Playoffs will be determined by the top two squads in each division; the winner will advance to the South Championship. If the CGRU hosts the Southern Championship then they will receive two bids to the South tournament.
In DIII 10 clubs remain to compete for the crown, 8 from emerging rugby hotbed North Carolina. “We expect to see a much more competitive season in 2017/2018,” said Hardy. “We view D3 as our participation growth level.” Travel issues for clubs like Hilton Head Gators and Ashville Rugby may still plague DIII but several clubs will be competing for promotion. The structure has been reconfigured into East and West with 5 clubs in each.
In the DIII East Cape Fear (6-0-2), Camp Lejeune (3-0-4), Fort Bragg (0-8-0), and the Clayton Bootleggers (2-0-5), are joined by the Hilton Head Gators (0-8-0) with Camp Fear the odds on favorite. The DIII West shapes up with Ashville (6-0-2), Charlotte Barbarians (5-0-3), Triad (4-0-4), Columbia Olde Grey (2-0-6), and newcomer Charlotte Rugby D3.
The addition of Charlotte Rugby D3 highlights the importance the CGRU places on DIII as a development platform for growth of the game and player participation as well as possibly new clubs.
The playoffs in DIII will mirror that of DII; the top two teams in each division square of for a shot at going to the DIII Southern Championship.
The intended return of DIV marks the biggest indication of the CGRU’s focus on development and a successful spring return would be a quantifiable measuring stick of that success. “We maintain that D4 can have a big impact on the development of clubs, especially new ones,” Ted explains. “We intend to roll out a D4 matrix this season, but only in the Spring window until we get more new clubs on board at this level.”
The long-term goal is to add DIV to the promotion and relegation system while using it as an entry point for new and rebuilding clubs like Charlotte-area Gaston Gargoyles who are attempting to rebuild their numbers and a Rocky Mount, North Carolina-based club who recently petitioned to join the Union. Ted is thrilled at the prospect of new clubs, “With the growth of youth rugby in the Carolinas it is inevitable that more new clubs will grow out of the many youth programs that are now online. Which is an awesome thing for everyone as the more clubs that we have, the less our clubs have to travel. All of it has a domino effect on playing numbers, overall club health, and competitive growth in the Carolinas.”
Despite the work being done now regarding the restructure the job is far from over as more changes are on the horizon for the Southern CR. The end goal remains the return of a DI division to the South. ted explained the hurdle, “We need at least 5-6 more clubs playing at a D2 or above level before we think about promoting a group of 5-6 teams to D1. To do that, we realistically need another 8-10 clubs playing throughout the CGRU.”
Growth, it always comes down to growth and development before improvement can even begin.
“We also have to take into account the travel demands of such a competition. We have a few clubs in D2 right now that I’m confident of their ability to compete in D1. We need to resist the temptation of creating a D1 competition for the sake of having D1…It needs to be sustainable. That takes time. We’re on the right path though.”
They are on the right path and with change in the CGRU maybe other Southern CR Unions will follow in their path and growth of a DI can come from without rather than require development from within.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the Southern CR offers some of the best rugby in the country and certainly allows for year-round play due to moderate climate. Watch out for the South rugby fans, the sports is growing in the region and it’s growing fast!