The WPL Championship is in the books, congratulations to the Glendale Raptors on taking that honor home! But the USA Rugby WPL eligibility issues that plagued the WPL Championships haven’t been forgotten so easily. To recap quickly, the Atlanta Harlequins knowingly played an ineligibly player on day one of the WPL Championships. In that match, the Harlequins defeated the Glendale Raptors by a narrow margin, 8-7. Due to playing the ineligible player, they were relegated to the 3rd/4th match on Sunday.
To start, the WPL Executive Board issued this statement after the Championships:
The Women’s Premier League (WPL) strives to uphold the highest level of integrity and professionalism. The WPL, since its inception, has followed USA Rugby eligibility rules. The eligibility rules, CIPP deadlines, and waiver procedures are widely known and respected by every player and team in the WPL. The WPL supports USA Rugby’s decision with respect to the Atlanta Harlequins player’s waiver request denial and subsequent decision to require Atlanta to forfeit their matches. The WPL is voting on internal sanctions, if any, that Atlanta will receive.
Great, they might fine Atlanta, but is that enough? All of the teams at the Championships were affected by Atlanta’s choices…but the DC Furies could argue that they were hurt the most. The player in question also participated in at least two league matches during the regular WPL season. As a result those games should have been marked as forfeits, this would have effectively shook up the standings and placed Atlanta in the bottom tier at the WPL Championships. This movement would have placed the DC Furies in the top tier for a chance to play for the 2014 WPL National Championship. The DC Furies issued this statement:
The Furies’ seeding at Nationals was directly affected by Atlanta’s decision to allow an ineligible player to participate. USA Rugby has put deadlines in place to ensure fair competition for all rugby players. The eligibility rules are not particularly onerous and contribute to the overall sportsmanship and fairness of the game. Membership deadlines exist for all clubs under USA Rugby eligibility rules. The October 1 date affects only the WPL as we are the only club league with a Fall championship but a deadline exists for every club. Other WPL teams were similarly affected by the October 1 date but did not play their players who registered after the date.
All teams voluntarily sign a league agreement to participate in the WPL, which outlines the responsibility of the clubs to abide by USA Rugby’s eligibility rules. The Womens’ Premier League (WPL), and club rugby in general, runs on an honor based system, and clubs should abide by the agreement. We do not get paid to play rugby, we play purely for the love of the game.
You could also argue that the Twin City Amazons had an incredible disadvantage as well, who wants to go against the team that gets a second chance? Over and over in history the team with the second chance wins, most sport themed movies have this as a central theme!
It also has to be recognized that while USA Rugby handled this situation on day 1 of the event, did they handle it correctly? Atlanta and USA Rugby had full knowledge of the situation and required Atlanta to forfeit both matches. But why didn’t they change the brackets once Atlanta confirmed that player on their roster? Or as New York so eloquently put it:
Once Atlanta had rostered an ineligible player, USA Rugby should have informed them that should they choose to proceed, the game would not occur. I doubt that at their home ground, in front of all their fans, Atlanta would have chosen to not play the game at all. This would have forced them to make a decision.
By allowing the game to proceed, along with an ineligible player, who eventually affected the outcome of the game by scoring the “winning” try, they were, in essence, giving more credibility to Atlanta’s choice.
It’s no surprise that this issue has many sides and even more opinions. While some stood behind Atlanta in their decision to play as a team regardless of it causing them to forfeit, others couldn’t fathom the idea. Putting one player in front of the entire team….crazy! Even more, many teams across the nation attested to the fact that they have had to make similar choices in the past in regards to eligibility. Simply put the ineligible player stays on the bench and the team plays on.
So, are the eligibility rules bogus or necessary? This again brings up lots of passion and plenty of opinions. Many will say over and over that rules are rules and they are in place for a reason. But the other side of the coin begs that competition should be settled on the field, regardless of “rules”. Some even felt that any deadline imposed on the teams is ludicrous. YSC has stayed pretty neutral on these topics but want to express our opinion as well now. We feel strongly that a deadline needs to be in place to ensure competition and to ensure that the same teams that played in the league competition are at Nationals.
YSC also feels that there are two glaring issues in regards to the WPL eligibility regulations, first players must have played in at least two matches. In a season of six matches, that is crazy! All teams have those bubble players that won’t start and see very little time on the field. In a tense and close match you may have to “get a player on the field” so they can meet their two match minimum. Second, why can transfers only be approved if it is for non-rugby reason when a player moves locations? Ideally this is to stop teams from recruiting players from other teams, but if another team has something else to offer a player, what is the harm? All teams should work to make their organization the most exciting and dynamic so players WANT to play for them. The latter eligibility guideline also affects all of Club rugby and we think it should be removed completely.
In the end, YSC doesn’t know the answers, but we do feel strongly that teams should have the right to play their best team. However, teams and players must also be accountable for CIPPing, following eligibility guidelines and ensuring that their best team can play when the time comes. Most of all we need to uphold the integrity of rugby, the league and the Championship. Unfortunately, that was thrown out the window a few weeks ago by allowing Atlanta to play an ineligible member. In the end, USA Rugby & the WPL should have ruled the player eligible to play or not have let Atlanta step on the field with the player rostered.
As a result, the 2014 WPL Champions, the Glendale Raptors*, will always have an asterisk next to their win.