In his Sport24 column, Tank Lanning asks if the Community and Varsity Cup playing fields are level?
The Cape Town Tens has come and gone – and what a sensational event the 5th edition of what is now a Cape Town institution turned out to be – so now we know the rugby season is a go, go, go.
The first round of the Varsity Cup has been played, with Pukke upsetting defending champs Tukkies, and the Community Cup – a new tournament that sees the country’s top open clubs go head to head in a four pool format – officially launched, the first fixtures taking place on the 16th of February.
Exciting times as the spotlight gets placed on the recently neglected heart and soul of rugby – club rugby. But with the bright lights come a few red flags …
In a very good initiative, Varsity Cup have made academics a priority by demanding that at least 18 out of the 23 players in the matchday squads be full-time students that have passed at least 30% of the subjects they studied the year before. And even the non-student players need to have passed Grade 12.
Now I know education standards are slipping, but being asked to pass just 30% of your courses, especially with only a few of them on the menu for a lot of the players, is not exactly being very demanding of the players.
Which brings me to my next red flag – the actual courses and their entrance requirements. Some of the varsities offer “Degree only” courses which come with tough entry requirements, more courses, and an annual pass rate a lot more substantial than just 30%, while other varsities offer diplomas or less which come with much lower entry requirements, fewer courses per year and just the Varsity Cup prescribed 30% pass rate.
Then throw in the age old professional bugbear – cold hard cash. While some varsities will have every single degree or diploma on offer oversubscribed, and thus not see the need to spend any marketing money on their flagship rugby side in order to attract students, others will throw a large portion of their sizeable marketing budget at the rugby club in order to attract “Students”. Some varsities offer bursaries only in terms of reimbursement, while others see that as par for the course, throwing in housing, a car and more than just pocket money as the deal decider.
As such, the playing fields are by no means level, leaving the organising committee with a very big call to make in the near future. Either allow basic professional rugby economics to play it’s course, meaning the varsities with the lowest academic barriers and biggest wallets will become “Super-Varsities”, or step in and regulate matters so as to keep all 8 varsities competitive.
The Community Cup will face similar challenges, obviously without the academic issues. But there is the potential for “Super Clubs” – clubs with cash – to dominate the tournament, perhaps even at the expense of club rugby in general.
I suppose the key question is should club rugby (be it open or academic) even be professional? Perhaps this is the tier of rugby that should remain amateur, aiming to retain some of those classic rugby traditions like post match fines, teams having a beer together after matches and trying to score tries rather than stick up kicks for the wings to chase?
Or is that the sole domain of the Cape Town Tens nowadays?