College sport in the U.S is unlike anywhere else in the world. It is truly a multibillion dollar industry. There is an unbelievable sporting culture created by hundreds of thousands of student athletes, benefiting from an opportunity that sets them up for life.
There are over 2500 colleges & universities in the United States of America that offer sport. Rugby Union is played at over 900 of those schools with more schools forming teams every year. Further to this, more collegiate programs are gaining varsity status, athletic support & funding. This creates a more affordable option for top student rugby players looking to study internationally.
SPORT ON THE RISE
US College Rugby is very much on the rise since its inception in 1874. Formerly a highly elite sport played at smaller private colleges, it is now attracting talented international student athletes who can both perform on the pitch and in class.
The US College system boasts over 35,000 registered players which rivals many of the tier 1 rugby nations player numbers. With the recent emergence of the professional competition Major League Rugby (MLR), the best of the US College talent can be drafted by the Major League franchises and play professionally.
DIVISIONS & CONFERENCES
With hundreds of programs and a huge geographical spread there is a need for multiple divisions and conference competitions. This provides schools with the opportunities to progress or regress.
USA Rugby governs the elite competition - Division 1-A, as well as Division 1-AA & Division 2. As well as women's D1 and D1-Elite, This incorporates most of the rugby playing schools across the country. NCRO (National College Rugby) governs another group of 300+ schools which tend to have a smaller student population but can be just as competitive.
The CRC (Collegiate Rugby Championship) showcases some of the best players and teams in the country playing the 7s version of the game. This event attracts almost 30,000 spectators every year. With America ranked #2 in the 2019 World Rugby 7s circuit there is serious ability and interest in the game already.
WOMEN'S RUGBY GROWTH
Women's rugby has been acknowledged as an 'Emerging Sport' by the NCAA which adds to the belief that rugby will become a full varsity sport at both the male and female levels in years to come. For now, it is primarily a club sport on the rise. However, for the best student athletes there are some amazing opportunities. One of the top flight competition is D1 Elite which includes many of programs that compete in the D1A men's division.
Womens rugby also has the NIRA competition with over 35 colleges which is recognised by NCAA and offers DI, II and III. There is a lot of support and funding for aspiring college players in this particular competition.