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Red River / TRU Ruling on Complaint of Ft. Hood RFC re: Eligibility of Grand Prairie RFC in Apr. 9, 2022 MD3 Quarterfinal

The Red River Competitions Committee has already communicated a summary of this ruling and the implications to the respective Clubs. However, we are posting this notice on behalf of the Red River / TRU Competitions Committee (“CC”) given the complicated nature of the issue, and the fact that all Clubs in the competition might benefit from a more thorough explanation of the particular eligibility rules at issue.

A. Summary of Decision:

The CC, in response to an issue raised by Ft. Hood RFC, has determined that Grand Prairie (“GP”) inadvertently played one ineligible player in the April 9, 2022, MD3 Quarterfinal match between those two Clubs. As a result, the CC has determined, consistent with past precedent, that Grand Prairie will be deemed to have forfeited that match, Ft. Hood will be granted the win 28-0, and will advance to the Red River / TRU Championships on April 23-24, 2022 at Burr Field in Austin, Texas. Because Ft. Hood was a number 2 seed, the MD3 matchups on April 23 are realigned as follows, consistent with the original seeding procedure announced by the CC before playoffs began:

Field 2 – 1PM – Austin Blacks D3 v. BARC
Field 2 – 3PM – Ft. Hood v. Houston Arrows

As the CC is convinced this is an honest mistake by GP, a new multi-side Club, in interpreting a complicated set of eligibility rules, no further sanction beyond forfeiture of the Quarterfinal match (and resulting elimination from the playoffs) is being imposed.

Nevertheless, any Club aggrieved by this decision is entitled to appeal to the Eligibility Committee (“EC”) by submitting a written explanation of the basis of the appeal, as well as all supporting documentation, to seniorclubeligibility@usa.rugby, and copying DDodge@GPM-Law.com. Given the proximity of the Red River / TRU Championships, any such appeal must be submitted no later than 5pm Central on Saturday, April 16, 2022.

B. The Complaint:

On the afternoon of April 12, 2022, Ft. Hood sent an email to the CC questioning the eligibility of one of the GP’s players (identified as “Player 2,” below) who played against them in the MD3 Quarterfinal match on April 9, 2022. GP won that match 36-29, and as the lowest MD3 seed that emerged from the Quarterfinal Round, was scheduled to play the Austin Blacks MD3 side on April 23, 2022 in the Red River / TRU Championships.

The specific issue raised by Ft. Hood was whether a player who had played 50% or more of his league matches at the MD1 level was eligible under Rules 3.5(f) and (g) to play MD3 in the Red River / TRU playoffs. However, as explained below, Ft. Hood’s complaint was based on a misinterpretation of those rules. (Analysis of the relevant Rules appears below).

C. The Response:

On the evening of April 12, 2022, I contacted the Chair of the national Senior Club Eligibility Committee (“EC”) to determine whether this was an issue for the CC in the first instance, or whether Ft. Hood’s complaint should be forwarded directly to the EC for consideration. The EC Chair instructed that the CC should decide the issue first.

As such, also on the evening of April 12, 2022, the CC forwarded Ft. Hood’s email on to Grand Prairie for a response. GP responded on the morning of April 13, 2022 that, yes, in fact, there were 4 GP players that, before stepping foot on the field for the GP / Ft. Hood MD3 Quarterfinal match had more MD1 matches played than MD3 matches played. Here are the numbers GP gave the CC (not counting the Ft. Hood match):

Player 1:* D1 – 3, D3 – 3
Player 2: D1 – 2, D3 – 2
Player 3: D1 – 5, D3 – 2
Player 4: D1 – 4, D3 – 4

* The names of the individual players involved have been withheld, as they are unimportant to the result reached by the Committee.

In its response, GP (which is new to being a multi-side Club this season) indicated that it was focused on the 66% threshold in Rule 3.5(d), and overlooked the potential application of Rule 3.5(g). Each of the Players listed above is under the 66% threshold in that Rule.

GP was very forthcoming with information, did not dispute Ft. Hood’s interpretation of the Rules (although it was incorrect), and in fact, went so far as to send Ft. Hood an email apologizing and offering up GP’s playoff spot even before the CC was able to review GP’s response.

D. The Rules (and their Interpretation):

The two Eligibility Rules at issue are part of Rule 3.5, which deals with player movement / eligibility for multi-sided Clubs. Those rules state:

f. For Approved Governing Body Play-off Matches, each player is restricted to the division(s) in which he/she will be eligible to compete in the USA Rugby National Championship Series.

g. Using the total number of National Championship Qualifying Matches played by a player (when the Upper Division-Only minimum specified in Regulation 3.5-(d) or 3.5-(e) has not been met), if 50% or more were with the Upper Division side, that player is not eligible to participate with the Lower Division side in the USA Rugby National Championship Series.

Example: If a player plays in 3 Upper Division National Championship Qualifying Matches and 2 Lower Division National Championship Qualifying Matches, that player is not eligible for the Lower Division NCS Matches.

Also relevant to the analysis is Rule 3.5(c) & (d), which state:

c. For Approved Governing Body Play-off Matches, each player must be capable of meeting the required National Championship Qualifying Match minimum by the start of the USA Rugby National Championship Series. Approved Governing Body Play-off matches apply towards the player’s match participation.

d. Any player on a club fielding teams which compete in either contiguous or non-contiguous divisions, who has played in at least 66% of the total National Championship Qualifying Matches for the club’s Upper Division side is immediately no longer eligible to play for that club’s Lower Division side (See Figure 1).

During the course of the season, should the number of matches played by the club change for reasons outside the club’s control (forfeit, cancellation) and a player’s eligibility for a/the Lower Division side be impacted, the player must request a waiver from USA Rugby. (See www.usa.rugby/club/eligibility/)

Historically the CC has treated Red River / TRU playoff matches as regular season “league matches” for eligibility purposes. So, the CC looks at whether, if the player played in every Red River / TRU playoff match in that division, he / she would be capable of meeting the eligibility requirements for playing in that division by the National Championship Series (“NCS”) rounds (which this year would start with the May 8-9 Gulf Coast Superregional). In other words, this is a forward-looking analysis, not a snapshot taken of the player’s playing history before the Red River / TRU Playoffs start.

On April 13, 2022, I reached out to the Chair of the EC for written confirmation that the CC’s historic interpretation and practice were correct, and the EC Chair confirmed that “Approved Governing Body Play-off matches apply towards the player’s match participation,” for all purposes, including those of Rules 3.5(f) and (g).

E. Analysis:

Based on this interpretation, the player which gave rise to Ft. Hood’s complaint (Player 2, above) was eligible to play in the April 9, 2022 MD3 Quarterfinal match. If you add the Quarterfinal match, and the two potential MD3 matches on April 23-24, to the number of MD3 matches he had played, Player 2 would have 5 MD3 matches and only 2 MD1 matches (so under 50% of Player 2’s matches would have been at the MD1 level). The same is true of Players 1 and 4, listed above.

However, Player 3 listed above was ineligible to play in the Quarterfinal match because even adding 3 MD3 playoff matches to the number of MD3 matches Player 3 had already played would still leave that player with 50% of his matches played at the MD1 level (5 MD1 matches and 5 MD3 matches), which is over the limit of MD1 matches under Rule 3.5(g). As such, GP did, in fact, play an ineligible player against Ft. Hood (albeit not the player and not for the reason that Ft. Hood or GP thought).

It would have conceivably been possible for GP to have applied for a waiver under Rule 3.5(d) (quoted above) based on the MD3 match the Huns forfeited to them on March 26, 2022 , if Player 3 was to have been rostered for GP’s MD3 side in that match, but any such waiver would have needed to have been applied for and granted before the Ft. Hood match. See Rule 3.4 (“Submitting a waiver request to USA Rugby does not provide temporary eligibility. The Eligibility Decision must be received before the player may play for his/her Club.”).

F. Committee Precedent:

It is the CC’s precedent to declare a match in which an ineligible player was played a forfeit, and potentially impose additional competitive penalties if there is evidence of intentional attempts to violate the rules. Although GP did play an ineligible player, there is no evidence this was intentional. In fact, all evidence shows this violation was inadvertent, given that none of the Players listed above were over the 66% threshold in Rule 3.5(d), the multi-side player movement rules are incredibly complicated, and GP is new to having multiple sides.

GP was also very forthcoming with the facts regarding not only the player that gave rise to Ft. Hood’s complaint, but also others that might give rise to eligibility issues. The CC checks the eligibility of players rostered for the Red River / TRU Playoffs, and would have likely caught this issue, albeit much later in the process where correcting the issue would have given rise to additional inconvenience and expense to the Union and Clubs involved.

G. Realignment of Matches on April 23, 2022:

Prior to the beginning of playoffs, the CC specified the four Quarterfinal Round Winners would advance to the TRU / Red River Semi-Finals on Saturday, April 23, 2022, but not be re-seeded such that:

Semi-Final #1 – Top Seed vs. Lowest Seed from Quarterfinal Winners
Semi-Final #2 – Remaining Quarterfinal Winners

The CC decided that retaining this seeding was appropriate. As Ft. Hood is the #2 seed, and BARC is the # 5 seed, BARC will play the Austin Blacks (#1 seed) in Semifinal #1, and Ft. Hood will play the Houston Arrows (the #4 seed) in Semifinal #2.

Thank you all for your attention to these matters, and your understanding and cooperation. As always, the CC encourages all Clubs to reach out whenever they have a question regarding the Eligibility Rules. The CC will answer such questions as quickly as possible.