After two days of tense anticipation British and University College Sports (BUCS) yesterday announced their decision to deny York rugby firsts promotion, concluding what has been a chaotic end to the season.
With both York and Sheffield Hallam having their final fixtures cancelled, the former due to Northumbria pulling out at the last minute and the latter due to the weather, the decision was made to award no points for either game therefore giving Hallam promotion due to their head to head record against York.
The University of York Rugby Club (UYRUFC) are obviously extremely disappointed and angry at what they view as a grossly unfair decision. Usually when a team pulls out of a fixture their opponents are awarded the points, but York Sport were apparently 63 minutes late in submitting an adequate reason for Northumbria’s withdrawal.
It is has been a crushingly disappointing and anticlimactic end to the most thrilling BUCS league campaign at this university in recent memory. The rugby firsts, in their first season in League 1A, have exceeded all expectations and shown that they have the quality to compete with some of the best university teams in the country. At a university which is not known for its sporting achievements, to have a rugby team competing in Premier B would have been outstanding. Now that opportunity has been cruelly snatched away.
Many are pointing the blame at York Sport, saying that they should have met the deadline. Their excuse is that they were unable to get in contact with Northumbria before the BUCS decided time of 10am on Monday morning. There is no doubt that there need to be serious questions about how such a crucial deadline was missed. However, I’m not going to discuss York Sport’s role in the fiasco here, because I feel it would mask a much more serious problem.
BUCS’s handling of the finale to this league has been shambolic and an insult to both York and Sheffield Hallam, two teams that have competed ferociously for the title all season. Due to unclear rules and an obsession with getting the league completed this weekend what was meant to be a thoroughly exciting final round was instead a confusing mess. It will not have come as a surprise to those involved, myself included, that this fiasco has been resolved with such a bizarre and unfair solution.
Those who disagree should look at what would have happened if York had met the deadline. Hallam would have lost the title due to the fact that their game last weekend was snowed off. York would now be celebrating but, again, it would have been a horribly unfair decision, especially considering the unusually bad weather conditions this year.
With the fantastic climax to the division having been taken away there was only ever one fair way to separate these two teams – a play-off. At the weekend firsts player Tom Weir told me that he thought a play-off would actually be a “fair decision” and most people I spoke to in York Sport and UYRUFC yesterday seemed to think it was almost inevitable. Even more stunningly, the BUCS website stated even before the events of this weekend that the top two teams might be required to take part in a promotion play-off. Then again, this is the same website that yesterday awarded the points from the Northumbria game to York (before taking them away) and still has it down that we won by walkover. Unbelievable.
The very fact that the website contains such an ambiguous statement is in itself ridiculous. Last year the rugby firsts went the whole season unbeaten yet were suddenly required to compete in a play-off at the University of Central Lancashire before they were promoted. Today the women’s fencing firsts – this year’s other exceptional York team – have to play a promotion play-off with Liverpool, but when I spoke to the club earlier in the year they had no idea what extra games they would have to play in order to be promoted, despite winning every game in the regular season.
Even more shockingly, the outcome of the male hockey firsts’ cup quarter final against Northumbria on Monday was decided with a coin toss after the game was snowed off. This time the decision went York’s way, but does that make it a fair one? Of course not.
BUCS will argue that they are under pressure to see that large amounts of fixtures are played in a short space of time, particularly with the rugby firsts having BUCS Trophy games played next week. I wonder how many of the players would prefer a good cup run this year to promotion. I would guess none of them.
Even though it would have added to fixture congestion, the fact that an organisation which is designed to encourage competitive sport at university would allow a whole season of thrilling matches and punishing training to be decided in an office rather than on a pitch is disgraceful.
An attitude that the outcome of games can be decided by the toss of a coin, or with a pen, suggests to me that BUCS do not understand how much university sport means to those who compete in it. These kinds of decisions would never be made in professional sport, so why here? BUCS need to have set rules put in place to deal with these scenarios and they need to make them clear at the start of the season. No more of this “may be required to take part in” ambiguity. Until these divisions are organised seriously and fairly there will not be any true competition in university sport.
I’ve seen an ambulance turn up on the 22 Acres almost every time I’ve watched the firsts this year, seen Mike Callis turn blue and later seen his hand grotesquely shunted well out of place. For some of those players, dare I say it, this might have been more important to them in the last year than their degrees. Yet now all that toil and hard work has all been for nothing because of a missed deadline and a reluctance to stage a play-off. There will be those who think this is all an overreaction – they should have seen the devastated rugby players yesterday.