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The Evolution and Growth of Small College Rugby

By Brett Anker, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, 09/27/19, 2:15PM EDT

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Reprinted from The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company's "Rugby Is Life"

Starting as a fledgling group in hope of providing traditional division III colleges with a roadmap for growth, the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) has turned into one of the best-run organizations in college rugby.

With an initial focus on schools with less than 3,000 students by gender, NSCRO has helped foster the growth of hundreds of men’s and women’s small college rugby programs.

NSCRO’s impressive growth is due in large part to the tremendous leadership and passion of its founder, Steve Cohen. A lifetime member of the rugby community as a player, referee and league administrator, Cohen approached USA Rugby with a detailed report about the state of small college rugby and the idea of creating an organization that would foster growth and development for men’s and women’s small college programs. With USA Rugby’s blessing NSCRO was formed in 2007.

“USA Rugby gave me the go ahead to start an organization that would help provide opportunities for players participating in small colleges. We saw immediate interest from schools across the country and in 2008, we held our first national championship,” Cohen said of the founding.

Over the last decade, the organization exploded in growth and by 2013, doubled the number of men’s and women’s programs. As a result,  USA Rugby recognized NSCRO as independent organization, allowing the organization to control its own future The organization grew so fast that Cohen retired from a career in engineering to run NSCRO full time.

“We became a home for small college rugby. Schools started seeing the value in the sport and many started helping support the growth of their programs,” Cohen added. “Many people started to realize that the value of rugby is beyond the field, helping foster the growth of individuals through the development of life and leadership skills.”

In 2015, Penn Mutual signed on to be the first corporate sponsor of NSCRO and the organization was able to provide new and unique experiences for small college rugby players. As one of several opportunities, NSCRO created The Penn Mutual Women’s 7s Select Side, a team composed of top players from schools across the country. The team has competed in national events like the Las Vegas Invitational and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship.

“We hired two new individuals to help develop the small college game,” Cohen stated. “As a result, we were able to provide more opportunities for our members to develop as players and, more importantly, as people.”

Prior to 2015, Cohen ran NSCRO independently, on his own. With the tremendous growth, Cohen made the decision to make NSCRO a registered 501(c)(3).

“NSCRO has become more important to small colleges than I ever expected,” Cohen explained. “In order for the organization to grow we needed to bring in a group of talented people.”

Becoming a 501(c)(3) helped foster the growth, and it’s setting up the organization for a successful future. Over the next few years, NSCRO is working to establish a strong financial foundation and prepare for Cohen’s inevitable retirement.

Thanks to hard work and a strong vision, NSCRO has become one of the premier organizations in college rugby. With a strong staff and Board of Directors in place, it is set up to continue its positive trajectory and give student-athletes opportunities for years to come.