The National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) has partnered with Advantage, the rugby referee development system employed by Major League Rugby (MLR). NIRA, the country’s NCAA women’s rugby league, is currently accepting applications from match officials interested in participating in the fall 2019 season.
“Next to on-boarding new NCAA women’s rugby programs, our partnership with the MLR and Advantage might be the single most significant enhancement to NIRA to date,” NIRA commissioner Amy Rusert explained. “The partnership will bring a standard of excellence and a mutual commitment to best practices as we cultivate a cadre of referees with NCAA Championship, MLR and international refereeing aspirations.”
Richard Every is the MLR’s Official Match Manager and in their partnership with USA Rugby’s referee development program, they are working with competitions like NIRA, USA Rugby’s DIA, Atlantic Rugby Premiership and Women’s Premier League (2018) to expose a larger referee pool to the same processes used at the professional level. These relationships provide USA Rugby and the MLR more opportunities to identify and track promising referees, and bring officiating consistency to the competitions themselves.
“What they’ll get out of this competition is that they’ll be working with people who work in the MLR,” Every said. “What we want to do is use the same standards throughout all competitions, so if someone aspires to be an MLR ref, it’s part of the program to referee in NIRA. You’ll definitely have access to the same resources. It’s also an opportunity to be seen. … When the [game] videos go up, they’re all in one system and accessible by everyone in our group.”
All NIRA games will be recorded and uploaded to the online video system, and performance evaluators and referee coaches are in constant contact with match officials. As a referee group, weekly communications review broader issues like best practices, and all of those communications, film and data are available to NIRA teams and coaches.
“All the team coaches can see a referee’s reviews and comments, or how a referee is preparing for the next game,” Every said. “And since all games are coded by the referee, teams have access to their match stats and can track their own performance – as well as their opponents. The system helps referees get better, but it also helps the teams get better and understand each other. … We want to create an environment where we’re all in it together.”
Every estimated that 20-25 officials will be chosen for the NIRA pool. Additionally, NIRA has simultaneously launched an initiative to curate L1 assistant referees (ARs) to provide service for NCAA games (contact Stu Geiger, email@example.com for more info).
Luciano during the 2018 WPL final / TRB photo
“One thing with referee development that I don’t think people realize – it’s not linear,” Every added. “Referees show potential early on and then track slower, or start slowly and then take off. Then there are casualties along the way – work, family, injuries – so it’s important to us to have a wide base of referees.”
Success stories include Lex Weiner, a young referee from Florida who went through the whole development process and joined the MLR last season; and Amelia Luciano, who was introduced to the Advantage set-up through the WPL partnership in fall 2018.
“Another referee we were working with because we had the same program last year [with the WPL] was Amelia Luciano,” Every said. “She did the  WPL final and in May the next year went to the World Rugby [Women’s High Performance Academy] in South Africa and did a test match in Australia against Japan. Working within that same process, in 11 months she went from being a referee in the USA to an international World Rugby referee.”
The 2019 NIRA season, which is contested entirely in the fall and 15s only, begins Aug. 31. Referees interested in joining the match official official pool should apply as soon as possible: application link.
NIRA referee application: link
NIRA L1 AR interest: Stu Geiger, firstname.lastname@example.org