The Impact Rugby Had on Me

December 12, 2018

By Dan Payne, CEO of Rugby Americas and Former CEO of USA Rugby

I have been fortunate to have been involved in rugby in the USA for a long time.  In fact, most mornings, my body reminds me that I have been involved in rugby for a very long time!  Having had the opportunity to play at the highest levels, including representing the USA at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, I’ve enjoyed and invested much more time as a coach and for the recent decade as an administrator within our great game.

After my playing days were over, my passion for the sport only grew.  To feed and share this passion, I’ve always searched for avenues that will provide the opportunity to continue to grow the sport of rugby in the U.S.  I started at the college level where this path eventually offered me the opportunity to become the Athletic Director at Life University, which led me to the position of being able to serve rugby in America as CEO of USA Rugby.   Today I am the CEO of Rugby Americas for World Rugby and responsible for assisting the growth of the game across the 35 rugby playing countries in North and South America.  My passion for rugby continues to grow the more I see the positive impact it has on so many individuals.  I often joke that I have an irrational passion for the game.  A passion that is shared by so many of us in the United States & throughout the world.

What makes this sport so special?  It is the culture of the game and the people that embody the values of the sport: respect, integrity, inclusion and community.  The comradery and teamwork inherent in the game has helped form some of the best relationships of my life, while simultaneously assisting in my growth as an individual. This is the primary reason that well after my playing days ended, I am still dedicated to growing the sport in the United States and beyond.

If you look back on the history, decade after decade, in the U.S. you can see the tremendous progress that has been achieved at every level, youth to college and up thru the new professional league and the success of our Women’s and Men’s Olympic and National teams. The number of colleges offering rugby at both a varsity level and as a club sport has increased tenfold. In most places, rugby is no longer just a club where students are getting together twice a week. The sport now is regarded as a place where serious, student-athletes train to maximize their potential as a player while earning their college degree.  I believe that by the time many student-athletes graduate, they have gotten as equal, if not a more valuable education and growth experience from their university sponsored rugby experience.

The game is infectious. In the last ten years, women’s rugby at the elite college level has earned the emerging NCAA sport status and we are seeing more and more athletic departments investing in rugby. Every day more student athletes and college administrators see the ethos and viability of rugby and with this we have seen an influx in full time coaches and rugby administrators.

During my time at Life University and as CEO of USA Rugby, I saw the college game grow tremendously. In addition to the expansion of collegiate varsity and club programs, corporate sponsors like The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company and television partners like ESPN have helped magnify events like the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) and propel men’s and women’s college rugby forward.

Some of these college athletes have gone onto to make their debut on the U.S. National team. At one point of the HSBC World Series circuit in 2017-2018, half of the men’s roster was comprised of Penn Mutual CRC alumni. The college game and training environment is improving and that is having a direct impact on the success of the USA Olympic & national teams.

I am proud of the progress the game has made in the last decade and excited about what the future holds for rugby at the collegiate level and beyond in the decade to come. I suspect, when we look back on the current decade, we will do so fondly and be reminded why so many of us share the irrational passion for the game we do.


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