Lindenwood-Belleville University head rugby coach Pat Clifton has left the Lynx's program after being fired for the use of an ineligible player.
Assistant coach Joe Lippert has taken over as interim head coach. Clifton announced his firing this week in a Facebook post, saying, in part:
From the very beginning, I ran every decision through the filter of "what's best for the program". It wasn't long before I realized that at this particular institution, that wasn't a specific enough filter. There would be times when I would have to choose between doing what I felt was best for the young man and what was best for the university or the security of my employment. I am proud to say I chose the young man every time.
I was forced to weigh these decisions more often than anyone outside of the assistant coaches who hunkered down in the trenches with me would ever know. And it was one of these decisions that led to the souring of my relationship with athletic department leadership, and ultimately, my firing. I stand behind my decision making process, principles and the work I did.
Clifton ran into difficulty at Lindenwood-Belleville when he opted to field a player who was eligible under USA Rugby rules but was not eligible under NAIA student-athlete rules. Since Lindenwood-Belleville is an NAIA school — and the rugby program is a varsity program — the administration self-reported to USA Rugby that the team was not in good standing once L-B officials learned of the infraction.
Clifton was suspended over the incident and ultimately was fired.
It is an interesting case in that, had no one said anything, USA Rugby would have been fine with the Lindenwood-Belleville team's eligibility. As it is, it's up to each university to determine whether a team is in good standing.
Not being in good standing could well mean Lindenwood-Belleville will not get an at-large bid to USA Rugby's D1AA playoffs.