Beyond The Beach-An Inside Look At OMBAC

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OMBAC.  That is Old Mission Beach Athletic Club. OMBAC is the common moniker but it’s an acronym.
OMBAC was founded in 1954 in sunny San Diego, and while most know OMBAC as the rugby club, OMBAC is an athletic club that also has rugby. In that way it is similar to the likes of Olympic Club, or New York Athletic Club. 

OMBAC Rugby was started in 1966 and started to play in 1968.  We all have heard or know about OMBAC Rugby from their presence in the top competitions and the top players they produce but we wanted to learn more about the club, as well as some really great looking kits. 

So we wanted to know more about this club and how they have been so successful. We were connected to Jason Wood current coach and long-time member of the OMBAC Rugby Club.
Below is our in-depth conversation with Coach Wood what we learned about OMBAC.

The Rugby Republic (RR):  So Coach what makes OMBAC so successful year in and year out?
Coach Jason Wood (JW): It has been a string of dedicated people who all have had the same mindset…to be the number one club or team in the nation.  We have had a goal to support USA Rugby but putting players into the Eagles sides and pool. With that goal and focus you attract players who want to come and play at a high level to try and make the Eagles. When you have players like that, top level and quality players it makes it a lot easier to win.

Coach Jason Wood. Photo OMBAC Rugby 

Coach Jason Wood. Photo OMBAC Rugby 

RR: So how is OMBAC able to sustain itself financially or how does it generate revenue to do the things it does?
JW: So like Olympic Club we are a athletic club first. Rugby is the 2nd biggest or focused sport of the Club. Over The Line is the number one sport for OMBAC and the reason it was initially created. Around the globe you say OMBAC and people think about our rugby program, but around San Diego if you say OMBAC, people think or say Over The Line.

RR: What is Over The Line?
JW: Without getting into the details it’s a three on three beach softball tournament . OMBAC was developed to host this annual tournament. It has over 1,400 teams that play over two weekends. The tournament generates a large portion of OMBAC’s revenue. Those funds go to charity and support some of the other sports like ours, but have included wheelchair rugby, women’s water polo, etc. 

So for rugby we get a big portion of tour funds from the club’s Over The Line Tournament. We also have some club members, such as myself who own businesses and sponsor the rugby club, then it is like any other club you hustle, do fundraiser and player dues.

RR: So aside from some of what you shared about the goal of OMBAC, how do you draw so many Eagles?
JW: It’s the attitude I think. We have an attitude that we want to play at the top, we want to win and that is something they may be looking for. We’ve had a history with a lot of Eagles, like Todd Clever, Brain Visard, Dan Lyle, Dan Payne, which then makes it attractive for other Eagles.

RR: How does OMBAC develop players?  Is that the focus? You have high level players in your system so do you also develop the others?
JW: Absolutely. We recruit players from the three local college programs, really all four if you count Point Loma Nazarene College. We get players from San Diego State, University of San Diego, UC San Diego.  We can’t rave enough about the program at San Diego State. They truly are a “farm” team for us, developing players who then come over to us after college. You also look at the other schools and many of their coaches have played for OMBAC or have connections to OMBAC.

Some players just aren’t ready at 18 for example to jump right into the top level competition and these colleges are really developing them so when they come over they can transition.

We have to develop players here as well. So when high level players come here or join us from overseas, its not about how you are going to be a star, and how many tries you’ll score. We want you to develop the newer and younger guys in your position. So players have to be good players and also teachers.

We had a player who had eight years of professional experience in Super Rugby as a fullback. When he decided he was done, he reached out and asked if he could play some rugby with us. He was coming here for a three month vacation and still wanted to play some rugby but he said he wasn’t up to training five times a week. So I told him we’d allow him to train just two and play on Saturdays.

He’s come back since that season for vacation and plays and teaches our players while here. He’s brought a few others with him who have had international experience and or will be Wallabies soon.

RR: So how much do your sides train?
JW: Right now we have two touch sessions a week. One at our field and one on the beach. We’ll start our schedule soon. We are like most clubs and train twice a week, but as we get closer to the start of the league play and a few weeks after league starts we have three sessions a week. We’ll put in a extra gym session in, or have a talk/walk through to make sure everyone is on same page and focus on specific things like just line outs, etc.

RR: OMBAC has played in the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP) in the past. Last year you played in the California Cup. OMBAC plays in high level competition is that where you want to be or is that just a strain at this time?
JW: We strive to and want to play at the highest level whenever we can. But the cost is always a factor. If there is professional set up that offsets the cost that is ideal, but cost is a challenge.

Look back in the old Super League days. A weekend trip to New York would cost us $20,000. That’s just one weekend of game/travel. Going to San Francisco to play teams there in the California Cup is affordable. Going to say Denver to play Glendale is about twice the cost of San Francisco so money is a consideration.


RR: So was the Cal Cup a good option?
JW: It was. When it started we thought it would be a warm up for a lot of our player who’d be going into PRO Rugby, but that didn’t happen.

I’d say my only complaint last year was the competition was too short. This year there will be more games so it will be much more worthwhile. We’ll have that and then go into the PRP.

RR: What was your take on the San Diego Old Aztecs joining the California Cup last season? That had to be a drain on them financially?
JW: You know what I think it was great. I’m sure it was a financial burden, but they stepped up in competition, they held their own most the time. I called Jocko and those guys to commend them for their work. I know they won’t be in the California Cup this year but Santa Monic is coming in and with more games it will be a good competition again.


RR: Is there an OMBAC - San Diego Old Aztecs  rivalry yet, or could this evolve into a derby?
JW: Like I said they are a good team, and did a great job stepping up in the Cal Cup. We’ll be trying to schedule them this season and would like to play them each year. I don’t think the competition at this time is to where it can be a true derby. It’s a good clash and could evolve, but it’s not a rivalry for us. Our number one rival without a doubt is and will be for the immediate future Belmont Shore. After that its San Francisco Golden Gate, maybe Santa Monica. We’ve played them longer and in the various competitions so there is just more history there.

I think OMBAC and Old Aztecs have to maintain a mutual respect and that been the case with the clubs. Sometimes individual players get into the name calling and that just isn’t good. It has to always be respect. I respect the work they’ve done and developed. We just play at different levels, it isn’t good or bad just different. I think players should feel good about moving between clubs based on what their rugby needs are. If you are looking to maybe get into the Eagles pool, OMBAC plays in the higher competition, if you don’t feel you are there but are a good player and want to make sure you can play weekly or get more time then Old Aztecs may be fine. I support players going in either direction.

RR: So we’ve spoken a bit about the PRP, old Super League and the California Cup. I have to ask about Major League Rugby (MLR). Is that something OMBAC is involved in?
JW: We’ve had discussions over the past year with MLR. I’ll say this…we looked at the model for MLR, and it didn’t work for OMBAC. We continue to work on developing our club, and are looking at the models the old English clubs had before the game became professional.  We continue to work on our field, and players. We need a professional league in the USA, so I hope it works out, at this time it did not a fit the OMBAC model.

OMBAC Rugby. Photo Pink Shorts Photogrphy (2017) 

OMBAC Rugby. Photo Pink Shorts Photogrphy (2017) 

RR: Will OMBAC be looking to have multiple sides or diversify its sides as Glendale has with the addition of a U-20?
JW: We were one the first clubs to start that back in the early Super League days. We had the Super League side, then the 2nds in D1, the Bs in D2, and then the developmental in D3, etc. It just became a logistical nightmare to manage. We’d have enough for all the levels, until we fielded the teams and then the last team would be short a few players, so if we folded that into one of the other teams, then there wasn’t enough game time. It was a headache. 

Our focus for now is to play both our first and 2nd in the PRP. There will be a PRP first side game and the PRP 2nds get a game. If we have a 3rd side then we’ll look to find them games. We have all ages of youth and will focus on those up to 18, but for us it just doesn’t make sense to do a U-20, etc. with so many great college programs around us.

RR: How does being in San Diego help with your numbers?
JW: That’s not an issue for us. We have a lot of youth to pull from. We have four great college programs and we have a good reputation where people seek out playing for OMBAC. We have a lot of people who move to San Diego and then look us up. We get guys who come from overseas for long vacations and who join us for a season or parts of a season. So I think San Diego is for sure a benefit for us, but we don’t have issues with numbers until we start to field too many sides.


RR: What can be a challenge for OMBAC in the coming year?
JW:  I mean the PRP season can start and it could face an unforeseen issue and fold, but I’m more concerned that we get almost through the PRP and then we have players poached by MRL. I wouldn’t hold a player back and would allow them to go, but it could hurt the team.

So, we just have to make sure we have depth at all positions, and all the boys are ready at all times.
We don’t hold players back. When PRO didn’t happen I didn’t hold on to players for the D1 season, we sent 7 starters from the winning Cal Cup team to play overseas. Todd Clever went to the Eagles and Austin, we had a bunch of guys go to Australia to play in the Shute Shield Cup.  
We want our players to grow, I just worry about bad timing.

RR: What is OMBAC’s culture?
JW: We set the expectation right from the first day. We aren’t a social club. We are here to play at the highest levels, that means it is work. If that is what you are looking for the OMBAC is the right places because with hard work comes winning and with winning comes fun. Yes, we are by the beach, great weather and our boys socialize, but that’s not our focus or primary goal.

I let any new player know what the expectation and standard for OMBAC. I can usually tell from their reaction if they are a good fit for OMBAC or if they may be better off with a different club. If they are just looking for fun and social rugby this isn’t the place. Our goal is to place guys on the Eagles roster.

We are happy to see players move on, move up. We want them to get to their goal. Our goal is to win. We are looking to develop the top players. To have our best players play the most. We, unlike other clubs don’t play the best “club guys”, we love those guys but at OMBAC is the best player plays not the one who does the most for the club. In that we differ from some other clubs.

RR: Anything to Add??
JW: We seek to be the top tier club. We want to play the best and highest level rugby because our goal is to develop Eagles. So we do things in a way to achieve that. We’ve had Eagles like, Dan Lyle, Todd Cleve, Tui Osborn, Dan Payne, Jason Raven, Tai Tuisaoma, Stephen Tomasin, Zack Pangelinan and more have all come out of OMBAC, and we draw internationals (i.e. Tim Stanfill, Will Hafu).

Last thing, we have been in negotiations with USA Rugby, to have OMBAC host the ARC (Americas Rugby Championship) game between USA and Chile, here on February 17th. The day will start OMBAC taking on Life West and then the international match. We believe we have great facilities and with some rental of bleachers we can transform our pitch into one that is as nice as some other club venues that have hosted international matches. We would use such an occasion to see how we’d do in concession sales, tickets, sponsors and use that as a baseline for developing more of our business plan to be club that operates like a professional business. As of now it is a very good chance that us hosting will happen. It should be finalized very soon! 

We want to thank Coach Wood for providing us with the time to speak with him and learn about OMBAC and what makes the successful. We have to admit Coach Wood shared a lot of information with us and was very candid with us which allowed is to really understand some of the issues and to put everything into a context. We have opted to share the things that shape the overall story which was an insight to OMBAC versus going in too deep on any one question.

Make sure you follow OMBAC this coming season.