"Hey NCAA!! Look Over Here!"

Rugby, and particularly women’s rugby, is one of the NCAA’s emerging sports. And now USA Rugby is building steam and finally rollin’ on the NCAA’s Emerging Sport Initiative for women’s varsity rugby under new USA Rugby staffer Becky Carlson.

“Female athletes in this country deserve a higher level of availability in the sport of Rugby,“ Carlson added. “Creating this opportunity for women can only lead to more opportunities beyond an intercollegiate career,” Carlson added. “In supporting the element of NCAA Varsity Rugby, we are ensuring an avenue of student-athlete participation, just as NCAA soccer or softball provides.”

A lot of us have mixed feelings towards rugby teams becoming varsity. I’m in favor of it ultimately because honestly, I’m tired of my sport being seen as “fringe” and varsity status at both the collegiate and high school level will add to our legitimacy and help all teams grow.

Others disagree. I’ve heard comments that being a varsity sport takes away rugby’s uniqueness, it’s social nature and may even affect the overall physical nature of the game.

Some of these comments lean more towards I don’t want varsity-status to ruin our after-parties, while others, like some of my own thoughts, realize that some of the great traditions of rugby is the camaraderie build with other teams and players through our social nature … but realistically, does that have to end completely?

I have also heard that the game would require less contact or physicality, that it might play by the same rules as high school teams where you can only drive a scrum a set amount of meters, etc. And all players will wear scrumcaps, shoulder pads, etc.

Any thoughts on this? Anyone have experience with varsity programs at any level?

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19 Comments

Filed under college, high school, NCAA, USA Rugby, varsity rugby, w

19 responses to “"Hey NCAA!! Look Over Here!"

  1. kori

    The college I attended has been trying hard to fill the obligations of being a title 9 school so they could get the extra funding and in doing so they tried and tried to push our rugby team to become a varsity sport. For any other school I’m sure that would have been a great announcement, but at Plymouth State University (formaly plymouth state college) we run our rugby team better than the college adminstration runs itself. With the Varsity name they were going to appoint a coach, affix a budget, assign games and pretty much take the entire “running our team” away from us. Not only that but in New England we have our season in the fall because it snows a lot and the fields don’t clear up until almost May. And with the varisty NCAA schedule they were proposing that we change our season to the spring. And we have trouble explaining that there would be no teams to play if we did. We fought hard to keep our club status and with that we still have the largest budget of any club in the school, we choose our own coach and how much we want to pay him, we set up our fields (with the schools matinence people and athletic dept) we set up our hotels, vans, etc. We do our own fundraising and hiring refs and police and emts for our games. I’m not saying becoming an NCAA varsity sport is bad, but at Plymouth we opted to stay club and stuck to our own rules and guidelines and it has worked great for us. (Since we put ourselves in the top ranking D2 teams for the past 5 years, and doing so with out a coach for the first two of those years) yeh STATE! :o)

    and so, for title 9 purposes our school threw together a womens ice hockey team, which is cool cuz I like to play hockey during the off season :o)

  2. Kirstin

    While I was in college, at Bowdoin College in Maine (NERFU DII), and funnily enough in the same division as Plymoth State (see above) we transitioned from club to varsity status for my junior year. Like in the case of Plymouth State, the varsity status change was largely due to title 9, so Bowdoin is now compliant. My experience with becoming a varsity sport has been largely positive, we recieved more financial support (think nice tour buses to take us to tournaments and more rucking pads), publicity (online, and in the local paper), and still retained the freedom to do all of the non-athletic things that we all love about this sport. Our athletic director gave us the freedom to choose what type of transportation to take to matches (when we were socialling we’d take smaller vans, when not an awesome bus), and also allowed us to continue to compete in the NERFU DII with a normal schedule … otherwise as Kori said above we wouldn’t have anyone to play against. I believe that the smooth transition that we experienced was a result of some very hard work particularly by our head coach Marybeth Mathews, who was a familiar face to the athletics department because of her rugby and assistant basketball coaching positions. When transitioning to varsity it is of UTMOST importance to have someone that has a good relationship with the sports administration and who can advocate for the teams wishes (and some leaders on the team that can communicate these wishes). I can’t imagine that anyone in the women’s rugby community would be ok with any altered contact and equipment rules, its just not in our personalities, and I believe that if we all stick together and have a good working relationship with the NCAA administration that transitioning to varsity can be a largely positive experience, and any such strange changes could be avoided.

    Well that’s my 2 cents

    ~ Puffy (or Acorn if you went to Bowdoin with me, Go U Bears!)

  3. Anonymous

    I’m currently a student and rugby player at Penn State. We’ve been asked multiple times to go varsity, but we have chosen not to. There are a couple of reasons for this:

    1. We are now considered one club with our men’s team, and with Title 9 the men’s team would never be asked to become varsity.

    2. We pride ourselves on allowing varrying degrees of committment. We have a lot of players that are fully committed to our program and then we have b-side players who come to practice once a week and play in the b-sides games. By being varsity we would be forced to make cuts, thus limiting our roster to 25-30 players (our current roster is probably in 60s).

    3. It may just be because Penn State is a division I school, but we would not be allowed to have socials with teams. We would not be allowed to billit teams, or be billited by other teams. We would probably also be limited to a tour abroad only every 3 years instead of our annual spring break tour.

    4. We are also currently a “Team Sport”. We ourselves are not quite sure what this means becuase it is a newly created category. It is lower then varsity but higher then club; this means we get more funding, we are covered by PSU health insurance (covers anything our personal insurance doesn’t cover), and we get preferential treatment for feild usage.

    It may be beneficial for smaller schools to go varsity, but I know for Penn State it’s not what we currently need.

    -Alison

  4. Blondie

    Wow … really good comments so far. And some valid reasoning as to why not to go varsity depending on your school situation …

  5. mutantin

    this is interesting, as here in germany, where universtarian sports don’t play a big role (and also highschool teams don’t) we have all! female players playing club rugby, according to IRB rugby laws.
    as there are not so many younger girls and women playing, all the girls after becoming 15years old can play rugby with the senior women (before that, they play in the youth teams togehther with boys).
    this could lead to situations that a 40 year old woman has to play a 15 year old.
    i understand why some of the clubs want this for their younger players (the opportunity to play), but for me this feels always a bit uncomfortable (not that i am 40, because at 40, i’ll retire).
    but we don’t have so many clubs here and not a regulated school sports system.
    anyway, i think the laws vor rugby should be dependend on age, not the place where you play (rugby as club sport vs varsity).
    and there are IRB u17 and u19 regulations and after 18 it’s normal laws anyway.
    this is rugby, not helmetsport.

  6. Anonymous

    This is something I have thought about a lot. I think overall I am positive about women’s rugby becoming varsity, however the only current reason that a team would be elevated is because of Title IX and money. Therefore the athletic department will not support a team going to the National Championships (all NCAA sports travel costs to play offs are covered by the NCAA) and could get away with a part time coach and really a schedule that is not that challenging (see eastern illinois). I know there are non-varsity programs that probably have larger budgets than the current varsity teams.

    This is a transition that rugby has to go through before it becomes a full NCAA sport (40 teams) and then the NCAA regulations could be enforced (minimum scholarships etc).

    I think it is better to be a well funded club sport. The big step for the women will be when the alumni can start giving back – which should begin to start happening.

  7. Anonymous

    Interesting yet many incorrect assumptions. I will tell you why there is little support coming from these respondents. You think rugby belongs to you. You think rugby is a sport that is “unique”. Right now, the only competition that exists besides the few varsity teams is club.

    You and everyone before you will forever be known as “recreational athletes” which is what you are, plain and simple. Creating another world of opportunity shows that you are club and nothing like any of the other NCAA sports, credible.

    Everyone likes to talk about the equipment and the rule changes. I have played against EIU and know some of their players. The game is exactly same other than the fact that they all wear scrum caps. Big deal. If you don’t want have an opportunity to be an NCAA athlete because you don’t look tough with your scrum cap on, you’re loss. What a laugh.

    I would love to be an NCAA athlete but I got into rugby because I wasn’t good enough to play intercollegiate soccer.

    Why don’t you call the team at EIU and ask how many teams refuse to play them and how hard it is every year to even get a schedule because no one wants to play them.

    Some of my teammates feel the way you all do. I’ve even heard them say that it takes the passion out of the game to have to go to practice everyday or to lift weights so it’s not as fun. Why don’t you ask Pat Summit if her basketball student-athletes are having fun?
    My brother was an intercollegiate football player and he had the time of his life. Oh yah, but rugby’s different right? You people are close-minded and shooting yourself in the foot.

    Your advocacy not to help women’s NCAA rugby to a higher level only hurts opportunity for future student-athlete females who WANT to have the experience that is afforded to NCAA women’s soccer, basketball and every other credible sport.

    Our women’s national team does ok but you wonder why we are only average in rugby but dominate in other sports. Look how many ex-intercollegiate athletes there are on the USA Soccer team and Softball team. How many ex-intercollegiates do we have TOTAL on our national team?

    You do the math and if you don’t want women’s rugby to succeed, keep writing in. I would love have our team elevate but you people hurt our image.

    Good luck with keeping rugby down.

  8. PJ Rugby

    I find it interesting that someone would equate the only elite athletes as those that play an NCAA sport. In rugby the gold standard of collegiate elite athletes is the Cal Men’s team. Interestingly, the team is not an intercollegiate team – it has something called Varsity status, which means that sit within the athletic department, but are not run by the athletic department. I have been around collegiate athletics for over 15 years, and my view is that the system for NCAA sport is broken. It is not about developing only social rugby, it is about finding an alternative that meets the needs of the athletes.

    If you watch the collegiate final between Stanford and Penn State last year, every player on those teams was a NCAA caliber athlete. Every player on that pitch had been commited to the weight room, practice, conditioning etc. The issue is not how we can create more EIUs which play as many games as cheaply as possible, but how can we create more Stanfords and Penn States.

    Do I believe that rugby being an intercollegiate sport at some schools will increase the level of play. I know that EIU cannot travel and struggles to find good competition locally – but that is because of budget constraints and NCAA rules. I know that West Chester has been an intercollegiate program for 3 years but still is not a top 10 program in the country.

    Is NCAA recognition an advantage? Yes it is. Is it the only way to offer rugby players an elite level experience. No.

  9. Anonymous

    I resent the statement that I am a recreational athelete. Simply because I lift on my own time and go to voluntary conditioning does not make my workouts any less valuable then those who are required to attend. I am fortunate to be involved with a program that has available to me a conditioning coach and a lifting coach that is the same as those the varsity athletes here at Penn State have. I would even argue that because I do these extra work-outs because I know it will make me a better rugby player (not because I have to), that I am a stronger person for it. Now, none of this is to take away from what varsity athletes do, I’m just saying that simply becasue I’m not a varsity athlete does not mean I am a “recreational athlete”.

    -Alison

  10. Anonymous

    If any of you have watched EIU play you know that they do not embody the spirit of rugby. Sure they are great athletes and do play rugby…but they aren’t really rugby players.

    1) They don’t ruck…they sloppily throw the ball back towards their team and hope someone doesn’t knock it on…

    2) They unnecessarily run the score up on ALL of their games. I mean, beating a team 100-0 is bad enough, but 124-0? What is the point of that? Isn’t it about building your program and other programs?

    3) Their coach calls all the plays…isn’t one of the awesome parts of rugby is the player’s ability to make decisions? We don’t have a little microphone in our helmet that tells us the plays. Disappointing really.

    4) EIU has a great program but no one takes them seriously because they play smaller schools and beat them to a pulp. Maybe if you challenged someone in the top 20 besides A&M…you might have a respectable program.

    So to wrap all this up, if the NCAA is to be taken seriously when involved in rugby…lets not take a cure from EIU.

    Thanks for reading!

  11. Katy

    I don’t know why that anonymous person thinks the women’s national team does only “ok.” If that person had watched any of the matches of the world cup, he or she would have seen our “recreational” athletes outpace and outlast their competition in the four games they won.

    I had the great privlidge to be a reporter at the World Cup. After each match, the opposing coaches conceded that all the skills and match experience in the world can’t do anything against electrifying speed and fitness that keeps you going strong to the 80th minute.

    Since when is fifth in the world just “ok?” And what in the world does fun have to do with any of it? I also went to Penn State and have busted my ass during 3 hour conditioning workouts that were voluntary. I wouldn’t have done any of it if I didn’t think rugby was fun.

  12. Anonymous

    The NCAA initiative exists because of the good things it can do for our sport in this country – on a broad level. Whether an individual school chooses to “go varsity” is really up to the needs and desires of the school.

    At my school, there is varsity soccer, varsity lacrosse, and varsity hockey. There is also club soccer, club lacrosse, and club hockey. Students who do not want to make NCAA commitment, or who simply do not meet the athlete standard, can choose to play their prefered sport at the club level, and choose to be “recreational athletes”.

    The top D1 women’s colleges, be they club or varsity, work AS HARD as any NCAA athletes. I know this because I am knee deep in the upper level collegiate community. They do rugby sessions, weight sessions, speed and agility sessions, recovery sessions, mental training and visualization, etc. In most cases they have competent coaches in place to guide the program and players.

    EIU is NOT the only varsity program in town. Yes, they have come under harsh critisism across the collegiate community. EIU’s program is administered in accordance with the strictest interpretation of NCAA guidlines. While rugby is still an emerging sport, there are certain rules which are flexible. You’ll find that in most cases, the NCAA programs administer themselves slightly differently. Critisizing the nature of varsity rugby because because you don’t like how EIU plays or how they run their program really doesn’t advance this discussion at all. Clearly they must be doing something right if they’re winning by 124 points.

    Critisizing Westchester because they are not “top 10” also does nothing to advance this discussion. They currently play in the toughest division in the country (MARFU D1), competing with Princeton, Penn State, Navy, and UVA among others. WCU has a terrific program at a small school. IMHO, they are kicking ass.

    Now lets talk about how the NCAA relates to USA play. The NCAA guidelines are very clear about All-Star play etc. NCAA athletes are strictly forbidden from any out-of-school competition (even if the team in question is the USA) during the school year. Not just during the season, but during the entire school year. That means NCAA athletes have a very hard time participating in U23 select sides, since most U23 select sides start their camps etc during the school year. So, of all those former U23 players who played in the World Cup last month, ZERO came from varsity programs. If every college rugby program went varsity, our USA U23 program would have a hard time finding athletes to develop for the next World Cup.

    So – does varsity = success for the USA at a world cup? Probablly down the road. Right now, probablly not.

    Does varsity status = top 10 ranking? Lets be serious … we’re still competing with other sports for athletes, and since varsity status really benefits smaller school with less athletes to pull from, probablly not.

    Is varsity status good for rugby in our country? Absolutley yes. In the USA sports are schools based (as opposed to community based like in the UK, NZ, and AUS). This means in order for the public to embrace rugby, it needs to be played on college campuses and SANCTIONED by the university and by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In some cases, like at PSU, unique solutions have been found.

    Perhaps 10 years down the road colleges will have NCAA rugby AND club rugby, and we can make everyone happy. Until then lets try and keep finding ways to make our sport better.

  13. kori

    Just a question, I know NCAA requires women’s lacross players and field hockey players to wear those goggles to protect there eyes, but requiring rugby players to wear scrum helmets is silly. Scrum helmets as many of us learned, give us a false sense of secruity. They are not build to prtect us from concusions…

  14. mutantin

    i find it quite hard to understand how your system works, but maybe you should ask yourself the question: “where would rugby in the usa be now had it been solely played in colleges”.

    nina, off to her recreational lifting session 😉

  15. Anonymous

    EIU is not a good example of what rugby would look like as a varisty program. They changed the sport, any team that has ever played them knows their coach only allows HIS refs to officate games. They can’t play in a National Championship because they stupidly went with contact sport rules with the NCAA. THERE IS NO NCAA RUGBY. It simply doesn’t exist. They can put up their NCAA logos and change the look of the field, but there is no NCAA rugby.

    I expect that USA Rugby is going to ban teams from playing them because of the rule changes and other demands that program makes. There has been big talk within the Midwest union that this is going to happen.

    Women’s rugby will go varsity, let’s just hope it doesn’t look like the EIU system.

  16. mutantin

    one of the main points:
    rugby union is played by the rules and regulations provided by the IRB.
    everyone that plays rugby has to do so according these laws and regs.
    there are loads of regulations for kids rugby, junior rugby and senior rugby.
    there are no regulations on womens rugby or school/college rugby.
    scrum caps are optional. as are shin protectors. or shoulder pads (what a waste of money). most players i know, be it male or female, wear scrum caps for ear protection, not prevention of concussions. the only concussion i got in the last 15 years was indoors, playing american football and wearing a helmet!!
    so if anyone wants to play rugby union, hesheit has to play according the rules.
    if someone or some board has problems with that, they have to create their own sport, like college-rugby, and not expecting to be accepted by “normal” rugby clubs and teams.
    if the ncaa has different ideas on how rugby has to be played, there should be an uproar of all the people who fall into their catchment area, to help to prevent rugby of being deformed by stupid laws and regulations.

    (i know my english is not so good, but please understand: i am very impressed about the way womens rugby is developing. but rugby is rugby and not something that a bunch of buerokrats can turn into uni-hoc)

    take care

  17. Kelly

    Just a quick note on the “What does varsity mean for our sport?” question: I too went to Bowdoin, a year behind Kirstin and I would like to emphasize that autonomy within a varsity program IS possible, and pretty awesome as it turns out. As the beneficiary of varsity status for the second half of my Bowdoin career, I can vouch for the fact that the only changes in our program were financial and therefore positive. We retained the ability to schedule our own matches, but more importantly, continued to welcome players of varying abilities and levels of commitment, a value that has always been central to Bowdoin Rugby. Since the transition, we HAVE attracted more competitive athletes but still maintain a thriving B-side which is open to less competitive players, with a greater focus on learning the sport.
    As Kirstin pointed out, this is largely thanks to our superb head coaching staff, who acted as liasons during the varsity transition; I believe with this type of support, any team can go varsity in a way that is positive for their specific program needs.
    -Korr

  18. Anonymous

    Bowdoin is a Division III school and the NCAA regs for Div III are much less than for other divisions. That is why we cannot say varsity is good, varsity is bad. It is both good and bad depending on the situation.

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