Did you see this article in the most recent USA Rugby newsletter? They are talking to you!
Although rugby has been on the Emerging Sports List since 2002, it remained relatively unknown to athletic officials and administrators until last year when USA Rugby was granted a full-time staff member and budget for the initiative. As a result, USA Rugby has rapidly gained exposure and visibility to athletic administrations at a number of institutions, but needs the support of rugby athletes to spur faster progress and embrace this opportunity.
Currently, there are approximately 300 women’s collegiate club teams participating within USA Rugby with nearly 7,500 women playing rugby in the United States at the collegiate club level. Although these numbers are much greater than other emerging sports, there has been surprisingly little movement by women’s collegiate rugby clubs to petition their universities for varsity status.
In order to gain more opportunity for female athletes in rugby within the NCAA, these numbers represent a critical factor known as “interest”. There are thousands of comments circulating today on blogs, websites, articles and e-mails on the topic of rugby’s increasing popularity at the college level and how much the community strives to help it grow. Yet, one of the most prevalent questions posed to USA Rugby staff remains, “Why do we only have 4 NCAA women’s teams with all the interest at the club level in college AND why aren’t more programs petitioning for varsity status?”
While the USA Rugby staff is the critical driver of the campaign to NCAA officials and athletic departments, the power truly lies with the students currently playing rugby.
Big 12 Universities Onboard
Some institutions housing successful club teams, including Texas A &M, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Texas Tech have all been part of the process since day one with several other Big 12 schools taking part in the process. Head Coach Will Riddle of the Texas A & M Women’s Club program is among those convinced that NCAA varsity status would be a positive move for the institution in adding women’s rugby.
“The involvement of the NCAA is vital to the continued growth of rugby in the United States. If Texas A&M and the other Big 12 institutions don’t take advantage of this opportunity now, it will pass us by,” Riddle stated. “There’s far too much potential here to let that happen.”
Teams like Texas A & M and the University of Colorado both tout nearly 40 player squads consistently, which speaks volumes in terms of gender equity and demand for women’s rugby not only in conferences like the Big 12, but in the U.S.
“Our players and coaches are passionate about the game of rugby and try to do everything we can to promote our sport. Along those lines, the possibility of being the first Div I-A school to go varsity was very appealing,” Riddle said. “We feel like Texas A&M students and alumni are the best fans in the country. We know they’ll be the same when introduced to rugby on the varsity stage.”
So what about the rest of the rugby community, who have had difficulty answering the call to complete interest petitions, which will help increase opportunity for rugby athletes?
If a school is considering adding a varsity sport and receives a petition of interest from club synchronized swimming and none from the club rugby program, the school may overlook rugby and provide varsity status – with funding, possible scholarships and opportunity – to the synchronized swimmers and rugby may not even be considered.
Sports such as equestrian rose to the challenge of successfully adding 23 new varsity squads within the NCAA within the first two years of their delegation to the emerging sports list. Synchronized swimming has added four additional varsity teams to total eight within the NCAA since their inception to the list.
USA Rugby’s Allies
USA Rugby consistently works with key officials and administrators on methods to advance the Emerging Sport Campaign for more exposure to women’s rugby. Karen Morrison, NCAA director of gender initiatives and student-athlete well-being, is charged with overseeing and providing support for the current members of the emerging sports.
Following Morrison’s attendance at the first women’s NCAA game in September of this year, her message was clear on the timeline that rugby faces. “We’re getting close to the end of the legislative window opened by NCAA rules for Rugby as an emerging sport,” Morrison stated. “That process is intended to move women’s sports more quickly to full participation in an NCAA championship, but we need to see some progress in the addition of varsity rugby teams at NCAA schools to keep moving toward that goal of an NCAA national championship.”
Demanding More for Future Generations
Depending upon how urgently this message is perceived, the notion is clear that current rugby players should certainly demand more for the future generations of female rugby. This includes our high school and grade school athletes who may or may not be playing rugby right now at the club level.
In the end, without action and interest, rugby will remain within the same status as handball and archery, both sports that have been subject to recall on the emerging sports list. Based on the strong participation numbers, and variety of media coverage that is written, posted and televised on rugby’s behalf, it remains baffling to many why such a fantastic, entertaining and amazing sport is being overlooked. For the moment, the answer is simple – the power that has been granted to our female rugby athletes is not being utilized.
The funding, equipment and facilities remain secondary to the opportunities provided to a sport when taken in by the NCAA and rendered a full championship sport. Karen Morrison’s final comment exhibited a powerful message in terms of what opportunities lie ahead in the event rugby opts to raise up in light of their own opportunity and take advantage of what is available: “There really is nothing that compares to an NCAA championship experience for student-athletes and fans. The media attention that accompanies our championships also exposes more women and fans to a wonderful game.”
The Bottom Line
The pathway to this opportunity includes contact with USA Rugby and connection with the Emerging Sports staff. This commitment takes only a few minutes, and includes placing your signature on a petition. This signature is a testimony of the vast participation and interest in the sport or rugby in the US. Without this, we simply continue to deny opportunity to our future generations of rugby.
To get your club team involved in the process and to learn more information about the initiative, please contact Becky Carlson immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 303.539.0300 ext 102 or visit http://www.usarugby.org/goto/getting_started.
And if you’re out of college now, but was a collegiate rugby club player, perhaps you need to see if your college team is interested and support them. God knows most teams are just trying to keep their current teams going and alumni support is always crucial.