Rutgers Women’s Rugby Club, An Almost Cinderella Story
Doug Coil, Rugby Journalist, Real-time Sports
Dec 20, 2014
Rutgers University Women’s Rugby Club is a Club Sport at the University coached by Ken Pape. It is a Division II member of USA Rugby and belongs to the Tri-State Rugby Conference.
Last year, Rutgers was unranked and did not have a coach. This year, they ended the season ranked 6th Nationally. That was a tremendous accomplishment in which the program should take pride.
Many College Rugby Clubs find funding is limited for many student club sports. At Rutgers this is no exception, relying almost entirely on student funding. Despite this Rutgers had almost a Cinderella Fall season. They went 6-0 during their League season, winning the Tri-State Conference South Title. They added 3 more wins in the Conference playoffs and won the Conference Championship. This included 2 wins over Final 4 club, Vassar College and another over Elite 8 participant, Marist College.
Rutgers then entered Nationals. In the Round of 32, it won handedly vs. Rugby Northeast Champion, St. Michael’s College. Since Vassar College was hosting the USA Rugby Fall Round of 16/8, even though Rutgers were Conference Champions, they needed to travel further to Dartmouth College to play. This required a financial sacrifice from all club members to pay for the trip, including the coach, who returned his entire stipend that he was paid to coach for the season.
Anyone who has traveled with a group of players some distance realizes the value of team bonding on even a mini tour. While this certainly did occur, during the actual match, Rutgers lost to Bowdoin College, a Woman’s Varsity sport, 29-23.
After the Bowdoin loss, Rutgers played a consolation match the next day. Rutgers Fall season ended with a 46-19 win vs. Bloomsburg University, who were 2nd in the MARC.
Rutgers would be a good choice to participate in the USA Rugby Spring Nationals. A consideration would be the additional financial burden on its players. Fund raising would need to occur. Would Varsity status help resolve this issue? Is there a difference in rugby clubs competing as a club sport vs. those having Varsity status?
To examine this requires shifting focus. Rugby is fastest growing team sport in the U.S. This growth will only continue with the inclusion of rugby in the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
USA Rugby indicates there is a growth of Women’s Varsity programs. “Women’s Rugby is currently classified as a NCAA emerging sport. Official classification as an emerging sport means that the NCAA recognizes women’s rugby as a full varsity intercollegiate program and the institution may use the program costs and athletic participation to count towards their compliance with gender equity requirements.”
With Title IX, Women’s Varsity sports continue to grow. This is true for Women’s Rugby since 2002. Eight initial members have joined the National Collegiate Varsity Women’s Rugby Association. They are as follows: Army, Bowdoin, Brown, Central Washington, Harvard, Norwich, Quinnipiac, and West Chester. Most are Division 1 programs, but some are DII and one soon to be DIII. Varsity programs also exist at Davenport, Life, Lindenwood, and Notre Dame College. Prior to the Fall 2015 season, Sacred Heart and the University of New England added.
With the USA Rugby developing a D1A Women’s College Championship, the time is ripe for the inclusion of additional Division 1 Woman’s Rugby Programs. This means more traveling and requires additional financial support. Rutgers could potentially join the Mason-Dixon North Conference or could be potentially be part of a new Conference that would be competitive with the likes of Rutgers, Kutztown, Vassar, Syracuse, and U Buffalo to name a few. It would be easier if these schools were to become Varsity programs.
Rutgers University is now part of the Big Ten. This Conference also supports a D1 Conference. While the distance is too great to compete as a club sport, one could only imagine Rutgers competing with Penn State and other members in the future. This could only occur if Rutgers became Varsity.
I hope the trend toward more Women’s Rugby Programs becoming Varsity continues. I have named a few programs worth considering.
USA Rugby provides support for Colleges and Universities considering this move. See http://usarugby.org/NCAA Then look at Resources.