By ELIZA MAY
Last month, The Blue & Gray Press published an article outlining a few reasons why club athletes should be held to the same standards as varsity athletes. “Personally, coming from a varsity athlete, I think that the school should uphold the same rules for all club sports and varsity athletics,” said the article’s author.
In the article, the author mentions the notorious semester-long disbandment of Mother’s Rugby, the University of Mary Washington’s men’s rugby team. What the author failed to realize is that they were using an example of a club team being reprehended that, according to the University of Mary Washington, is not actually a club team anymore. Or is it?
An announcement was made on August 11, 2015 by Juliette Landphair, Vice President of Student Affairs, stating that “with the commencement of the 2015-16 academic year, the male and female squads of rugby and crew will no longer be a part of the University’s club sports program and will, instead, come under the supervision of Director of Athletics Ken Tyler.”
The article also states that “each participant will be expected to sign the Athletic Department Code of Conduct and will be subject to random drug testing, the same as all varsity athletes.” UMW Women’s Rugby President Jaclyn Sherman commented on the impact the change has had on the team, saying, “the main difference [relative to the leaders] is that the officers held a bigger position in team management. The students were the ones who dealt with a lot of the paperwork and talking with campus recreation directors and now the school prefers to work with the coaches.”
As neither a club nor varsity athlete, I think the school has made it clear that we are being held to the same standards as varsity athletes. Unfortunately, we are not receiving the same benefits in return. Many students are unaware of the real reasons why rowing and rugby are not considered varsity sports.
This is not an issue exclusive to UMW. As one student commented in the previous article, in reference to the rugby team, “I think everyone should be treated equally, therefore everyone should have the same rules and consequences. I also think that is why some people play club sports, to not have the same strict rules.” Shockingly, it is not because the athletes are lazy or want less structure.
USA Rugby, the governing body for collegiate rugby, is not affiliated with the NCAA and has a completely different divisional structure. Of the more than 900 men’s and women’s college teams in the country, only 14 of the men’s teams are considered varsity sports. This is a recent change due to the realization that varsity rugby can be profitable. A successful rugby team can result in national championships and increased marketability. Women’s rugby is now classified by the NCAA as an emerging varsity sport.
There are 17 proposed programs as of last fall.
Rowing, while the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States, is a little different. Nationally, rowing in governed by U.S. Rowing, with only women’s rowing affiliated with the NCAA. Men’s rowing has elected to remain governed by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association. UMW rowing is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Rowing Conference, formed in January 2009 to enhance the student-athlete experience. Many programs in the United States fall under varsity athletics and are placed into the three tiers of NCAA divisions.
On the UMW webpage, under the athletics tab, there are two options to find sports teams. The first is the varsity athletics webpage and the second is the club teams page. Rugby and rowing are nowhere to be found on the Eagle Athletics page while the only mention of any of the four teams on the club page, which lists all the other club teams, is an article from 2014 when the women’s rugby team won the national championship.
UMW and the athletic department need to do a better job at giving each team the recognition they deserve. You cannot expect students to respect the teams when the school itself is so timid to clearly and proudly display them.
Despite drawbacks like student leadership losing its significance and rookies being unable to participate for almost a month because of paperwork, the switch under athletics has been met with some positive results. The four teams were able to participate in the varsity raffle in the fall and now have their own athletic trainer to share amongst them.
I sat down to discuss life on the women’s rugby team with a former varsity athlete whose identity will be kept anonymous. When asked about the weight room, which women’s rugby has had access to since the fall of 2013, they said, “We [women’s rugby] get treated very differently in the weight room.
When I played on a varsity sports team, no other team was allowed in the weight room until we were completely finished. The rugby team often gets moved to the turf so a varsity team can use the racks.
We are also coached primarily by student helpers which would never happen to a varsity team. Lastly, multiple members of our team beat weight records and should have been put up on the board [for recognition] but even after saying something, [their work] was never acknowledged.”
When discussing coaches, they added that “after being a varsity athlete for three years and having an awful experience with [their] coach, it was very refreshing joining [the rugby team] and having supportive coaches who are out there because they love the sport, not because they want a paycheck.”
To wrap up the conversation, we discussed the women’s rugby team’s experience on a national stage. In 2014, the team won the USA Rugby DII Collegiate Championship, bringing the national title home to UMW for the first time in any sport, varsity or otherwise. Earlier this month, the women’s team took another page in UMW’s history book, hosting a national tournament for the first time in school history.
“If any other team hosted nationals, the athletic department would have done so much to get the word out to support them but we got absolutely no recognition,” said the student. The women’s rugby team did receive support via twitter from the UMW swim team which was heavily acknowledged and appreciated, and athletic director Ken Tyler did make an appearance.
In order to get the recognition the four teams deserve, Ken Tyler, the athletic department and the school need to give the four teams their own category under athletics in order for other teams and students to respect them and appreciate what they do for the University of Mary Washington.