Yale’s rugby club is awaiting disciplinary rulings from both the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) and the University’s athletics department.
The pending censure stems from accusations filed in an official report to NERFU by Commander Craig Corl, rugby coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. While official rulings have not yet been made, University and NERFU officials both said probation would be the most likely punishment.
The complaint, which Corl forwarded to the Yale Daily News via e-mail, accuses the Yale club of violating NERFU’s alcohol consumption policies during a match hosted by Yale on Sept. 29 in which the Bulldogs won 38-7.
In the report, Corl cites a keg of beer on the pitch during play, which he asked Yale club president Micah Block ’03 to remove immediately. The keg was subsequently placed in the back of a car and driven “50 meters away from the pitch,” the complaint says.
“Members of the Yale club continued to consume the beer by walking over to the vehicle, refilling, and returning to the side of the pitch,” it continues.
Corl filed the complaint, which included several photographs he took of Yale players consuming beer, because he saw the keg’s presence as the latest episode in a series of alcohol-related incidents involving the Yale club.
“[The issue of alcohol with Yale] has come up a few times before, the first time at our pitch [last year]. They had a ritual-type ceremony where they sang a song and chugged a beer,” Corl said in an interview.
He said he was also present on two other occasions last season when a keg was conspicuously present near the Yale squad.
A concern for the sport’s image, as well as the discomfort of being “the most senior person there,” also contributed to his decision to file the complaint.
Members of the team do not dispute the facts of the accusation. They say, however, that the team was not connected directly with the keg, and that once Corl made them aware of it, they took proper action to see it removed.
“If only Corl had said there was still a problem [after the keg was moved],” Block said. “I would have done something more about it, but instead he took photos and filed a complaint.”
Since then, the team has appointed a member to be in charge of off-the-field conduct to avoid future problems.
This appears to be enough to satisfy both the University and NERFU.
“I chose not to automatically suspend the Yale team because we have no automatic punishments for alcohol violations [like we do for other violations],” said Chris Reed, NERFU’s executive director of colleges. “No drunken brawl ensued; the issue wasn’t out of control. What I foresee, and this could change, is some form of probationary period.”
Yale officials say they are waiting on NERFU’s ruling before making one of their own. The keg’s presence is also a violation of the rules governing Yale’s club sports; however, there is little precedence for severe disciplinary action for similar violations.
“To my knowledge, we have never disenfranchised a club. In the early 90s, a club team trashed a hotel room, and the owner of the hotel contacted us,” said Larry Matthews, associate director for sports and recreation athletics.
The athletics department doled out a one-year probationary period for that infraction, and officials indicate they do not feel the rugby incident is as egregious.
“This is not as serious as it first seemed,” said Tom Migdalski, director of club sports and outdoor education. “A small amount of people on the field were involved, a couple. It was not 45 students in a drunken brouhaha; that would be different.”
The most recent Yale program to be disciplined was the varsity men’s heavyweight crew team last winter. That team was immediately suspended and stripped of their varsity status by Athletics Director Tom Beckett for alleged hazing activities that sent two freshmen to University Health Services. After an investigation, the team was cleared to compete in the spring season.
Serious punishment of the rugby squad would hinder what has become one of Yale’s most successful club teams.
Most recently, the club defeated Bowdoin, 18-12, in the opening weekend of the NERFU playoffs. It has achieved consistent success this season, even after the departure at the end of the 2000 campaign of head coach Thomas McKinlay. Since then, Block and captain Collin May ’02 have been acting as player-coaches.
Their sport, largely undeveloped in this country, suffers generally from a bad reputation as a raucous, alcohol-soaked activity, its players say.
Reed, the NERFU official, thinks this image must change in order for the sport to be viable and popular in the United States. While discipline must be taken, he continued, it must be done mindful of the fact that disbanding a team might injure the overall growth of and enthusiasm for the game.
“Every year someone stands up at [NERFU’s] executive meeting and says, ‘alcohol is bad’,” Reed said.
Still, he said this is the first official alcohol complaint the organization has dealt with in his three-year tenure.
“People just need to complain,” he said.
While the rugby community in general may not yet be heeding Reed’s call for temperance, Yale’s club has.
“We take Yale and NERFU regulations seriously,” Block said. “We are committed to making sure our reputation off the field keeps up with our reputation on the field.”
At least for now, it appears they will be allowed the chances to prove it.