Harvard announced last month that it will elevate women’s rugby, currently a club sport, to the varsity level starting in the 2013-’14 season. With the move, the women’s rugby team at Yale expects that the Bulldogs will soon match the challenge.
“It is fairly likely that Yale will go varsity in the next few years … in order to remain competitive in the Ivy League,” captain and flyhalf Kriste Brao ’13 said.
Amelia Luciano, assistant women’s rugby coach at Yale, added that women’s rugby has been an “emerging sport” for a while, and Harvard is hoping to begin a trend among other Ivy League rugby teams by making the transition to the varsity level.
President and prop Amanda Hall ’14 said the promotion would be positive in the sense that players would not be responsible for administrative duties and can focus on playing, but negative because control would no longer be in the hands of the students.
Harvard’s women’s rugby team achieved some remarkable feats in collegiate rugby last year. The Crimson ended the fall 2011 season ranking 23rd nationally in Division I and was named champion in the USA Rugby Collegiate Division II National Championship.
While slowly phasing out several of the men’s junior varsity teams, Harvard has been strengthening more lucrative programs, including rugby.
Brao said that Harvard hopes other teams will follow its lead. “Brown and Dartmouth have also expressed interest in becoming varsity programs, and they’ll likely become even better with access to increased funding, more institutional support and the opportunity to recruit,” Brao said. “In order for the other Ivy League teams to compete, we’ll also have to go varsity.”
Brao added that with six Harvard players named to the All-Ivy squad, the Crimson is using its accomplishments as viable justification for a $10 million fundraising event in order to build a new stadium and enhance its facilities. However, Harvard’s oldest athletic team, men’s rugby, still does not play in the varsity level despite being the first rugby club in North America. Last year, the team was in the final four of the National Sweet 16.
“We would love to have a varsity team,” Harvard men’s rugby head coach David Gonzalez said. “I hope that in the future this will translate to varsity recognition [for men’s rugby], which would afford teams the opportunity to recruit players, hire full-time coaching staff and trainers and, all in all, improve the level of competition,” he said.
Even so, the Crimson men’s rugby team is excited that its female counterpart has been promoted to varsity status.
“It should mean a higher profile for rugby and a greater allocation of resources from the school,” Gonzalez said. “The women have been working hard and have found a lot of success recently, so this is a well-deserved promotion.”
He added rugby is on the rise nationally, growing in popularity, organization and level of competition.
If the Yale women’s rugby team enters the varsity level, it will have to forego its status as a club-level team and will lose its self-run status.
Hall said that rugby’s club sport status creates a “unique experience.” The time commitment is not as intense, as practices are less frequent and there is not as much game travel as a varsity team would have. Brao said she was partly attracted to rugby because she wanted to take two labs in a semester without her classes conflicting with practice. Hall added that while the team has a schedule set by Ivy League Rugby and has a certified coach at all games and practices, it retains control over just about everything.
“I would imagine that [our] schedule would become even more time-intensive and mirror current varsity schedules with daily practice, access to an athletic trainer and time spent in the weight room,” Hall said. “Obviously there would be increased expectations on the field, but the removal of responsibility over things like the budget or scheduling buses, referees and field space would be the most noticeable differences if the team turns into varsity.”
The women’s rugby team at Yale was established in 1978. The team practices for two hours three times per week and plays against teams in New England Rugby Football Division Union’s College I.
Last weekend, the team travelled to Amherst, Mass. for a two-day tournament.