ESPN.com reported recently on the first ever NCAA women's rugby match, which took place last weekend between West Chester and Eastern Illinois. Rugby is on the NCAA's list of emerging sports for women, which means it has 10 years to attract 40 teams. Barring an extension, rugby has four years left to add 36 more teams. If it does, it becomes a full-fledged NCAA sport with an NCAA-sponsored championship. Otherwise, it's off the list.
The NCAA is hoping that rugby succeeds and is encouraging many of the hundreds of existing club-level teams to elevate to varsity status. Advocates for NCAA women's rugby point out that the sport creates lots of participation opportunities and it's relatively inexpensive, which should make it attractive to athletic administrators seeking gender equity. They also say that it's fun sport to play and to watch, which makes it easy to attract participants and fans.
Interestingly, however, many women ruggers want nothing to do with the NCAA. They enjoy the flexibility and freedom of being unregulated club teams. Joining the NCAA means, for example, being limited to one game a week, which conflicts with the rugby tradition of weekend-long tournaments at which teams play two or three games. Also, NCAA-governed competition could not end with a post-match, inter-squad "social," which for some players, is part of what makes the sport of rugby different and special.
Still, many point out that the advantages of varsity status -- access to financing, equipment, facilities and medical personnel -- outweigh the sacrifices that come with submitting to the NCAA's rules. The NCAA seems genuinely invested in growing this sport, so perhaps it will be willing compromise on some of the rules that are making varsity status so unattractive to players. Obviously there's no way they'll sanction drinking after the game, but the one-game-a-week rule might be a good place to start.