Thursday, September 20, 2007

NCAA Welcomes Women's Rugby 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.


Anonymous said...

I think it is equally unlikely that the NCAA would give on the one game a week rule, and that the rugby players would give up on the post-game drinking. The NCAA is not going to want to be seen as sacrificing the health of female athletes, and the rugby players I have known (male and female) largely view the post-game drinking as the reason *for* the rugby game.

EBuz said...

I can see why players might feel strongly about post-game socials, but it is not obvious to me why NCAA singles out rugby for a one game a week rule. Certainly softball has double headers and basketball and hockey players have more than one game in a week. What about rugby makes too much of it dangerous to one's health?

Anonymous said...

Certainly rugby is not as physical as football, but to compare it with softball and basketball is off the mark. Probably not hockey either, as women's hockey is a non-checking game. I'm just guessing that the NCAA would start with football, the sport that rugby most closely resembles, as a starting point. In the event that they get significant participation, they can always adjust the rules.

ken said...

I was surprised by anon 2's comments that rugby is probably more physical than ice hockey because women's ice hockey does not allow checking.
First, men's hockey, where checking is allowed, plays more than one game a week. Often times twice in one weekend. And second, non-checking does not mean non-contact. There is a significant amount of contact in women's ice hockey. My intent is not to argue the level of physicality involved, because I cannot accurately do so, but rather to correct the misconception that women's hockey is somehow less so because they are not allowed to slam into one another.

EBuz said...

I can understand NCAA trying to limit game times so that players have enough time to actually be student-athletes. And I can also understand an argument that it's necessary to protect athletes against prolonged exposure to dangerous activity -- like getting carpel tunnel or shin splints.

But if this is really about inherent dangers of the game, I'm not persuaded. If the game is "too" dangerous because of the potential for harmful contact, then it should either not be sanctioned period, or it should adopt a set of rules that penalize or minimize such contact. Limiting the number of games played makes no sense, nor is that rationale consistently applied (see, e.g., hockey).