Give a little love to Utah rugby

By By Eric Vogeler

By Eric Vogeler

U athletics have been on a roll of late. Our football team whipped Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl. Women’s gymnastics continues to dominate. Last year’s football and men’s basketball teams were nationally ranked and produced number-one draft picks.

But despite all of our NCAA-sanctioned success, there’s another program at the U that dwarfs the accomplishments of any other team.

The men’s rugby team is currently ranked fifth in the nation and has finished in the top five nationally in each of the past three years, placing second twice.

And you thought last year’s football team was hot!

With such a powerhouse in our own backyard, why would the university treat the rugby team like an ugly, unwanted stepsister? The rugby team, officially recognized only as an ASUU-sponsored student group, doesn’t even ride the metaphorical bench in the athletics program at the U. It’s relegated to the bleachers, only coming down to the playing field when everyone else has gone home, the lights are turned off and no one is looking.

Because of Title IX-which states that a university must sponsor an equal number of men’s and women’s sports-rugby has no chance of becoming an “official” NCAA sport and thus is relegated to “club” status.

When you realize that rugby gets the same amount of attention and respect from the university as the Wookies for a Better Star Wars Club might, eyebrows are raised.

Utah Rugby plays its games on the field behind the Alumni House, sometimes dodging softballs during practices. In order to transform its outfield into a rugby field, it has fashioned two removable goal posts out of PVC pipe!

But when intramural softball starts up in the spring, guess who gets precedence? The rugby team has to find a different sandlot on which to play.

Last year, while hosting the Territorial Nationals, the rugby team played its games at Murray Park. In order to use the indoor field house for practices, it had to pay $75 an hour to rent the place, fending for hours and spots against other “official” sports. Last year, the team spent nearly $2,000 renting out university facilities-and this year isn’t shaping up any better, with some recent practices being held from 10 p.m. to midnight.

What a way to treat our boys, no? T.J. Davis, president of the club/team, estimates the annual rugby budget at about $55,000. The university couldn’t field a basketball team with that much money, let alone build a dominant program.

But of that $55,000, only about $1,000-4,000 of it comes from the university. The rest must come from the players and private sponsors. Davis estimates that each player spends about $500-700 annually, aside from club dues, in order to maintain the team and compete with other schools.

Despite the financial and administrative burdens they face, Utah rugby’s teammates continue to dominate-and maybe because of those burdens, they embody the true meaning of sport. As player Jake Anderson told me, “We play because we love the game. We play for each other.”

And, on top of that, they win.

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