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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Rugby gets no love from U

By Cody Brunner

The Utah rugby team has never asked for much, never received much and will probably never get the respect or financial support it deserves.

Despite building one of the most reputable rugby programs in the nation, coach Mark Numbers and his Scrummin’ Utes still have to fund their own trips, buy their own equipment and, most importantly, find somewhere to play their games.

“We don’t even have a field we can call home,” Numbers said. “We’re in the top three out of 250 teams in the nation consistently, and I think these kids deserve a place to play on campus.”

Utah has only played two of its 10 games “at home” this season. In the rare event that the Utes do play host to other teams, they have to plan two months in advance to rent out a field at Murray City Park. Then they have to pay for equipment and the lining of the field.

In case of inclement weather, the team has to pay dues to its own university to use the Spence Eccles Field House and, in most cases, can only rent the facility after 9 p.m.

“We paid over $2,000 last semester to use facilities (in the Spence Eccles Field House) that are on our own campus,” Numbers said. “I don’t want to turn this into a gripe session because we are grateful for everything we do get. However, we feel like we’ve earned respect and it’s not there.”

But who is showing the lack of respect?

Many fingers would naturally point to the athletics department, since it governs most sports, but rugby is not a varsity-level sport at the U and, therefore, is not under the department’s umbrella.

What would it take for the U to adopt rugby as a varsity-level program?

“Taking it from a club sport to a funded NCAA sport includes a number of things like travel, hiring coaches, scholarships and recruiting budgets, so it’s quite a big jump,” said U Athletics Director Chris Hill. “We would have to look at needs and other things–like gender equity. In this day and age, you don’t find a lot of schools adding sports.”

So with no funding coming from the athletics department in the near–and quite possibly the distant–future, where else is a club sport supposed to turn?

Normally, club sports are governed by Campus Recreation Services, and the U is no exception. Susan Miller, manager of the U’s Campus Recreation Services, is in charge of divvying up where each club sport practices and plays its games.

“We have three fields on campus, and one of them we set aside just for club sports,” Miller said. “It’s pretty much available, but whether or not it’s fit for competition is a completely different question.”

The field that campus recreation has set aside for rugby and the other club sports is located just west of the Residence Halls and is widely viewed to be in deplorable condition.

“(Campus recreation) have kind of designated the field by the dorms as our place to practice and play,” said U rugby captain Peter Black. “But that field is in really bad shape, so we usually find somewhere else to play.”

Black and the rest of the Utah rugby team are frustrated with the overall lack of support from the U administration.

“It’s very frustrating to have to sneak around trying to find a place to practice and play,” Black said. “And to not have a place to play on campus really makes it difficult to have any kind of real student support.”

Although finding a place to play is the biggest concern, it isn’t the only problem facing the team. Rugby players also have to find a way to fund everything.

“Our funding is everywhere–everywhere we can get it, anyways,” Numbers said.

Since rugby is a club sport at the U, it does get a small chunk of change (about $1,000) from the Associated Students of the University of Utah. The team also receives donations from parents and other private donors, but the majority of the money comes from the players themselves. Including national rugby dues, travel and equipment, every one of the 44 players pays a little more than $1,000 each semester.

In spite of all the neglect and lack of funding, the rugby team keeps playing–and pretty well, too. Utah has four All-Americans on its roster and is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. The team has won nine out of the 10 games played, with the only loss coming at the hands of rival BYU.

Besides being the team captain, Peter Black also plays a large part in the team’s successes from his back position, and he has been a shining star for the program ever since he stepped foot on campus. Black has represented the Utes as an All-American for two years now and is showing no signs of slowing down. Last year, he was selected to the regional all-star team, the Pacific Coast Grizzlies, and from there was promoted to the USA Eagles, which is the professional team in America.

Black is one of many athletes on the rugby team who is not on scholarship at the U, which means that all the hard work he puts into the sport is just for his love of the game.

“The reason we are so good is that all of these kids are dedicated and have a love for the game,” Black said. “We are spending our own time, money and energy, so we want to get the most out of every practice and every game. Whether somebody takes notice or not, we are going to keep playing hard,” Black said.

Black’s attitude is echoed by his coach. Neither of them is disdainful, but both are upset that the rugby team doesn’t have a place to call its own.

“We’ve established ourselves as a legitimate program, and schools and teams across the country are looking up to us; but our own school hasn’t caught on to what we’re doing yet,” Numbers said. “In due time, hopefully, they’ll recognize us and our accomplishments.”

Kim Peterson

Mark Byrd goes for a tackle in the Utes’ Oct. 14 win against BYU at Murray Park. Though it is ranked No. 2 in the nation, the U rugby team lacks funding and a field to call home.

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