While rugby is considered a club sport nationally, West Chester’s women’s rugby team is one of only four schools that are now recognized as NCAA teams. Women’s rugby is one of seven on the NCAA’s list of emerging sports. This list was created more than 30 years ago to increase the number of athletic opportunities for young women and help promote gender equality on and off the playing field. However rugby must attract 40 teams within 10 years to earn championship status or it will be dropped from consideration, a problem the other teams on the list are trying to overcome. Since there are currently four women’s teams in the nation playing varsity rugby, WCU, Eastern Illinois, Maine’s Bowdoin College and Southern Vermont, they have four years left to obtain this goal.
WCU captain Michelle Kirk said attracting more teams in the next four years is an attainable goal.
“Similar to what happened in women’s lacrosse several years ago, it started as a club sport and as the publicity increased they were able to become a NCAA sport. I think rugby will have a similar affect, especially with the arising popularity of high school [rugby]. There is definitely a possibility that we can achieve this goal,” Kirk said.
West Chester Athletic Director Ed Matejkovic told ESPN that four schools in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference are looking to add rugby. He plans to push for women’s rugby in the next conference meeting.
“There will be a discussion because people will see the coverage that this game has received,” Matejkovic said. “Maybe, they will realize this is a viable thing. Just like anything, people are afraid of change and doing something new. I think you just have to punch in and do it. Next year when we play EIU at our place, I’ll invite the [athletic directors] in our conference and say, ‘Come see a game. You’ll enjoy it every bit as much as field hockey and soccer — maybe more so, in some cases.'”
The first NCAA-sanctioned women’s rugby match against Eastern Illinois was held in Charleston, Ill. on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007. The Lady Rams were able to defeat Eastern Illinois scoring a try in the final minutes to win 20-19. Although the win was extremely exciting for the Rams, the team hopes the game’s exposure will build rugby’s chances of becoming a success at the NCAA level. This success could push more schools to create NCAA programs, creating scholarships that would help to meet the requirements of Title IX.
Kirk believes that the game’s exposure will definitely help build in rugby’s success, but more with people who are already involved and interested in the sport.
“Exposure was big in the sense of rugby world but I doubt much past that. That specific game isn’t going to make the difference we need,” Kirk said. “Although it helps that newspapers are writing about it, and people are talking about it, I think it’s not reaching out to all people, people that don’t have knowledge of the sport.” One thing about the game Kirk was sure about: “It definitely touched the rugby world.”
West Chester women’s rugby has a current record of 4-1 and is set to play in a tournament on Saturday, Oct. 27 in Annapolis, Md.
Regan Reber is a student at West Chester University. She can be reached at RR596537@wcupa.edu.