Rugby Cut From Varsity Sports

Photo: Jack Clark responds to reporters about the relegation of his program. Clark is one of eight coaches to be fired after the 2011 season.
Karen Ling/Photo
Jack Clark responds to reporters about the relegation of his program. Clark is one of eight coaches to be fired after the 2011 season.

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Rugby Cut Analysis

Gabriel Baumgaertner analyzes the effect of Cal rugby's demotion to "varsity club" sport.

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After weeks of speculation about downsizing, the University of California announced that Cal men's rugby would be one of five sports cut from the university's intercollegiate athletics program effective 2012. The demotion marks the second significant blow for the program this year; the team lost its home field in March to construction.

Unlike the other four sports, men's and women's gymnastics, lacrosse and baseball, the rugby team will be classified as the school's first "varsity club" sport and will compete against the same teams that it has during its time as a varsity sport.

"It's not over," senior wing Blaine Scully said. "We're just really confused and we're waiting to find out what it all means. We'll approach this season the way we always do; chins up, shoulders back."

By relegating rugby from the intercollegiate ranks, Cal removes its most traditionally successful varsity program. The Bears have won 25 national championships since 1980 and including nine since 2000. It also means the end of an intercollegiate team that, despite being cut in a financial crisis, was financially self-sufficient.

With 65 males on its roster, rugby struggled to meet Title IX requirements, a reason that likely contributed to its relegation. Having been an idea of his for years, Clark offered to start an intercollegiate women's rugby team fully funded by stakeholders.

"Our stakeholders are ready to fund a women's team... all of the costs are already built in," Clark said. "Our stakeholders saw this as a plan. We're disappointed that it didn't get more consideration because it didn't cut a sport and it grew a lot of women's opportunities without costing money."

Clark acknowledged that "there may not have been time for that information at that point," but expressed disappointment with the administration's handling of the situation.

"I think that Title IX, by way of spirit, is to increase women's opportunities," Clark said. "I know it got tabled, I know it was a viable idea and I know it is still a viable idea. How about we get in the business of growing women's opportunities?"

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau stated that the administration would "work through the details" with the rugby team, and that the campus remains committed to maintaining rugby's competitive excellence.

"We've been in close conversation with the rugby program about a variety of details surrounding the team's transition," UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said. "Insofar as the women's team, we're committed to gender equity and we're evaluating what sports fit into the classification."

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the relegation was whether the university will derive any financial benefit from the cut. Clark claims that Cal rugby contributes in excess of $300,000 annually to the athletic department's general fund. Mogulof did not confirm that number, citing differences in accounting philosophies and a lack of clarity regarding the rugby team's accounting for indirect costs.

Being the school's first "varsity club sport", rugby will still have access to varsity facilities, but Clark's impression is that they will have to pay for them.

"The rugby space in the high performance center has been named by a donor," Clark said. "We are one of the 13 domiciled sports there, and now it sounds like we are going to pay to walk through the door."

Though rugby was spared relative to the other sports, reactions have been strong from donors and supporters.

"This is, as it stands now, a crushing blow to the University of California," Yahoo! Sports columnist and Daily Cal alum Michael Silver said. "There is no greater standard bearer and example of this institution's greatness than Jack Clark's student athletes."

Despite expressing strong disappointment to the administrative decisions made, Clark claims it will not interfere with the season ahead.

"What I can say now is this: The current and historic values, standards and ethos of Cal rugby, as a high performance sport are superior to those of Intercollegiate athletics as a whole. Moreover, I can promse that this same Cal rugby culture will not be victim to administrative structure."


Gabriel Baumgaertner is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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