On Rugby and (Varsity) Status

A front-page article in the Friday, October 28 edition of The Crimson, reported that women’s rugby will remain a club sport, rather than a varsity sport. According to the article, while some team members feel satisfied with the financial and other support they receive from the athletic department, others feel that the team’s recent success merits its elevation to varsity status.

Indeed, the Radcliffe Rugby squad won the national division II college women’s rugby championship last year, and seems poised on the brink of another successful season. Since their victory last April, the team and athletic department negotiated the team’s status. The outcome? The women will remain a club team, though they have been granted resources (such as an athletic trainer) normally reserved for varsity sports. Given this allowance, it may seem that the women—and all women’s sports fans at Harvard—should be satisfied.

I, however, am not satisfied. According to Title IX, 1972’s path-breaking antidiscrimination legislation, schools must provide equivalent benefits and treatments to male and female sports participants. Harvard comes close to hitting the mark here; the athletic department, after all, agreed to allocate more budgetary and personnel resources to Radcliffe rugby, one of its more-successful teams. Still, status is a “benefit,” and club sports are not at the same level of prestige as varsity sports.  These women, who devote so much time and energy to the game they love, surely deserve that prestigious status as much as their male counterparts, whose squad is recognized as a varsity team. Because the men enjoy the prestige connoted by the “varsity” label while the women do not, I argue that the women do not enjoy equivalent benefits or treatment.

It is also interesting to consider that, according to team captain Megan Verlage, the athletic department cited financial constraints precluding funding another varsity team, as a reason to withhold varsity status from the Radcliffe squad. Though the Athletic Department has not released a statement since the article was published on Friday, it seems that it did fund the team more for this season than last. As such, I question whether some other motive underscored the decision to keep the women on a club team.

In any event, we as women’s sports fans, as students who value a good game, must consider whether it is good enough to keep a team that performs at a varsity level labeled as a “club” team, when the men who play the same sport have attained varsity status. Though not as tangible a benefit as an athletic trainer, the prestige accompanying varsity status is a benefit the women of Radcliffe rugby have earned.