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.

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2 thoughts on “On Rugby and (Varsity) Status

  1. lindiwerennert

    I couldn’t agree more as far at Title IX is concerned. However, though extremely rare, it seems that Harvard got it right. By that I mean that neither the men’s nor women’s team are recognized as “varsity” teams. Both maintain “club” status.
    Though the recent success of the women’s team on the national stage would certainly merit discussion of elevation, one has to think not just of the Harvard team as a single entity, but rather of the Harvard team in relation to other teams in its league. Across all of the Ivy League institutions, Rugby is a club sport. For the Harvard Rugby team, be it the men’s or women’s, to be deemed a varsity team while all of its opponents maintained club status, would be illogical. In fact, it may not even be legal. By that I mean that varsity teams are not allowed to compete in non-varsity leagues apart from “off-the-record” scrimmages. It would be like UConn Women’s Basketball competing in the New England Community College Division, winning the league, and by doing so, enter the NCAA Tournament with a 1st place standing…
    Do I think that all of the Ivies should elevate their Rugby teams to varsity status, not necessarily, but that is where the discussion of Harvard’s teams would have to begin.

  2. sbobadilla

    As someone who admittedly isn’t too familiar with college sport politics, reading the original Crimson article seemed to raise more questions than providing facts. Indeed, with the ambiguity of sources on the Rugby team, emphasis that the decision to go varsity is a “highly sensitive” issue, only to repeat that it’s a “highly sensitive,” references to desirable resources without spelling them out, I feel like the Crimson’s article seemed a little haphazard. Since, as Lindiwe points out, the men’s team is also club, I would be curious to understand how these teams are underresourced and what the University could do to further support them. While the Crimson article was the most detailed example of reporting, I do appreciate how it raises concerns about apparently overlooking one of Harvard’s most successful sport teams.

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