Rugby: The Next Big College Sport

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Throughout history, basketball and football have dominated the sports scene at colleges and universities all over the country. Everyone goes to the games and everyone talks about the teams; the student-athletes in these two sports have risen to star status around campuses.

However, recently, club rugby has become another sport for student-athletes to consider, especially for those who played soccer, wrestling or football in high school. And don’t think that just because rugby isn’t an official NCAA sport that the competition isn’t fierce and intense. With the major college sports becoming more competitiveand it becoming more difficult to get a scholarship for premier high school athletes, and rugby is starting to be that sport.

The interest starts even before college, with high school rugby teams popping up more frequently around the country. Vincent Berkery, who played for three years on Montclair State University’s rugby team, played lacrosse in high school. Due to an injury, though, Barkery couldn’t continue and instantly turned to rugby. “During my senior year [in high school], I found a high school rugby team and decided to give it a try so I was still playing a sport.”

On the other hand, Keegan Downey, a junior rugby player for the University of Maryland, offered why he made the decision to play rugby. “I wanted to try something I had never done before, and our high school team was very good. I played football as well, but I found rugby to be more fun.” 

Rugby is a combination of a few recognizable sports, most notably soccer and football. A player needs the skills and awareness of each to be successful. Dallas Harvey, the president of the club rugby team at Belmont University said a blend of both the technicality of soccer and the physicality of football is necessary. “You can outsmart the other team, but if you can’t out-push them then [your approach] really doesn’t matter”.

Rugby teams are allowed 15 players on the field at a time. The “new” version of the game, the one that most colleges are reverting to, only allows seven. “Sevens was designed to be a more entertaining version of rugby,” Harvey commented.

That’s the style of play they use at the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship. Like college basketball’s March Madness or college football’s bowl games, it’s college rugby’s own championship tournament. It features 16 of the best college rugby teams from across the country, competing on national television. Oh, and the Dropkick Murphy’s headlined the after-party last year.

In 2016, seven-player rugby is in line to become a sport in the Olympics for the first time. This means the sport will gain even more popularity, more than the annual collegiate championships. Nonetheless, the debate on whether rugby should be recognized as an official NCAA sport is ongoing. Harvey is a huge supporter for the elevation of rugby to a higher level of competition, but he understands both sides of the argument. “I really don’t know. There’s no way to show that rugby can be a profitable sport for colleges. Every year there’s new clubs starting up at every college and the good teams keep getting better. The talent is going to be so good that it’s going to be hard not to notice.”

For the majority of current rugby players, rugby is growing now and will continue to do so going forward. The sport will become bigger and more popular in colleges throughout the nation in the near future.

When Harvey was a freshman, the club rugby team at Belmont had 11 players and was in turmoil due to the president stepping down. The young athlete took it upon himself to resurrect the program and recruit more players to sport. Now the team claims more than 30 participants (at a smaller school, it should be noted). It takes a special type of person to be passionate about rugby, and an even more special player to be a rugby participant. “It’s kind of like a cult following, but I don’t see it becoming anything like the popularity that college football or baseball has,” Harvey said.

In the future, maybe we will see rugby as an NCAA sport alongside the likes of college football and basketball. For now, cult or no cult, rugby offers a place for high school athletes to fit in.

Freshman > Journalism > University of Maryland

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