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Another semester, another suspension. News got out on the weekend of Mary Washington’s men’s team being the latest on the chopping block. Reports have the Mothers being suspended indefinitely for singing raunchy, yet typical of rugby songs, lyrics. Apparently a recording of the songs from a party involving the rugby players made its rounds on social media and found itself in the earphones of school officials.

This suspension is a little different because it centers around sexually explicit and violent lyrics and not something directly related to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol, though it’s probably safe to assume plenty of alcohol was being consumed during the party in question. But, really, it’s the same as the suspensions of Utah, Delaware and most of those other suspensions you may or may not have heard of – college rugby players are being disciplined for doing the things that rugby players think rugby players are supposed to do.

You won’t catch me railing on the social traditions of rugby. It’s part of what attracted me to the sport, and I’ve seen it lure so many people into the fold who went on to become great rugby citizens and water carriers outside of the bar and usually in the youth game.

You’re also not going to see me tell adults exactly how to spend their free time. If they want to do it playing rugby, regardless of the standard, and singing crude songs and making bad decisions, that’s up to them. I’ve done my fair share of all of those things, and usually in that order.

However, I would caution that if you’re going to do that, you need to understand you might not like the consequences. Your team may get kicked off campus, at which point you have to go back to playing intramurals, whatever video game is all the craze these days and beer pong, like the civilians.  

That might not happen, too. You might even win. I know plenty of people in the college game, some I consider friends, who still think beer on the sidelines, beer at the socials and all the other antiquated fixins are integral to the overall experience and worth the risk. I disagree with them, but that’s beside the point.

I’m incredibly lucky to be paid to coach a varsity team, which is unchartered territory for me personally, but the overwhelming majority of college coaches are volunteers. And if those volunteers with nothing to lose but a hobby that takes up an enormous amount of time, usually costs them some money and a big emotional investment want to relive their glory days with their players, who am I to tell them they can’t?  

Some of those guys even still manage to win. A team that won really big recently lived on that razor’s edge, but happened to have an extremely talented class or two and a galvanizing coach. That was good enough to see them to some hardware, even though they were suspended from using on-campus fields and facilities during the playoff run because of sideline tomfoolery.

So I can’t claim that you can’t party and win, because there are plenty of examples through the years of teams that have. However, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want to improve your club’s status on campus, if you want to do something bigger and help carry the torch a little further forward for the game in this country, you can’t keep pretending you’re Mark Cuban and it’s the ‘70s. That’s where the Mothers, or at least some Mothers, apparently got confused.

(*Can I just say it’s not surprising that a team holding onto a nickname like Mothers, which according to the club website dates back to 1985, is having trouble letting go of the club culture of yesteryear. More on that in a minute.)

I guess the point here is you have to decide what you want to be and what you want to accomplish. If you want to play the best rugby possible over a long period of time and have nice things like administrative support, you should probably take the beer and songs and partying out of your college club. If you value the latter too much to leave it be, then brace for the consequences.

Or do what I think might be the perfect balance here – play men’s club ball. No one cares if a bunch of lumpy men of mixed ages sing absurd songs and drink beer in parks. One of the lines I have given high school players in the past ahead of an out of town trip or a big school dance or a Friday night before a big Saturday game, which I think applies here, is, you have the rest of your life to get drunk and make stupid decisions, but you only have a finite amount of time to play and win a championship for your school, and those timelines don’t overlap.

This is the world we live in, like it or not. If the Heisman Trophy winner, who generates millions in revenue for his university, can’t yell a mostly innocuous, though inappropriate, popular phrase without being suspended, why the hell would members of the rugby team (we have a rugby team on campus?) be allowed to sing the songs rugby players sing?

Make your choice and live with it. That’s what Mary Washington is doing.

*An aside on club nicknames. Mothers, Hammerheads, Mudsharks, Maddogs, Tooters, and I could go on much, much longer, are all examples of names that should die. If your goal is to build a sustainable, respectable on-campus, administrative-friendly program, adopt the damn nickname, colors and logos of your school’s other intercollegiate sports, if at all possible. On some campuses it’s not, and more than likely because of the shenanigans of the club’s forefathers. But if you want to be taken seriously, take yourselves seriously, and part of that process is not carrying on the name conjured up by or tattooed to that loudmouth alum who’s romping up and down your sideline Hamm’s in hand.  

Comments

Pat, while I do not disagree with your message about side line tomfoolery or after game parties at the college level. That is not what has happened here. This again is a collateral damage situation. The party according to the info I have seen published happen at a house occupied by two male rugby players and a female. There was a party at said residence while most of the team was away at another game. This is another Delaware "Rugby House" situation. The true bottom line is that you can not have a group of some 40 to 60 college age men where some stupid decision will not be made by one two or multiple people. This happens in many varsity sports as well as clubs and fraternities. Not a week goes by without some college player being in the news. The difference is they are treated as the person who did it, the whole team is not penalized by the actions of some others.
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I've been reading Rugby Magazine (now Rugby Today) since the late 70's. I've always considered the publication the authority on rugby in the United States. I've always enjoyed Pat Clifton, especially "Cliff's Notes". So I was anxious to read the article "Obligatory Suspension Column" since it concerned college rugby, which I have been involved with for the past 27 years. As I read along I was in agreement with pretty much all the points made until I reached the eighth paragraph, which clearly refers to UCF (though not by name). I was the first coach at UCF in 1988 and I am still involved with them on a weekly basis. It seems that in an effort to bolster his argument, Clifton implies that UCF was somehow out of control ("living on that razor's edge"). All I know is that this group of young men followed the rules set forth by USA Rugby, the Southern Independent Rugby Conference, and their university to be in good standing and made the personal committment, the time committment, and the financial committment to pursue the goal of a national championship. And they reached that goal not once but twice. He discounts this success by saying UCF "... happened to have an extremely talented class or two..." Happened to have? He makes it sound like it was a giant coincidence that this "extremely talented class or two" came together at the same time and place and were able to put together a championship caliber team between drunken stupors! To characterize this group of young men in this way is condescending and disrespectful to their hard work and committment. Over half the team hadn't picked up a rugby ball before coming to UCF! As for their "galvanizing coach", anyone who has played this game for a significant period of time or reached any level of success knows that this galvanizing process is what makes a good (or an extremely talented) team into a winning team. I would guess that since Mr. Clifton is now a paid coach he could only hope that he can achieve this with the players he is coaching. In an effort to bolster his position and characterize UCF as an out of control bunch of renegades, Clifton cites the fact that "they were suspended from using on campus fields and facilities because of sideline tomfoolery". Let's unpack that statement for the 99% of readers who don't know what that refers to. The tomfoolery was an open beer. The person who had the beer was a parent seeing his son play for the first time. The parent had brought a cooler. The cooler had beer in it. After the game started, he opened one of the beers. When the UCF players on the sideline saw the beer they asked him to dispose of it, which he did. But student representatives of Club Sports saw the beer, reported it to their supervisor and the team was suspended from using their field for two weeks. The players weren't drinking beer on the sideline. The parent didn't know beer wasn't allowed. Should that have been communicated? Absolutely. So the team accepted the consequences and practiced off campus for the two weeks. You know the rest of the story: they won the national championship. I understand this was an opinion piece. As I stated, I agree with Pat Clifton on many of the points he makes. But incorporating the UCF situation into his argument was a cheap shot and undeserved. But most importantly it marginalizes their achievement of winning two national championships with minimal resources and little support from their school. They deserve better.
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