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It’s a way of seeing how far we as a rugby nation have come.
The College Game
Through much of the late 1990s and well into the 2000s I was a strong supporter of the Cal program. It wasn’t personal. I didn’t go to Cal, and I didn’t have close friends who went to Cal. I didn’t think of the program or the players or coaches as morally superior or anything like that. I just used Cal as an example of what college rugby could be.
The point was always, and I think over time I should have made this point more, that you could create a better college program regardless of your circumstances. Getting hung up on how much money Cal rugby had in its endowment was a fool’s game. It just made people bitter and convinced them the mountain was too hard to climb.
But you could focus on the rugby. In 1997, the idea that you have rules controlling what players wear at practice, or that game uniforms should be … uniform … and that players should look good when thyey take the field was considered anti-rugby culture. Suggesting that you set up a platform so you could tape games, or have a scoreboard was tantamount to putting your hand in someone’s pocket to take his wallet.
Positing that a college coach should discourage his players from drinking and partying, or even set rules down controlling such activity was considered the ultimate buzz kill.
But over time, the change has emerged. Many more college teams treat rugby the way it should be treated – something that’s fun, but is fun because you treat the game with respect; fun because you’re with a group of men or women who are working together for a common goal.
The change wasn’t spearheaded by me, of course. I advocated as much as I could, but the change was spearheaded, in my view, by three factors:
1. The growth of serious youth and high school rugby created an influx of college students who wanted to replicate their high school experience in college. Sometimes those players ended up coaching teams. Sometimes they worked to get more money, better coaches, or more support. But above all, they changed the culture of the teams they joined, making it about rugby.
2. Coaches changed. A new, younger generation of coaches that supported a more serious approach to the game emerged.
3. All that, combined with a disillusionment at some colleges with the costs and sometime hypocrisy of college football started to look for another way to pursue sports.
Ultimately the culture change depended on the coach. Behind every successful college rugby program that has good relations with its on-campus administration is a good on-field coach who is willing (or has a right-hand assistant who is willing) to do a bunch of administrative and organizational work, and who is willing to look at the rugby program as more than just what happens on the field.
I like how I reported on this over the years. I pushed for this, but didn’t, normally, vilify programs that were falling shore of the mark, because I knew it would all take time.
We’ve made great strides in making college rugby respectable. The next step is to grow it. It’s not enough to have 30 or 40 strong college programs. We need 200. We know the list of colleges where there are large numbers of good athletes, but the rugby teams are poor or, worse as far as I am concerned, the rugby teams are just OK, and everyone thinks that’s acceptable.
For those programs, I suggest you take a page out of the old playbook. Start looking the part. Practice in an impressive way. Look the part. Control your silly behavior. Act varsity even if you are not, and let your administration see that.
Next, find a good coach. Not a fun coach (necessarily) not a coach who agrees with you; find a coach who wants to lead, and is willing to do the extra work to recruit players and be the face of the team.
Students within a rugby program have to do more than just ask. Yes I agree,
your college owes you proper medical assistance, they owe you a practice
field and a game field that is safe. They owe you access to safe
transportation, and at least the ability to fund your team properly. They
owe you all that stuff, and parents especially should be fighting to ensure
colleges make rugby safe for their students.
You can’t get that stuff unless you give. And what you give is pride. Show pride in your college. Wear matching uniforms. Practice as if the athletic director or a TV station is watching, every time. Carry yourselves in a mature manner. Make us all proud.
You do that, the good players will find you, I will write nice things about you, and maybe your wish list will get a few things checked off.