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Big news is expected next week from South Bend, Ind., as the Notre Dame rugby program will disseminate official notice of some major financial and administrative support.
Details aren't official, but what is clear is that the Notre Dame rugby
club, which five years ago was a renegade organization not allowed on
campus, now has an official stamp of approval.
Sean O'Leary, who has been serving as the Head Coach as well as providing admin support for other club sports in his job with the Notre Dame club sports program, has already shifted to a full-time Director of Rugby position, with his salary paid from a large and ever-growing alumni endowment.
That endowment is the direct result of the resurgence of the rugby program, driven by O'Leary's dedication to presenting college rugby as something to be proud of, not something to apologize for.
"Bringing the program back on campus was our opportunity to build a program," O'Leary told RUGBYMag.com. "In those five years we now have a program the university is proud of and met the standards they have set. Meeting those standards now is a given."
During the last few years Notre Dame rugby hasn't won a great deal. They were winless in their first Midwest season, but started to win, only for O'Leary to move the team up to DI-A. They also played in the USA 7s CRC, and while they have struggled to make the top eight, the exposure has been good for the players and the team.
"Expectations are high here," said O'Leary. "We got to the point where we were beating most of the teams in the Midwest. Then we moved to the DI-A Mid-South, and we knew it was going to be hard. But I always want to compete at the highest level; we want to compete at the highest level. In the Mid-South the players saw what the next level was like. We played two of the top five teams in the country four times and showed improvement. I want to take on tough teams, and the players get it. They feel the same way."
The CRC provided a challenge, too, but the school and the alumni, many of whom played for Notre Dame rugby in the 1960s, were delighted to see their team on NBC.
"The University likes the fact that we are on NBC," said O'Leary. "The visibility is good for us, and the alumni have responded, asking us what we need to compete in Philly and setting it up for us."
With a talented crop of young players - about 75 percent of Notre Dame students played some varsity sport - the Irish now also have something they have worked enormously hard to get, legitimacy on campus.
The CRC was a huge part of that, and now Notre Dame will compete for five trophies this spring, the CRC championship in Philadelphia in June, the Varsity Cup, starting with a double bill at Annapolis in April, the Catholic Cup challenge trophy with Wheeling Jesuit, the Nash Cup challenge trophy with Arizona State, and the Parseghian Cup challenge trophy with Arizona.
Not bad for a program that was persona non grata just six years ago.