WU club rugby team set to move to Division I
Washington University’s rugby team, which currently competes at the USA Rugby Division II level, will be moving up to Division I in fall 2016.
Washington University varsity sports teams currently compete at the NCAA Division III level, so student-athletes are ineligible for sports-related scholarships. Rugby, a club sport, will be joining the ultimate frisbee teams, which compete at DI and DII levels, in competing at a higher club level.
The move was planned entirely from within the team, as club teams do not have to communicate with the University about division status. Senior Lucas Taub, captain of the rugby team, said that the idea came from one of their coaches in the hopes that the team would improve with better competition.
“We’ve been observing the teams around us in this higher division, and we think that we can compete with them well,” Taub said. “The conference that we’re currently in… we’re certainly not the best team in it, but we feel that moving up will give us a better schedule and higher quality rugby.”
Taub noted that the switch to DI will also be beneficial in terms of time commitment, as the DI season runs from August through May, whereas the DII season took place entirely in the fall semester. The team will participate in the same number of games, about eight regular season games with a possible additional five games for the tournament, but they will be spread out to take place once every several weeks rather than every weekend.
“It’ll be easier to manage this division for the rigorous student that the average Wash. U. student is. We’ve had a decent amount of difficulty retaining players because of the hectic schedule,” Taub said.
The team will be playing in the Heart of America DI-AA Division, which includes Oklahoma State University, University of Missouri, the University of Arkansas, Iowa State University, Truman State University, Northeastern State University, University of Kansas and Kansas State University. All of the division’s schools had to vote to accept the Wash. U. Griffins into their league.
While the DI-A division is the highest level of college rugby in America, typically meant for schools that can recruit and fund high-quality athletes, the DI-AA division is meant for the more academic athletic programs, allowing more of an emphasis on the educational aspect of a college experience.
The rugby team is not an official Washington University varsity sport, and thus receives funding from Student Union as a Category 1 sports club. They have seen increases in their funding in the past several years, moving from Category 1 to Category 2 funding. Requests for the team typically cover transportation, equipment and uniforms.
While the team is now making strides towards more and more competitive play, just a few years ago, the team was losing nearly every game and was considered more of a social group, senior Jackson Hammond, forwards captain and social chair of the rugby team, noted.
“We made a decision that we could either be kind of this goof-around team [who will] have fun together and hang out, but we’re not really playing rugby seriously or we could get our stuff together and win some games,” Hammond said.
Both Hammond and Taub noted that the addition of new coaches in the past two years has made a significant difference for the team. During the 2014-15 rugby season, the team battled to a 3-5 record, finishing out of the league basement for the first time in “living memory,” according to Hammond. This year, the Griffins went 4-3, placing third of eight teams in the DII Gateway league.