After 25 years in the wilderness after a school imposed “death sentence,” the University of Louisville Men’s Rugby Club goes into its third year with high hopes. The team has been promoted to DII in just its third league season, which is all part of a six-year plan for moving to DI play.
“We’re working closely with the Midwest Territory and USA Rugby in light of the recent structure changes for collegiate rugby,” says Head Coach Eric Raney. “They actually promoted us to DII a year early, but we’re excited about the opportunity to move up in class.” U of L is a member of the Ohio Union, and their league includes teams such as the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University and Kentucky.
But for a long, long time there was no rugby at U of L.
“There was an incident,” explains Raney. “It was so long ago, no one really remembers what it was. But something happened on a Saturday, and when they got back to campus Monday, they were finished.”
Over the years, students tried to reform the club, the school administration wasn’t having any of it. “It wasn’t just ‘no’,” says Raney. “It was no way, not now, not ever.” But some clever students found a procedural loophole—getting established as a school organization thru the student-run university Congress—and the school begrudgingly acquiesced.
“We went in to meet with school officials,” says Raney. “When they saw we had a good staff and the kids would have adult supervision, it improved their comfort level a bit.”
The coaching staff includes not only Raney, whose rugby resume includes 12 national championship tournament appearances and a two-year stint as Midwest All-Star 7’s coach—but also Jason Leavens, a 4-time Collegiate All-American at Ohio State.
It also didn’t hurt that the team was able to beat all its in-state rivals—including Kentucky—its first year out.
The club is still kept on a short leash—including a school-controlled bank account, periodic reviews and certain travel restriction—but the administration is coming around.
“School officials are starting to see the rewards, and not just the risks,” says Raney. The club was recently presented with an award from the Club Sports Department as an outstanding student organization, and has been promised a spot at the top of the waiting list for access to the new Student Activities Center scheduled to open in 2013.
“That will get us access to an indoor field for the winter months, and an all-weather outdoor practice field as well,” explains Raney.
U of L will play Xavier in their inaugural DII league match on Labor Day weekend, but after all the club had to do just to get on the field, who can blame them for feeling as though a lot of the hard work is already done.