USA Rugby’s Collegiate Rugby Director Todd Bell said on the upcoming RuggaMatrix America podcast that a group of DI women’s colleges are applying for varsity status next year.
A number of Pac 12 and Ivy League teams are presumed to leave their club roots behind for a more vaunted status on campus.
But intent doesn’t comprise half the battle. Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard have already applied/petitioned for varsity status, but for coach Kerri Heffernan and her squad, this marks the sixth consecutive year that the program’s looked for varsity acceptance.
“It’s been an interesting and disappointing effort here at Brown,” Heffernan said. “But what is heartening is the university does not question the rigor or legitimacy of the sport. The vast majority of coaches and athletes at Brown see the women’s rugby team as equals – in most cases, we are their superiors. So barriers are changing.”
Heffernan has been very proactive in the battle to become varsity. She has liaised with the legal arm of the Women’s Sports Foundation and Sports Management, and their conversation has looped in the National Women’s Law Center.
“These organization are clear that women’s rugby is the sport best positioned to go varsity and they want to help,” Heffernan said. “When I contacted Nancy Hogshead at WSF, she said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to call.’”
Ideally, Heffernan would like to see all eight Ivy League teams petition for varsity status at once, and the coach is optimistic that alliance will come to fruition.
Ideally the same vision could hold true in the Pac-12, and Bell indicated that as many as half the conference’s women’s rugby teams are interested in pursuing varsity status. But pressed for details, some of those teams are more muted in their enthusiasm.
Matt Sherman at Stanford said that even though the Cardinal would like to go varsity at some time in the future, it’s not going to happen within the next year. Same with Colorado. Coach Jim Stebbins and crew have applied for varsity status twice already and have been denied. Although a final word on whether to apply again this year hasn’t yet been determined, Stebbins was skeptical that his team would want to endure that frustrating process once again.
It’s exciting that top-tier women’s colleges are applying for varsity status, but they’ll need the support of their universities, which seems hard to come by unless conferences switch over en masse.