Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Varsity Status for Girls Rugby

The new USA Rugby website (http://www.usarugby.org/) has a section devoted to USARFU's push for varsity status for high school girls rugby. This is an off-shoot of the Union's push for NCAA status for Collegiate Women's rugby. As a coach of a high school girls' team, I applaud the dedication of resources to promoting the women's game. But, I have concerns about the consequences.

The WIAA, Wisconsin's high school athletics governing body, has its own set of regulations governing high school sports. This may lead to inconsistencies between the current practice here in Wisconsin (i.e. a Fall season for rankings within the state and a Spring season for touring and participation in Mid-west/National tournaments). This type of system could be eliminated by WIAA rules which may prohibit out-of-season play.

In my mind, here are advantages to seeking WIAA membership:
  • Part of a pre-existing structure to help organize/standardized administration;
  • Legitimacy within schools to facilitate recruiting players;
  • Access to school resources and funding.

However, there are some serious draw backs:

  • Inability of high school teams to compete in territorial and national competitions;
  • WIAA discourages (but does allow) multi-school teams for areas where no team is available;
  • The team becomes linked to school district budgetary needs (e.g., the Waukesha School District is thinking about eliminating ALL extra-curricular activities and sports ).

USA rugby appears to think that high school varsity status is a natural result of or beneficial to its goal of NCAA status for collegiate women. However, looking at the soccer model suggests that varsity status is not necessary as a feeder system for collegiate programs. The best recruits for soccer (at least in this area) come not from high school varsity squads, but from community based select side teams. Varsity soccer is usually a step down from the club soccer.

By pushing an agenda of varsity rugby for high school girls, we are ultimately pushing towards a two tier system (club rugby and varsity rugby) similar to soccer. This may not be a bad result if it means more exposure to rugby for everyone. However, this presupposes that we in the rugby community have the capacity to support this level of involvement in terms of qualified referees and coaches. On the other hand, if the push for varsity status back-fires, varsity girls rugby within a WIAA structure could eliminate the more flexible club rugby. This would be a real loss to the club rugby programs because national tournaments and touring opportunities have been a real recruiting tool for local teams. Perhaps the better question is not how do we push for varsity status, but how do we collectively build support to grow the current club system? What do we need to grow high school rugby?

I would suggest that the answers will vary from state to state. Now that USARFU has broached this important subject, it is up to local clubs to carry on the dialouge and find solutions that work for local communities.

Post a Comment