Rugby team applies for status

Alex Gallucci

A medical incident involving a member of the team compelled the University to revoke the Villanova Rugby Team’s club status in 1996. Since then, rugby has remained an unofficial club sport unsanctioned by the University, and the team has seen many changes.

Villanova Rugby has always nurtured a strong program, even in the years following its ban from club sports. In the years immediately following its loss of University sanction, the team won the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union playoffs two years in a row.

Despite the team’s success, University administration was not on the best of terms with the club prior to 1996. Over the years, the traditional “rugby culture” emerged, earning the group a reputation for acting in a way that was out of character to represent the University, according to University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A. Finally, the legal episode of 1996 served as the last straw to prohibit the team from any association with the school or from holding practice on campus, according to Donohue.

From 1996 to 2006, the team continued much as it had in previous years, only practicing off campus. This, of course, included its bi-annual fundraising “Rugby Game,” with which many upperclassmen were familiar.

It was only in the spring of 2006 that Donohue granted the team permission to practice once again on the school grounds. Per his request, the “Rugby Game” was cancelled after the spring of 2006 because the University could not condone an event that involved underage drinking, according to Donohue.

“The team was very accommodating of my request, and they have handled themselves very professionally,” Donohue said.

In recent years, the club has made great strides to improve its standing with the University adminstration. Major changes included this year’s hiring of full-time coaches Larry McManus and Scott Jackson. Although the traditional coach duties have kept them busy, they have also played a role in the team’s attempt to become reinstated as a club sport.

“I tell the kids to keep their noses clean,” McManus said. “They are 45 guys that know the struggles the previous members have had trying to get back on campus, and they respect that. They have to try to avoid any incidents that could jeopardize us practicing on campus.”

“We tell our players that we expect them to act in a way that reflects positively on the club and University,” said junior Greg Shipman, who currently serves as president of the team.

Shipman has been the leading force behind the team’s quest for a club status that it has lacked for nearly 12 years. Shipman, in addition to writing a 16-page proposal for recognition as a club sport, helped to put together a 21-page proposal for recognition to the Office of Intramurals and Recreation for review. At this time however, the Office of Intramurals and Recreation must await upper administration permission to review the application and proposal.

To its players, coaches and alumni, becoming a part of club sports would bring several benefits to the program. Currently, without club recognition, the team cannot recruit players or wear the trademarked Villanova “V” on uniforms or apparel.

Shipman and McManus both agreed that becoming an official University activity is the first step toward building a successful program. If permitted, they hope to gain a strong presence on campus through fundraising and recruiting.

“They are a group of students with a passion to play rugby, and they should be able to do it,” Donohue said. However, he also points out, “it’s not a simple yes or no.”

There are many factors that surround the rugby team’s approval. The situation is complicated by issues such as insurance and funding, which require time, research and planning, according to Donohue. It is no myth that rugby is typically considered to be a dangerous sport that can cause many serious injuires. The incident in ’96 still looms large in people’s minds.

Consequently, insurance policies for schools that carry rugby teams come at a premium. This factor has remained a restrictive obstacle in the process of finding the approvial for funding the team.

Donohue says that he is currently in the process of reviewing the club’s proposal. He expects to give them a definite answer in the near future. Until then, however, the team, coaches and fans alike hope that their efforts, which have clearly shown progress, will result in a welcome back to the University community.