The women’s rugby squad, among the most successful teams on campus in recent years, has continued its campaign for varsity status this semester.
Women’s rugby has been a club sport at Brown for 35 years with stretches of great success. The team has advanced to the Final Four four times in the past five seasons and this fall, the Bears went undefeated in league play.
But since they do not have varsity standing, the team is responsible for raising roughly $80,000 each year for its budget. For more than a decade, the team has been fighting for varsity status, which would relieve that financial burden.
So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful – and Head Coach Kerri Heffernan says donors are getting tired.
“Donor fatigue is definitely an issue,” Heffernan said. “I feel it’s hard to explain to donors every year why we’re in the same predicament … Our winning record, the GPAs of the students, the amount of All-Americans we produce continues to grow and be a source of great pride. Our status doesn’t change at all at Brown.”
Until recently, none of the women’s rugby teams in the Ivy League were varsity. That changed in August when Harvard’s club team gained varsity status. Heffernan said she hopes the change will provide a precedent for the Bears, but she said she wishes her team could have been the one to set the standard.
“I think what Harvard did was really bold,” Heffernan said. “I sure wish that Brown had done it first, but we’re all hoping that it provides an opportunity.”
Team members began meeting with University administrators in October this year. According to team president Lucy Fernandez ’14, who has been present at these meetings, administrators have cited budgetary concerns when they explain the difficulty in elevating Brown’s team to varsity status. Similar financial concerns led the University to consider cutting the wrestling, fencing and skiing teams in the fall of 2011.
“Brown does not have the funds to adequately cover the varsity programs it has right now, so how can we possibly consider adding a team?” Fernandez wrote in an email to The Herald, summarizing an administrator’s viewpoint on the issue.
Heffernan said her team’s position “has gotten worse” since the University determined that the wrestling, fencing and skiing teams would not be cut.
Jessica Sawadogo ’14, one of the team’s social captains, has joined Fernandez at meetings with the administration this semester. She said that the lack of progress is frustrating for both the team and the administration.
“In general, when someone asks questions over and over again, with the same arguments, and you’re not seeing a result, I’m sure it’s frustrating for parties on both ends,” Sawadogo said.
Fernandez wrote that she finds hearing familiar arguments from the administration “frustrating.”
“We heard a lot of the same excuses, such as not enough locker spaces, not enough resources, not enough money,” Fernandez wrote, describing a meeting with new athletic director Jack Hayes. “(Hayes) is recycling the same arguments as the old (athletic director) did last year: we can’t be awarded varsity status without receiving all the resources that other varsity teams have. He also feels that more schools, particularly Ivies, need to elevate their club rugby teams to varsity before we can make such a change.”
Despite the challenges and frustration, some positives have resulted from the team’s efforts this semester. A meeting with Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn resulted in the team being granted access to the varsity weight room and to a trainer with rugby experience.
Despite these successes, Heffernan said she still feels there is an issue of fairness that has yet to be fully addressed.
“We are one of the oldest women’s teams at Brown,” Heffernan said. “Women have demonstrated for 35 years an interest in playing a contact sport. Rugby is the only contact sport offering for women. There’s a lot of contact sport offerings for men. A lot. There are none for women. So if women have to play a contact sport, they have to finance it themselves. I think that’s unfair.”