As a person who spent a few months in Wales, doing research on Welsh nationalism and the historiography of rugby in Wales, this Sunday was an exciting day for me. It was the first ever home game for a Quinnipiac-affiliated rugby team.
Let me set the scene for you. It’s a beautiful day, Welsh Rugby Union jersey on, photographers present and a crowd decked out in inaugural gold rugby game T-shirts. Members of New Blue Rugby were plentiful, but they were on the sidelines and not players in the game. The game was for our new women’s rugby team.
It was a phenomenal experience. I got to see a game that I love, firsthand. Not only that, but I got to share my knowledge of the game with everybody around me. Some of the people asking me questions about the game were wearing the said gold rugby T-shirts. I did not get a T-shirt. I feel that if I have more insight about the topic on your shirt, I get your shirt.
I do not actually want to be taking T-shirts off of spectator’s backs, but I do want to express my love of rugby in general. With the intense physical nature of the game, one would think animosity would be imminent between the two sides. Despite the inherent physicality and seeming disregard for health and safety, rugby is often referred to by the British as “a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen,” while soccer is referred to by the same people as “a game for gentlemen, played by hooligans.”
My section of the crowd — I’d say more than 200 were in attendance — was quite uninformed but very, very willing to learn. At first glance, I do not look like a typical wealth of rugby knowledge.I was some 21-year-old punk who they just met. Even the people who looked at me funny when I said American football came from rugby were intent on listening to the rules of a ruck (for those of you who care; it is the method of restarting play after a tackle, in which players go head on and cannot flank their opponent to get to the ball). It was really funny to see people who were not directly in our conversation, trying to nonchalantly look over and pay attention to my rambling of rules and strategy.
Our team was a bit sloppy to start, but we scored two tries (touchdowns, worth five points) in the first half. The second was just about at the halftime whistle, and it was the open and free-flowing rugby that really draws people to the sport. Our women were really coming together well. I love rugby, but I had to leave at halftime. It was Sunday after all; the Cowboys played at 1 p.m.
That is a problem with rugby on this campus and in this country. Outside of the people who actually play the sport, I am one of the biggest rugby fans on campus. Even though I love the sport so much, I still left early in order to go watch the NFL.
The excitement of this weekend’s game has the uneasy feeling that the women’s national soccer team seems to bring about every few years. The team members create a buzz, the press talks about them and how everybody is now going to catch on to the sport, and then a month later everybody forgets about them. I imagine it is a similar feeling with the 1980 Olympic men’s hockey team. Hockey has yet to generate the following that people have predicted.
As a fan of rugby and of soccer, I am still holding out hope that both of those sports catch on in the mainstream of American sports culture. Soccer is undeniably closer to that goal than rugby is. The Rugby World Cup is going on right now; I bet you had no idea. USA lost to Ireland, Italy and Australia, but beat Russia. We did not make the knockout stage.
As much as I love the women’s rugby team here, we need a men’s team for any sort of rugby movement to happen at Quinnipiac. I am fairly confident that if it were a New Blue game I was attending, as a true Quinnipiac athletics event or simply a recognized and sponsored club sport game, I would have stayed for the entirety and missed watching the first half of the Cowboys and Lions game.
There is a large disconnect between the allure of men’s and women’s sports for me. My point here is not to call into question the legitimacy or relevance of women’s sports at large or on this campus. I am all for an egalitarian society and am much more of a feminist than many of my friends. What I am trying to say is that having a men’s version of the sport, and in this case there is a structure already in place that simply needs formalization, would generate more interest from the Quinnipiac community at large.
Without the NBA, the WNBA would not garner a following. I am not claiming anything revolutionary here. I am simply saying that men’s sports are inherently more popular, and generally regarded as a more exciting venture, than their female counterparts.
A men’s rugby team would draw in new fans that would then in turn follow both the men’s and women’s sides. It would not usurp fans of the women’s team, but rather add to the following for each. As much as New Blue attempts to be visible on campus, they still fall short of having a far reaching impact. They are relegated to a less recognized status on campus than the likes of the Anime Club.
Yet, the university has repeatedly stated its reluctance to institute club sports until all of the legal situations regarding Title IX get sorted out. This is not a viable excuse to skirt the issue entirely. There is a clear demand, and I argue need, for the institution of club sports at our university.
I love that we have a women’s rugby team and think it is a great step in the right direction. I simply think that more aggressive athletic expansion is necessary for Quinnipiac to hold it in high regard as it does, and to foster this strong corps of support we already have for this game for hooligans.