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Race to 40: Unleashing your networks of rugby relationships

By Katie Wurst

As the challenges associated with COVID-19 continue, colleges across the country are experiencing decreased enrollment. Sadly, many institutions are responding to budget shortfalls by cutting athletic programs. School administrators and economists are weighing the logic of cutting athletic programming while enrollment is dwindling. While athletic departments may save money in the short term, the long term impact of cutting athletic programs results in significant losses.

The ways colleges are reacting to enrollment declines may actually be an opening for women’s rugby. Rugby is a high roster, low cost team sport that has the ability to generate significant revenue by increasing the number of female student-athletes who enroll and are likely to remain at the school for four years. All of us can help. We can all survey our networks and identify individuals who have contacts in athletic departments, student life and admissions, or board members looking for solutions to budget shortfalls and admissions declines. Tell them not to subtract but to add. The addition of women’s rugby brings a vibrant team, high roster, low cost sport to their campuses, and has the additional bonus of creating an opportunity for female student-athletes in line with the intended purpose of Title IX.

Lander University v. Mount St. Mary's University

Photo Credit: Amy Nichols

The National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) staff is well prepared to offer a tailor-made proposal to help make the case that adding women’s rugby as a varsity sport will open doors for tuition-paying student-athletes to attend college at a time when they are needed most. NIRA can offer recent data and talking points regarding the growth of women’s rugby programs that can be shared with key campus stakeholders. Contact NIRA’s commissioner, Amy Rusert and visit the NIRA homepage.

Creating any new athletics program often begins with the strategy of “build it and they will come.” Interestingly, this strategy appears to be working for girls and women in rugby at both the college and community levels. Increased awareness of NCAA women’s rugby is contributing to an expansion of girls high school and youth rugby opportunities. USA Youth and High School Rugby is now an established 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to serve as a conduit to connect the game at all levels through promotion of a lifelong love for the sport of rugby. Programs like Girls Rugby Inc. also offer evidence of the growth in girls youth and school-based programs. WRCRA serves as an endorsement that there are a wealth of qualified coaches available who will develop sustainable, high-quality programs to support the effort to exceed the 40 varsity teams necessary for NCAA sanctioning. This chain of support demonstrates to athletic department staff and influencers that women’s rugby is a sport worthy of consideration and investment. Add to this compelling discussion a bonus list of reasons to add varsity women’s rugby:

  • Increase diversity in all forms

  • Create more opportunities to recruit and retain cross-over student-athletes

  • Bolster the overall academic performance of athletic departments (high-performing student-athletes)

  • Ability to attract student-athletes on a global scale

  • Increase leadership opportunities for women coaches, referees and administrators

  • Flexible scheduling to meet minimum competition requirements

  • Low start-up costs for equipment and facility usage

The social-political time is ripe to promote women’s rugby at all levels, but particularly within high school and college settings. We need strong, courageous members of the rugby community to break glass ceilings, and share this valuable information that will lead to the creation of new athletic legacies. Take a step to join the NCAA rugby race, and get ready to sprint!

Links to resources:


Dr. Katie Wurst is the Head Coach of Women's Rugby at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, NC. She is a World Rugby Trainer, and has led coach education courses globally since 2008.

Mount St. Mary's University v. Queens University of Charlotte

Photo Credit: Amy Nichols

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