The Bowdoin men’s rugby team has had a strong start to its season, beating Maine Maritime Academy and University of Maine-Orono 40-14. The team is looking to continue its streak over the next two weekends against rivals Bates and Colby. Despite being a competitive force among Bowdoin teams, the rugby team is content with their club status.
“We’re like a varsity club. We have all the positives and negatives that a varsity sport has and all the positives and negatives that a club sport has,” said captain Jaime Quirante ’18.
Despite this point of contention, the team’s status as a club comes with a number of benefits. The team is student-run, with coaches coming in only three times per week. Though this can inhibit maximum development of rugby technique, as players receive less formal training than a varsity athlete would, it also allows for student-athletes to step up as leaders.
“We have some autonomy in the decision making. We do have agency in where the club goes and who runs it and such,” said captain Frankie Pappalardo ’18. “We have a president, treasurer, match secretary, captains … The coaches are there because they have the rugby knowledge that we don’t have. But ultimately over the years, we [upperclass students] figure out how to run a team and also learn more about rugby. It’s a pretty rewarding experience.”
Additionally, the club aspect provides an open and inclusive environment for students.
“A lot of people join the team because of the social aspect,” Quirante said. “Rugby’s a very sociable sport and you create a very close, tight-knit community. And with the sport becoming varsity, you would lose the flexible and relaxed atmosphere of our club.”
The team receives most, but not all, of the benefits of a varsity team. The team is funded by the Student Activities Funding Committee, the Department of Athletics and generous alumni, and its players practice four to five times a week and play at a high level.
But the team feels that it’s often overlooked.
“During the regular season, we don’t have many fans. Maybe between 20 and 30 people [come to our games],” said Quirante. “Rugby’s not very popular on campus yet, so hopefully in the future we’ll get more [attention].”
More recently, the team has had to fight for time on its field. The Whittier Field renovations have allowed the football team to transition away from their practice field at Pickard, so the rugby can now use this field for their practice. The team has had little time on its own game field, however, which it shares with the women’s team for practices and games.
Being a club team, the men’s rugby team has had less say on the issue. Though there have been some discussions about sharing the game field, the women’s team continues to have more playing time.
“We think it’s really important that we do practice on the same field that we’re going to play on,” said Pappalardo. “The women have always played on [the game field], but I think it was framed as, ‘Oh look, here’s your new practice field. You guys don’t have to share a field anymore.’ But we also don’t get to practice on our game field.”
Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan views the field change in a positive light.
“In terms of scheduling facilities, our varsity programs have always received preference in terms of access to fields,” said Ryan. “We do feel as though the second rugby field that we’ve created is a dramatic improvement over the practice facility that the men’s rugby club had in the past … Now, both teams can practice at the same time. This will also help to maintain our game field in great shape.”
Although there is some contention within the team, the rugby team is not pursuing varsity status. Quirante has played rugby all his life and he hopes that the team one day gains varsity status. Meanwhile, Pappalardo disagrees.
“You have sports like rugby and frisbee that don’t have any fees, that you can come out and be a part of the team even if you’re not a recruited athlete or a walk-on,” said Pappalardo. “I think it’s important to have club sports on campus.”
“I think it’s probably split between people that want to join to win and people that want to join to have a group of friends and a community at Bowdoin,” said Quirante.
The lack of consensus from athletes has inhibited the transition to a varsity team, a change which would likely take multiple years to be fully implemented.
“We haven’t really considered making men’s rugby a varsity sport,” said Ryan. “The feedback that we’ve received from the leaders of our men’s rugby alumni group has been that they really enjoy the club aspect of the program. There’s a great healthy culture within that club program, so it’s not really something that’s been on our radar.”
While the transition to the varsity level appears out of sight, the team will have to continue negotiating the issues that come with its club-level status.