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Op-Ed In Response to Virginia Women's Rugby Criticism

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Op-Ed In Response to Virginia Women's Rugby Criticism

Virginia Women's Rugby answers criticism over their not attending the D1 spring final.

The following is an Op-Ed submitted to GRR in response to the Op-Ed written by Kendall Erickson and published by Goff Rugby Report last week.

The accusation that we did not inform CRAA until the last possible moment and directly caused BYU players and their families to lose money is unequivocally false. We informed CRAA on Monday, April 24th that we were unable to attend Nationals because several of our starters were unable to attend and many of our players could not handle the travel costs. We knew that we would not be able to give BYU a good match under these circumstances, and were sure to communicate with CRAA immediately. They then offered the spot to both the University of Florida and NC State, who could also not attend due to circumstances similar to our own. It was at that point that CRAA made the decision to cancel the D1 National Championship. We don’t know why they waited a week to inform BYU.

The University of Virginia is not to blame for our inability to attend Nationals. We are not UVA Women’s Rugby, rather we are Virginia Women’s Rugby, a contracted independent organization of the University of Virginia, and are even required to have the following on our homepage

“Although this organization has members who are University of Virginia students, University employees associated or engaged in its activities and affairs, the organization is not part of or an agency. It is a separate and independent organization, which is responsible for and manages its own activities and affairs. The University does not direct, supervise, or control the organization and is not responsible for the organization’s contracts, acts, or omissions.” 

Virginia Women’s Rugby is a club sport, not housed in the athletic department, but rather in Intramural-Recreational Sports. This means that we cannot ask for money to travel, as they have a small budget, and need to spread the funds among many sport clubs. Instead, we rely almost solely on player dues and donations to fund the team. Our team currently has less than $3,000 in our account– not nearly enough to provide financial support for our many players who needed assistance to be able to cover the costs of Nationals. With the cost of flights, hotels, transportation, and food, the trip could easily cost a single player over $1000. Conversely, the BYU Women’s Rugby team is an extramural team that is well supported and sponsored by BYU, meaning they receive funds from the school to support their travels and team expenses. These very real differences between our programs are glossed over in Mr. Erickson’s letter, which makes a lot of baseless accusations without providing much in the way of actual knowledge of the situation.

Additionally, UVA’s final exams happen in tandem with Nationals, beginning on May 4th and continuing on until the 13th. As a club sport, we have no authority to reschedule our athletes’ exams for competitions, which means we rely heavily on the flexibility of individual professors. The moment we qualified for Nationals, our players began to ask for make-up exam dates, or even if our coaches could proctor the exams from the hotel –something we have done in the past. Sadly, many of our players were forced to make the difficult decision between missing out on Nationals or failing a class. Notably, BYU’s winter semester finals end April 26th, affording them a buffer between final exams and Nationals. Rugby here is a part of the college experience, not the entire college experience, and we are very open about playing the best rugby we can, at the highest level we can, with the resources and time commitment we can afford. 

This is why we would like to bring particular attention to one part of Mr. Erickson’s letter, where he states: 

“USA Rugby, University of Virginia Women's Rugby, the University of Virginia, the CRAA, and anyone else involved in this unmitigated disaster, get your act together, and stop making excuses which prevent our women student athlete rugby players from competing at the highest level!”

By not playing in D1 Elite, where they should compete, BYU is, in fact, not competing at its highest level, and is instead playing against true club teams that don’t have anywhere near its resources. BYU originally was a part of the highest division of collegiate rugby, D1 Elite, alongside Life, Lindenwood, and Penn State. All of these teams, and BYU, have significant financial and infrastructure support, including paid coaches, access to weight rooms, and other entitlements that NCAA teams have. BYU made the decision to drop to D1 after losing to Life and Lindenwood after 2018, because they could not win a National Championship in D1 Elite. In CRAA, BYU outscored its opponents 528-23, even with a number of forfeits. Neither BYU nor their opponents benefit from such games, where the outcome is known before kickoff and there is no opportunity to learn or grow as players. There are good losses and bad wins in rugby. We intentionally schedule competitive matches with women’s clubs and several NIRA teams where there is a high likelihood we will lose because we know it is a great way to learn – that is the spirit of rugby.

We are not interested in turning this into a UVA vs BYU debate. Of course, they are disappointed that they did not have the opportunity to play at Nationals –we are equally disappointed that we were unable to attend. However, that does not give anyone the right to attack our team, much less accuse us of single-handedly setting back women’s rugby. Obviously, this was not our ideal way to end the season, but we made the decision that was best for our team as a whole. We are proud to be a part of the Virginia Women’s Rugby and we stand by our team’s decision to not attend Nationals.

— Claire O’Reilly, Captain Virginia Women’s Rugby UVA ‘23
— Bethany Tran Nguyen, Captain Virginia Women’s Rugby UVA ‘23
— Nancy Kechner, PhD, Virginia Women’s Rugby Head Coach UVA ‘83 and ‘05