Make Dirty Ducks an NCAA team to save wrestling
In My Opinion | Still on his feet
By: Robert Husseman | Sports Copy Editor
Issue date: 10/17/07 Section: Sports
Ever since Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny announced his intentions to add baseball and competitive cheerleading while cutting wrestling from Oregon's sporting repertoire, fans have launched a grassroots campaign to save the sport from extinction.
The Web site, www.saveoregonwrestling.com has generated significant awareness, and many other events have been started to raise funds for the program. Kilkenny has been taking heat for months with his plans to cut a historically relevant Oregon sport.
The solution, fortunately, is easy enough: Make women's rugby an NCAA-sanctioned sport.
Let me preface my arguments by saying that I know as much about rugby as I do about nuclear physics. I know what a rugby ball looks like, and I've heard about rugby's professional teams, rabid fanbases, and deep traditions. That's about it.
Through an ESPN.com article by Joe Gisondi, I learned that four universities currently have NCAA women's rugby teams - Southern Vermont, Bowdoin College, West Chester University, and Eastern Illinois, which recently beat Oregon's club team, 24-15, in the Dirty Ducks' season opener. High school rugby is also played in some regions of the U.S.
What explains the appeal of an NCAA women's rugby team? The first reason is the proverbial elephant in the room known as Title IX. Title IX is the reason why competitive cheerleading, whatever that may be, is now an Oregon sport and why wrestling is in limbo. Regardless of your opinion on this controversial policy, the NCAA has an elephant's memory of programs that are compliant with the measure. Where Oregon wrestling is concerned, the argument boils down to this: 32 Oregon women play rugby, and 17 men wrestle. That's more than enough to justify a wrestling team in the NCAA's eyes.
The next big reason, as with all new programs, is cost. In Gisondi's article, West Chester's Athletic Director, Ed Matejkovic, said of women's rugby, "It's a great sport … where you don't have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on."
Given those parameters, Oregon's self-sufficient athletic department could probably recoup the cost of rugby through corporate support of Oregon baseball alone, never mind the potential TV and ticket revenue baseball expects to bring in. Recent success of Oregon sports indicates that money can be found through some outlet.
Finally, Oregon would be able to back up its constant desire for innovation and progression in sport by supporting a burgeoning one. According to Gisondi, rugby is on the NCAA's seven-deep list of emerging sports. Should 40 schools adopt NCAA women's rugby within 10 years, it will be sanctioned as a championship sport. Adding women's rugby doesn't guarantee Title IX compliance due to its "emerging" status, but neither does competitive cheerleading and that didn't stop us.
As of right now, the only Division I school with NCAA women's rugby is Eastern Illinois, a school best known for producing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Oregon could become a pioneer of sorts by adopting the sport and championing its cause to the NCAA and, more importantly, other schools. Rugby has the potential of becoming the lacrosse of a decade ago. Public knowledge about rugby is sparse, but it could certainly increase if a school with Oregon's clout steps up and supports it.
Oregon athletics prides itself on being steps ahead of its competition, from the new basketball arena to the addition of women's lacrosse back in 2005. This initiative keeps a storied tradition of wrestling alive while ushering in a new era of NCAA sport. More scholarships would be created for athletes (women, no less), and Oregon could be on the cutting edge of a new athletic tradition. Mainstream America loves football for its violent elegance and team mentality, both of which are prevalent in rugby. Who doesn't want to be the group that started the trend?
Oregon Associate Athletic Director Renee Baumgartner is quoted in a July 18 Emerald article as saying, "I feel that within 10 years the NCAA will certify (competitive cheer) as a varsity sport and we'll be on the front end, leading the charge." Here's our chance to lead the charge. There are many sports Oregon has yet to adopt (swimming, water polo and crew are some examples), but while we're going the progressive route we may as well take the process full circle and advocate emerging sports.
Oregon wrestling fans and supporters, I urge you to contact Kilkenny and the rest of the athletic department and write to them about women's rugby. Tell them about a sport on the verge of mainstream recognition and championship status. Tell them about a chance for Oregon to, yet again, put itself on the athletic map. Tell them about an opportunity to appease all sides of a heated debate.
Tell them that women's rugby can save Oregon wrestling.