The obstinate refusal of the NCAA to adopt rugby as an official collegiate sport means many things for the Wisconsin rugby fanatic. It means clubs survive on inadequate funding, athletes practice without the facilities available to sanctioned varsity teams and talent recruitment rests on the enthusiasm of undergrads playing hard for little fanfare.
Yet the sport thrives in campuses across the state, as students revel in the opportunity to play for clubs operating outside of the NCAA. The Wisconsin Badgers Rugby Club is one such program where players converge to represent UW on the collegiate scene.
While the team consists of many veterans carrying over their interest from high school squads, a good number of members forge a love of the game while experiencing it for the first time.
“We definitely encourage people to just come out and give it a try,” club president Ryan Meyer said. “Guys who want to get in some contact, who want to have fun playing sports. You can definitely check out the crew at Wisconsin at any point in the season.”
Outside of the ruck, the club provides a unique social environment for all of its members, brought together by the love of the sport.
“It’s a real good mix of guys, a real tight-knit bunch of guys,” Meyer said. “We have a lot of fun together. No matter what you play, where you played, how often you want to come out, we’ll get you some playing time on game weekends. I don’t think anyone who’s ever come out for the club has been disappointed.”
Practices take place down on the pitch near the Eagle Heights residential complex. Wisconsin fields a team in a tournament every weekend during the season. With competition lasting throughout the course of an entire day, the team gets an opportunity to test the depth of its roster.
Rugby rules allow 15 players to field each side, eight forwards and seven backs. Wisconsin brings two or three sides to every tournament. The players who travel for tournament play always get some time on the field.
“On the team at any point we have between 45 and 60 guys, and definitely everybody gets playing time,” Meyer said. “During the season when we don’t have tournaments, we divide into A, B and C sides and it’s just everybody against everybody.”
USA Rugby, an organization founded in 1976 in the interest of promoting the sport across the country, currently organizes tournament play among universities. Tournaments range from showdowns between local rivals to a national stage where a champion is crowned.
Prior to regional playoffs, the UW team gets the opportunity every spring and fall to test its mettle against a number of college and private men’s clubs from across the state. The group traveled Saturday to the Brew City to compete in the fourth-annual Milwaukee Cup.
Wisconsin routed UW-Stevens Point in the championship game on the Milwaukee Rugby Football Club’s grounds in the southwestern suburb of Big Bend. The Badgers will maintain possession of the cup captured after defeating Point on McKinley Marina pitch in 2003.