This is one of the more aggravating stories that I have had the displeasure of reading. The Clemson University Rugby team has been one of the top teams in the nation for the last 5 years. Lead with great coaching, excellent players, and sheer determination, they found a way to take a program that had bottomed out, to become a team that had to be considered a national championship contender every year. A team that has represented it’s school with impeccable taste and dedication, is not receiving the respect that it deserves. Earlier today Patrick Kane, the former commissioner for the defunct Atlantic Coastal Rugby League, penned a letter on Facebook to let the public know how Clemson University has moved to completely remove the Clemson University rugby field, with no plans to replace them. The university that has made pushes to expanded its ever growing athletic programs, continues to ignore one of it’s notable programs, while facilitating smaller or less expansive programs.
Here is the letter written by representatives of the Clemson Rugby team:
A crisis of monster proportions has overtaken Clemson Rugby at the very moment we have an excellent undergraduates and great coaches (Steve Lynch for the men’s club and Frank Graziano for the women’s). There is no rugby pitch at Clemson anymore and the university has not communicated concrete plans to provide one, beyond, “The next one will not be for Rugby”. Right now, the only time the undergraduate squads can practice is between 7 and 9 in the morning four days a week and cannot schedule home matches at all (The artificial turf pitch isn’t allowed by the league because we can’t have fixed goal posts and the lines are a mess). All games must be on the road until a field is built which, none are in process.
When the crisis began, it seemed like a temporary thing. It poured rain the weekend of the Notre Dame football game. Football fans parked on all the intramural and club sports fields and ruined them—to the point that they were dangerous had had to be closed out of fear of broken legs and lawsuits. The assumption was that spring would come, the fields would be re-graded and re-seeded, and all would go back to normal.
Then, in the last week in December the University announced the varsity soccer practice facilities next to the practice football fields would be dismantled to make room for a new $50 million football facility. Varsity soccer would move to where rugby and lacrosse were to be played. Construction on that has already begun. There is no going home again. For all of us who loved our old pitch and had fun there, it’s gone, off limits to club sports. There’s been no compromise as we once enjoyed. The days of reaching out to friends in the Athletic Department for help are over. The students are not allowed to schedule training or matches on nearby city fields, as the university lacks the resources to supply an administrator to attend off campus events. We all know Clemson can do better to collabor! ate to find an immediate solution.
Rugby was already in the process of moving out to the old Y Beach along with other club sports. An elaborate complex was planned out there that included dedicated fields two of which were committed to be suitable as rugby pitches. A diagram of this was published in the Clemson World last fall and shared with all Clemson Rugby supporters. Only one of those fields, the LoConte Field, built by an endowment from the LoConte family, is completed at present. It is lined for intramural flag football, , soccer and I think field hockey—a maze of cross-hatches. The construction drawings listed and showed orange lines for rugby but, they were not included when the field was installed for some reason. There is considerable dispute over whether the LoConte endowment was intended for club sports only or for intramurals as well. The University’s Recreation Office has dedicated its use for mostly intramurals. There is no money budgeted for the other fields yet. That’s why rugby and many other club sport students have nowhere to play.
There is no point in getting mad. The university has expanded to the point that room on campus is running out. Open spaces that many of you remember are gone. Many of us here in town think it is poised for even more explosive growth. Football may have set the ball rolling in these current turf wars by taking over the varsity soccer field. It is the 900 pound gorilla—at all universities—and takes what real estate it wants. Others have to get out of the way, but then, we’re all football fans so we’re part of the problem. The university has to provide for intramural sports because it’s a vent for the restlessness and hormones of undergraduates and it is a priority. Eventually, rugby may have to provide for its own facilities on or off campus.
This should be a message to other rugby teams around the nation, particularly in the college ranks. It’s time to gather up your alumni, and your supporters. It’s time to continue to make serious pushes to create the independence of the individual teams. While there are few universities that have seen what rugby can potentially do and have given some support, most rugby programs are forced to fend for themselves. Alumni need to create trusts to support their teams, both men and women. It might be wishful thinking, but for the sport to continue to thrive and expand, it’s time to think further than the next season. Men and women’s college rugby is, and will continue to be, one of the biggest facets to rugby growth in the states. Don’t let anymore situations like this happen.