One Serious Business
Harvard men's rugby used to revolve around drunken revelry. But times have changed. Team members now say their sport is...
The rugby football team may be a Harvard institution knee-deep in tradition, but that doesn't mean it can't change.
In fact, in recent years, the team (officially a club sport) has transformed its image from that of drunken, rowdy mob into an organized and successful Harvard sport.
Now the team is certainly known more for its exploits on the field, than in the bars. And, as its outlook shifts, the Crimson continues to refine its image and establish itself as a high-caliber and legitimate Harvard athletic activity.
In the 1970's, the Harvard rugby team was little more than a "rowdy rugby club," according to current Forwards Captain Christopher Geary. A publicity flyer proclaiming "Come play Harvard Rugby" used to depict a player collapsed flat on the ground with beer flowing from a keg into his mouth.
But since then, the Crimson has undergone a complete metamorphosis, team players say. The transformation, they say, was already evident in 1984, when Harvard captured the national championship.
Today, the Crimson practices four days a week and is "about as disciplined as other varsity teams," President Peter November says.
The team's hard work has resulted in a number of successes in recent seasons. In the 1990-91 season, the Crimson was ranked as high as sixth in the country. That spring, Harvard captured the coveted Ivy title.
And, last fall, Harvard enjoyed one of its finest season's ever, advancing to the Eastern regional final four before falling to Army.
But success on the field still has not translated into recognition from the Harvard athletic department.
Founded as a club sport in 1872, the Harvard rugby team does not benefit from the funding or practical support that teams accorded varsity status do. Team members buy their uniforms and have to pay travel expenses themselves.
A small endowment pays Coach Al Baker's fee, and members pay a $65 due each semester to cover additional expenses.
Some athetes say that rugby needs varsity recognition if it hopes to play at the same level as other college teams.
"It makes it so much easier to teach people about rugby when you don't have to worry about coaches, locker space, and transportation expenses," says Publicity Chair Eric O'Brien.
"If we were varsity, we could draw higher calibre athletes and expand the team to accommodate more players," O'Brien says.
Geary also says that the team is "aiming for varsity status."
"It's hard to compete against teams of a calibre like California-Berkeley's who have five coaches and facilities," O'Brien says.
Others, however, say that the team has neither the resources nor the interest in securing varsity status.
"I wouldn't say it's an objective of the club," November says. "The A-side [the highest level division] are top athletes, but if we had a program that did heavy recruiting, it might not give the opportunity for people to start low and move up."
"The fact that it's not varsity enables people who aren't top national athletes to play," November says.
November also says that the rugby club would have to come up with a "tremendous amount of money" before it could go varsity. "Practically, it's a non-issue," he says.
O'Brien says that rugby's reputation as a rowdy sport may also be one reason the team will never achieve varsity status.
Though sophomore Bob Jordan concedes this image "is hard to get rid of.," he says "we try to dispel the violent image of rugby."
Jordan says part of that effort includes taking the sport more seriously than other schools. "We don't fight, and there are no more kegs on the sidelines," he says.
"At some schools, they think rugby is a drinkfest," Geary says.
While drinking is no longer common during Harvard's games, some traditions die hard.
"It's still a very social sport," Jordan says. "There's lots of camaraderie. After matches, the teams go out together."