N.C.A.A. Rugby is considered one of the fastest growing sports in the US. It is a prime example of the proliferation of club sports at many universities that otherwise fail to compete on the increasingly tilted playing fields of college athletics. In 2015, all but 24 Division I athletic departments broke even or lost money, according to the N.C.A.A.’s most recent revenue report.
In Pennsylvania, there are only a few dozen international students at the medium-size Kutztown university nestled in the Berks County hills. But on weeknights at 11, the turf field at the centre of campus transforms into something like a model United Nations. There, Kutztown students from England, Scotland, South Africa, Australia and Jamaica, along with American players from 22 states, gather to take part in a common affinity: rugby.
Despite the odd practice times, there is nothing disorganised about the Kutztown University rugby team. They travel across the country every year for tournaments, and often win them. The players take yoga classes and perform community service. Their coach, Gregg Jones, a retired chiropractor and former Marine, enforces a curfew, mandatory study halls and an all-too-serious requirement that players make their beds each morning.
Kutztown, which plays other sports in the N.C.A.A.’s Division II and boasts a football stadium named after its most famous alumnus, the N.F.L. Hall of Famer Andre Reed, has found that certain club sports can be more vital than it ever anticipated. In rugby’s success, a glimpse is offered into a future for college sports outside the N.C.A.A. bubble.
“Rugby has put us on the map,” said Kenneth Hawkinson, the Kutztown president.
There are two N.C.A.A. Division I men’s rugby programs, California and Army. As well as smattering of others across Division II, Division III and the lower-profile National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Other colleges, like Penn State, give men’s rugby a quasi-varsity status, with paid coaches and access to trainers and support staff in the athletic department.