Rugby, Separate and Unequal: Time for the College to Step In

by Claire Unis | 5/16/94 5:00am

If there is one thing more frustrating than playing a game you can't possibly win, it's playing when the referee isn't paying attention to the game.

A smart team adjusts quickly to a bad ref. It takes advantage of the opportunity to commit the penalties the ref doesn't call, and gets away with them.

The team that tries to play by the rules gets tackled sooner, loses the ball in line-outs, and can't seem to gain any ground. The game never picks up momentum -- it is a constant, unmitigated fight for the ball.

The Dartmouth Women's Rugby Club and the men's Dartmouth Rugby Football Club are pretty familiar with this situation, metaphorically speaking. The College has pitted the two teams against one another -- and forgot to send out a ref. Or maybe the ref just isn't watching the game.

The College has been under pressure to comply with Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 of late, and faced with this, it has merged Friends' Groups of alumni for all sports in which men's and women's divisions exist. Only this year will the women rugby players see money from an endowment established in 1969 "to support the sport of rugby at Dartmouth."

But when it came to actually allocating alumni money, Dartmouth, perhaps in fear of losing alumni support, told the students to work it out themselves.

One full year after the merge, the two teams have yet to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both and valid under the conditions of Title IX. Both groups have backed out of agreements, and meanwhile, no one from the College is regulating expenditures or mediating discussions about compliance with Title IX. And the men's DRFC continues to get away with all it can.

No one thought it necessary, I'm sure, to explain that "work it out" does not mean spit on women in frat basements because they play rugby. It does not mean overspend your budget so you can later go to the College and claim to need that much. Nor does it, as far as I know, imply that intimidating the "others" is a normal course of action, whether you call them bitch or cunt or crack or whatever. Sadly enough, it is a part of DRFC's team ethos to despise the women players, and even the rookies are forbidden to speak to members of DWRC.

And yet, the College expects the two teams to agree that DWRC needs more money than it has, and that DRFC will have to take a budget cut for this to happen.

It's all about money.

That sentence makes my stomach churn, coming from a men's team that, rather than fly with the women as a tour group, chose to spend $100 more per person on airfare to London than did DWRC. And refused to take instruction from our coach last fall merely because she is a woman. Nevermind that she is the captain of the U.S. World Cup team and a much better rugby player than most of them. Or maybe that's the point.

This is not just about money.

The way many of the men have dealt with this, and the response from their alumni, reeks of hypermasculinity; of the frat-dominated Dartmouth of 22 years ago, when the idea of women in class caused an uproar; of men threatened by the very idea that women can and do play "their" sport, as though that makes rugby less grueling and cheapens the challenge; of the playground insecurity that if a "girl" beats you at something, you are worthless. Weak. Not a man.

Money is part of it. But the sad fact of it is, unless we can get beyond this phobic prejudice against women, that has been passed down along with the infamous cohogs (quahogs) song -- and that has driven many men who believe in equality away from the rugby team -- we can never talk about the concept of equity or the spirit of Title IX, and we will get nowhere.

The College has hardly helped matters: in November 1990, the director of athletics claimed in a letter to the captain of DWRC to need "a little more time to deal with (the funding issue) ... I expect to have the matter resolved by December." It has been three and a half years.

Really, the men's rugby team -- and the College, for that matter -- seems to be confused. You see, Title IX was mandated by the federal government in 1972, not by DWRC in 1993. Somebody up there seems to think that women have a right to play team sports and that we deserve the same opportunities the men have been handed for years. Someone has recognized the fact that women have not been given the same options, the same earning potential, and the same alumni base the men had in place when they matriculated. I guess if they want to protest it, they will have to take it to the Supreme Court. Somehow I doubt that the justices will be impressed. But it is not DWRC's responsibility to enforce the law.

The men have more alumni -- and the accompanying fundraising opportunities. But not through any action of their own. DWRC has only existed for 15 years, and has not been able to support even a coach, let alone international tours.

For there ever to be equity, it has to start here, in our colleges and universities, in providing equal opportunities for men and women entering college. And if the money is to come from male alums, the College has to referee the game it set up. Simple as that.

The equitable division of funds should not rest upon the assumption that the men deserve their alumni or funding any more than it should upon an assumption that women deserve to scrape by. But it also should not, it seems, rely upon a team that threatens its rookies if they speak to female ruggers, that harrasses women for playing this sport, and that has refused to evaluate its budget in the framework proposed by the athletic department to negotiate a "fair" division.

The hatred is growing, and the two teams, through trying to work this out, have only learned to expect unpleasantry from one another. Both teams know that it is tough to try and run a club team without money. Both know that playing rugby is worth it. And both, I think, would like to see a clubhouse built -- but there is one condition. We have to work together.

Let's get a real ref in here and play ball. After all, one of the greatest things about playing rugby is partying with our rivals when it's over. Except that this maul -- the struggle for the ball -- left the field long ago. And the ref just hasn't been watching the game. Until the College starts, this game isn't going to end any time soon.

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