The season that was never played


File Photo

Junior wing Jasmine Gardner dives for the ball at Rugby practice September 3, 2014.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

All of the fall sports teams have wrapped up their respective seasons but the women’s rugby team did not even have a chance to start their season.

The status of the program is currently “suspended” by Eastern with the chance of being reinstated next year according to athletic director Tom Michael.

“We are going through a complete analysis of all our sport programs,” Michael said. “This is being done as part of the process to determine if we are offering the right number of sports for EIU.”

He added that there are many variables that will be taken into account through the analysis that will hopefully be completed in the spring.

Eastern will bring in an outside consultant to help determine some of the information needed to complete the analysis.

“Some of the areas that we will looking at will include Title IX compliance, conference affiliations, geographical recruiting/scheduling opportunities, overall sustainability and financial implications,” Michael said.

While Eastern says that the program status is being re-evaluated for the possibility of reinstating the program, former players and former player and current Quinnipiac coach Becky Carlson do not see it the same way.

Carlson, who was also a graduate assistant coach, said that there have been issues with the program for a few years now and not just this year.

She said that the rugby athletes have not been treated the same as the other athletes over the years. Carlson played tennis at Eastern and said the treatment was completely different. It was cut in their eyes.

One example of the “unfair treatment” was that the team was receiving .8 of a scholarship, which is only about $500 a player.

If each of the players received the full scholarship for a roster of about 15, it would be around $300,000 for an average.

She said that it does not take that much money to run a rugby program and wondered where the rest of that money went and what it did.

“EIU is notorious for using trier three sports for subsidized football which they are not supposed to do,” Carlson said.

Michael said one of the reasons for “suspending” the program was to keep the players safe.

The number of players on the roster has been declining over the years and last year a couple of matches had to be canceled due to not enough players being healthy. The same thing played into this year.

“In our conversations with (coach Frank Graziano) at the time and as we assessed that with our athletic trainers we determined that for the health and safety of the ladies on the team that it wasn’t prudent for us at that point in time for us to participate in a match because of our limited squad size,” Michael said. “We weren’t going to participate in a match with being under low numbers and put them in that situation.”

The “suspension” or “cutting” of the program also does not allow Eastern to play in the first ever NCAA varsity rugby championship. Eastern played as the first Divison I NCAA team in the nation when Carlson was on the team.

Other players have expressed their unhappiness with the situation of the rugby program including last year senior Ellen Wilson.

Wilson said that 75% of their practice clothes were from the women’s soccer team and the seniors didn’t get recognized until a few months after at a basketball game.

“It felt like the athletic department was trying to placate and hinder the program instead of helping it and become a force to be reckoned with,” Wilson said.

She added that she was uniformed that the “suspension” or “cutting” of the program was going to happen.

She said she has not spoken to the athletic department since their “failed” attempt at honoring their senior moment.

Eastern was one of the top teams at Eastern posting 10-0 undefeated season in 2008, 2009 and 2011. The team only lost one game in 2010.

The reinstating of the program is currently up in the air and being evaluated by the university just like they will evaluate every sport, but for Carlson and Wilson and more former players, this hit them hard and feeling like they were treated unfairly.

“Basically I feel like EIU has no interest in saving the program and have gone about it in the shadiest way possible to bring it to an end,” Wilson said. “It started by satisfying their Title IX violation and it hasn’t grown from that. IF they would have actually nurtured the program who knows what great things would have happened from it. I mean they barely did anything with it and it produced one Olympic athlete who knows what else could have happened. They are pretty much using scapegoat for their money issues thinking cutting rugby will help but it won’t.”

Former Eastern player Lauren Doyle will be competing in the Olympics in Rio for the United States.

For now, there is no Eastern rugby team even after posting some of the best records in school history. Now it is time to see what happens.


Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].