November 26, 2013

COLLEGE: Colby decision to stop funding rugby teams causes stir

Many involved react to decision on club teams

By Matt DiFilippo mdifilippo@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

When Stephanie Ruys de Perez got the word from Marcella Zalot, Colby College’s Harold Alfond Director of Athletics, Ruys de Perez knew the decision wouldn’t affect whether or not she would be able to play rugby at Colby. Still, Ruys de Perez remembers only parts of the conversation — Zalot saying she wasn’t going to sugar-coat it, that the school would not be covering the increasing expenses needed to field two rugby club teams.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Ruys de Perez said. “When they dropped the news on us, it was devastating. There were 40 to 50 people in the room, and there was tears on everyone’s faces, from senior boys to freshman girls.”

Colby recently informed the rugby teams, which are at a club level at the college, that the school would no longer fund the programs. The school estimates that it would cost approximately $121,000 per year to run the programs, and that an endowment to fund the programs would need to be in the area of $2.5 million.

According to the Colby Rugby Alumni Association website, “Colby has agreed to fund the program temporarily as long as we reach certain fundraising benchmarks that have yet to be determined.” Michael Kiser, Colby’s Vice President for Communications, said that is not the case. Asked if Colby will no longer have rugby after this spring, Kiser said, “The way the situation currently stands, yes. We’ve made our decision.”

The reaction has been ugly, with students, alumni, and other supporters of Colby rugby accusing the college of everything from falsifying the sport’s projected expenses, to a lack of transparency, to having a hidden agenda to eliminate the programs. A “Save Colby Rugby” page was created on Facebook on Sunday, and reached 1,000 “likes” by Tuesday afternoon.

“In all honesty,” said Scott Sivo, a Colby alum and former rugby player at the school, “it seems like as long as this stays between the pages of The Colby Echo and on their Facebook page, they’re very comfortable. They can stonewall, and they can make blanket statements.”

In a post Nov. 20 on Colby’s Facebook page, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Lori Kletzer shared a letter that she recommended to Colby President William “Bro” Adams that the school stop funding the rugby teams after the 2014 spring season.

Kletzer added, “I know rugby is, and has long been, a valued aspect of Colby life for involved students, and I acknowledge the responsibility many students have displayed in providing oversight for the program. But the bottom line is that the requirements mandated by the inherent health and safety risks of the sport mean the College cannot responsibly offer rugby without significant additional expenditures.”

The reaction on the post was so passionate and critical that, in a post on Nov. 22, Kletzer explained that the average budget for the other club sports at Colby was less than $2,500. Kletzer was traveling and unavailable for comment on Tuesday, but Kiser said it was largely a financial decision.

“It’s really about establishing a level of support appropriate for a collision sport,” Kiser said. “We make these kind of $100,000 decisions all the time. It’s very unfortuante, but this is the reality of an institution like ours.”

Relationships between the rugby programs and Colby’s administration have been strained, at least since both Colby teams had to forfeit their opening games against Bowdoin this season. According to Ruys de Perez, it was a combination of the coach resigning shortly before the season started, the school requiring a trainer at each practice and then not providing one, and the school not allowing the teams to play because they had not had enough full-contact practices. On the website for the Colby women’s rugby team, for the Sept. 14 game against Bowdoin, it reads, “Forfeit - Colby’s Administration Issues.”

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