GoffonRugby is an opinion column written by Alex Goff. Follow Alex on Twitter @goffonrugby.
I have said little about the University of Delaware fiasco and that was because I wanted to get as much comment and information from the various parties as I could.
As it turned out, few are talking, certainly not on the record.
But I have come to a few conclusions on what happened and why, and it’s time to talk about them.
First some background.
A party was held on September 9, 2013, at a residence house at the University of Delaware. News circulated that the crew from I’m Shmacked, a horrendous and immature business that makes money by posting videos on YouTube of drunken college parties, was going to be there. As a result, young people, even young people at the mature and staid University of Delaware, flocked to the party to get drunk, act stupidly, and get on a YouTube video.
One report from a student newspaper labeled the house where the party was held as the Rugby House. This was not reported elsewhere, and vehemently denied by the rugby team. Two Delaware players, a freshman and an upperclassman, were expelled from the school, and the rugby program suspended for five years. They, apparently, were living at the house. One wonders what other activities can get, in early September, two freshmen to suddenly act as their representatives.
Here's some video taken by someone riding in a car through this party.
Second, my attempt to get the university to comment. I and assistant editor Pat Clifton tried repeatedly to get comment from the University of Delaware administration to answer follow-up questions on the issue. We were repeatedly rebuffed, as the school cited FERPA regulations regarding the privacy of students.
(They referred us to their statement, which can be seen here, and is an excellent example of their sloppiness in proving their case.)
This was a sad and lame dodge, seeing as almost all the questions we asked had nothing to do with student privacy, and everything to do with how the school looked at evidence and made its decisions.
Here are the questions they refused to answer:
Who were the student, faculty and staff representatives on the appeals board that upheld the suspension of the men’s rugby team?
Who chaired the panel?
How did the university come to the conclusion that the house at 402 block of South College Avenue is ‘the Rugby House’?
What is the corroborating information that prompted the university to change what had been an informal reference in a student newspaper into an official designation (from “known as the rugby house” to “the Rugby House” with capitals)?
How many rugby club members credited the party to the rugby team on social media?
Did those members have an official position on the rugby club as pertains to the club’s relationship with the university?
What social media platform was used?
Which members credited the party to the rugby team?
How many tweets or posts by members of the team accounts for sufficient evidence?
Why are the social media posts not mitigated by the president of the club not being at the party or even being aware of it beforehand and saying this wasn’t a club event?
Do you contend that club president, Ian Combs, is lying?
What percentage of the students attending this party were rugby players?
The UD statement says that other student organizations and sports clubs should take notice of this punishment. Does this mean you are using the Rugby Club as an example?
The UD statement pointedly does not include varsity sports in its admonitions – are the varsity sports teams operating under a separate code of conduct?
Would a varsity sport receive a similar punishment for the same event?
Are you concerned that you will lose students who will transfer out because of there being no rugby club for six years?
Are you concerned that students from Xavier HS, Fordham Prep, and Gonzaga will not wish to apply or enroll because you have no rugby team?
None of these were answered; we had more questions and hoped to have a meaningful discussion with the Delaware administration, but they want this all to go away. My reply to their claim of FERPA protection, where I showed that most of these questions had no connection to an individual’s privacy, was completely ignored and received not even a "no comment."
So I am forced to make some conclusions, and here’s what I think:
The state of journalism in this country is embarrassing. Journalists don’t do any work anymore, and most either parrot press releases or trawl through social media looking for something to talk about. How else do we explain that the story of a man toppling over a rock makes national news? Had journalists actually been doing their jobs, this would not have been news.
The Delaware party story was a nothing story. Nothing happened. No one got hurt. A few guys walked on a couple of cars. But because there was nothing going on that night in Newark, Del., every police officer from the area showed up at a party that was, if you look at the video, annoying, probably noisy, but harmless. Calling it a near riot was over the top (and it's now just being referred to as a disorderly incident). Making it national news was just plain silly.
The fact that the party became national news and was on the morning TV shows was the problem. Prominent alumni, I am sure, called various people at Delaware and likely said something akin to, “What kind of a den of debauchery are you running down there?”
The University of Delaware takes its image very, very seriously, and they needed to show that they aren’t a wild party school full of misguided partiers who think getting hammered on a YouTube video is a desirable outcome, and they found a target. The rugby team. Two members of the team had started the party and got talked into bring I’m Shmacked (it makes me retch just typing that) on campus? Let’s get them, and let’s get the rugby team.
Never mind that the Delaware rugby team has probably done as much as any other sports team to bring game and good feelings to the school. Never mind that they have become a national power despite the fact that all their good players are about 5-6. Never mind that the university did nothing to help this club reach its dream. Never mind that the Delaware rugby team was on NBC playing exciting, thrilling rugby to honor their school.
Never mind that the majority of the rugby team, including its leadership, were elsewhere on the night, and there was no evidence – none – saying this was an official rugby team activity.
The University of Delaware motto is “Scientia sol mentis est,” which means “Knowledge is the light of the mind.”
The university, in this case, called a small amount of hearsay knowledge, and darkened their minds to any other information. The current news and police reports of the incident on September 9 are now calling it a “disorderly crowd incident.” A far cry from “near riot” and certainly not enough to ban a successful club for five years.
The University of Delaware wants you to believe that it’s a fine, upstanding institution that takes care of its kids and isn’t out of control. They want everyone to think that it’s just someone else, some bad apple, that sullied their unimpeachable reputation.
(See here for a rebuttal - if you don't have much time, just search for "binge drinking" on the page.)
But they won’t stand by their decision-making. They won’t defend how they came to the conclusion that it was all the rugby team’s fault, because their evidence and their investigation are weak.
So a few thoughts to wrap this up:
I supported the University of Maryland’s sanction of the rugby team there. In the pages of RUGBY Magazine I castigated the actions of the University of Utah rugby team when they got themselves into more trouble than they should have. I am not blindly defending rugby over all. This time, though, it’s not the rugby team’s fault.
If you are a rugby-playing alumnus of the University of Delaware, get some emails going, start slinging some influence. If you have pledged money, take it back. Make UD pay.
If you are an administrator at a university, you have to remember that you work for the students and their parents. You have a responsibility to ensure that the activities you brag about (oh we have 63 clubs on campus!) are treated with respect, and safety. A rugby team needs some things that you, as a university should provide. Chief among these are safe travel resources, a safe place to train and play, and university-provided medical personnel. Remember, your varsity sports started as clubs many, many years ago.
Your rugby team is trying to represent your school. Most of the kids on your rugby team are paying full-freight to attend your school. They get no special passes to miss class or avoid disciplinary action – what we see far too often in varsity sports. Instead, these kids go to school, work hard, and just want to play rugby in your school colors. Once in a while, some of them might behave like regular students do … it’s not rugby, it’s the fact they are kids.
Collegiate rugby teams around the country must know that you are not immune. You must work harder than anyone else to ensure your behavior is above reproach. And more than that, cover your butts, preferably in writing.
And if you are a member of the University of Delaware administration or the various committees that vilified the rugby team for something out of their control, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You just taught everyone on campus - don't look inward to deal with a problem, find someone to blame, and fast.
And if you run a club on the University of Delaware campus, watch your back. There will be another “disorderly incident” coming soon. And when it comes, the school will be looking for scapegoats, and they won’t be looking in the mirror.