In rugby, we tend to have an inferiority complex, especially when it comes to college rugby. There are numerous teams who aren’t allowed to use their school’s official moniker, logo or grounds for their matches and trainings. Teams struggle for funding, campus awareness and validation.
For these reasons, we as a rugby community long for varsity status. And that’s certainly a worthy goal. Just look at our rankings in DI-A, DI-AA or DII, and you’ll find the few varsity programs we have in America at or near the top.
But, there are some things we do better than varsity programs. There are some areas where our “clubs” get it right and varsity athletic departments get it wrong.
Saturday, Missouri and Kansas will meet in a big Heart of America match on the campus of Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. in a neutral-site rivalry game for first place in the league, and true student-athletes who don’t particularly care for their opponents’ colors, school or state will compete against one another.
In the spirit of full transparency, I have to admit I live in Kansas City and am an ardent Mizzou fan when it comes to traditional varsity sports. But, as I played for a DII school in Missouri, I have called both the Tigers and Jayhawks opponents on the pitch, and I have shaken hands and shared after-match refreshments with both.
We all grow up in a rivalry. I grew up in the Missouri-Kansas rivalry. This one traces all the way back to pre-Civil War carnage, beginning with the Jayhawker militias raiding and pillaging Osceola, Mo. and Quantrill’s Raiders, of Missouri ilk, burning Lawrence, Kan. to the ground.
In athletics, the two schools have been butting heads for over a century. The football rivalry was the most-played west of the Mississippi.
I say was, because after this scholastic year, Missouri and Kansas varsity teams won’t play each other again, or at least in the near future. Missouri is leaving the Big XII for the SEC. Kansas has taken the stance that the Border War belongs in the Big XII, and has publicly stated the Jayhawks won’t be playing the Tigers anytime soon.
It’s a complete shame, that the politics that go along with big-time college sports will rob fans, students and student-athletes of a century-and-a-half-old rivalry.
In rugby, Missouri and Kansas are getting it right. They’ll continue to play as foes in the Heart of America conference, and they’d likely play friendlies if they weren’t in the same league.
And, when Missouri and Kansas take the field Saturday, their rosters will be mostly made up of Missourians and Kansans, those who have known the rivalry all their lives. Perhaps best of all, true student-athletes, playing for nothing but pride, the love of the game and their state, university or team, will decide the rugby Border War, much in the same way they decide countless college rugby games across America every weekend.