IU rugby team united by hard work, ‘club’ status

As the biggest game of the men’s basketball season tipped off, members of the IU men’s rugby team stood in the aisles of Assembly Hall with their backs facing the court.

The rugby players work for ESG, a company in charge of security for the games. They stand out in freezing temperatures, patting IU basketball fans down one by one until game time, when they head in for the aisles.

“We just do the best we can, with the resources we have,” said Dan Devlin, the club president and senior of the team.

Despite currently being ranked as a top 20 team in the nation, the men’s rugby team remains classified as a club at Indiana University. This means the team raises their own money, provides their own transportation, lifts weights in their own time, and doesn’t always get to practice at the most convenient time.

However, this is by no means an excuse the rugby players use.

Michael Johnson, a sophomore, said he knew coming in his freshman year that he wanted to play rugby, and knew the work the team put in to be at the top.

“I know we don’t get a lot of luxuries, such as the other top teams, but that’s what makes us proud,” Johnson said.

Many of the players feel that to be a part of this rugby team, you have to be determined. From raising their semester dues of $300 on their own and practicing late, on top of being a student, it can become overwhelming.

Practices through the offseason and during the season become an important part for the team to maintain their place among the nation’s best. During the offseason, the team practices Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 10 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. in the Mellencamp Pavilion.

The late starts can be a pain, but university director for the club, Tomas Alsenas, said it gives the team a realization of what to expect for incoming players.

“The guys that want to play will play, and the ones that don’t will stop showing up,” Alsenas said.

Whether the team lifts weights in their own time or together, it is advised that they stay in the best shape possible, but this is also where being a club team can become tricky.

In a situation when a group of rugby teammates decided to lift at the SRSC together, they were told by employees it could not happen due to the fact of it being considered a team event in a school facility building.

“We do it on our own initiative, and we do our best to stay competitive even with the disadvantages,” Devlin said.

Commitment remains a huge priority for the team, but their work and effort they put in for it also can become their biggest reward.

Throughout the year the team holds many fundraising drives with the support from alumni, with one of the biggest names being Mark Cuban, IU alumnus and current owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

“He’s great, and a huge factor in building our endowment,” Devlin said of Cuban.

The alumni help with funding and organizing, which is where a majority of their support comes from, however, the players are required to still do a lot on their own.

Before each home game the players are required to set up the field on Saturday mornings before the game starts and must have time remaining for warmups.

Not only do they set up the field before games, they also arrive to Bloomington early in August in order to move furniture for a company called Bedloft, which is another way to pay their dues, similar to why they work for ESG.

Away games, however, are a different story. The money they earn for their semester dues goes into a transportation fund. This fund consists of expenses for a bus if the trip is longer than four hours, or gas money for players who carpool and drive their own cars.

Matthew Davey, a sophomore and also the social media director, said that while the toughest part is being classified as a club, it’s also the biggest reward.

“It takes work ethic and I think it makes our team chemistry a lot better,” Davey said.

IU rugby may be one of the best teams in the country, but they don’t receive a lot of recognition socially. And according to a consensus from many of the players, it’s because rugby is seen as a foreign sport.

As it’s more popular in European countries, rugby has never been too popular in the United States, but many of the IU players believe it is growing rapidly.

“Nobody follows it too closely, but I think we’re starting to see it transition into a popularized sport,” sophomore David Cheung said.

Whether the team is given enough credit or not, one thing for sure is that they do not let it get to them.

The term “club” doesn’t affect how they play, it doesn’t make them feel sorry for themselves, and they continue to be one of the top teams in the country, reaching as high as No. 5 two seasons ago.

Devlin said with all the challenges they face, it’s still rewarding to know they can compete at this high a level with other super club and varsity level teams.

“I think it speaks to the commitment that we have, and kind of that chip on our shoulder,” Devlin said.

And while the IU men’s rugby team remains a club for now, many of the players agree that it will eventually gain a higher status of super club or varsity.

“It will definitely happen, eventually,” Alsenas said.

As of right now, the rugby team at IU is considered a club, but all that does is make them work more.

They will continue on their own, supporting one another and attending IU basketball games, but not as a fan in the student section. Just as an athlete that loves the sport of rugby, working security to pay off their dues, even if that means having your back to the court.