September 30, 2015
Dear Penn State Rugby Alumni & Supporters,
I hope you are as excited as I am about the recent news that Blake Burdette and Kate Daley have been appointed as the first ever full-time head coaches of the Men's and Women's programs, respectively. Kate began her tenure as the permanent head coach 2 weeks ago, and Blake started this past week after completing his move from Utah.
The last several years have been the most challenging in the program's history with the suspension of the Men's team and the loss of the Director of Rugby. For the last 2 years, PSU Rugby's future has been in doubt. But with the support of the University's new administration, PSU Rugby is now positioned to move forward into a bright future. This recovery would not be possible without the financial support of the Alumni.
This season is an inflection point for both the Men's and Women's programs. Over the last 20 plus years, the Women have enjoyed unparalleled success under the leadership of Pete Steinberg, who built the program's success on the foundation laid by Charlie Smith. Pete was honored at this past Alumni weekend for his almost 20 years of service to Penn State Rugby as he officially retired from the position of head coach. Last year, Kate served as the interim head coach and, with the best assistant coaching staff in the country, led the team to its most successful year ever.
Moving forward, the Women will face a more competitive environment as more teams go varsity and offer scholarships. Ivy League schools like Harvard, Dartmouth and Brown have joined other lesser known schools like Quinnipiac, Lindenwood and Life University to grow the number of programs that are offering scholarships. The competitive environment will only continue to grow for the Women, which is one of the reasons the University recognized their need for a full-time coach.
The Men have seen a change in their competition as well. In the past, Cal presented the gold standard. However, an increasing number of schools are joining Cal in the elite echelon due to increased support from their school administrations and Alumni. Army, Life, Central Washington, Lindenwood, Davenport, and Wheeling Jesuit have all added rugby to their varsity sports, and other programs like BYU, Arkansas State, and St. Mary's now receive varsity-level support. The PSU Men's team has continued to grow, but has not been able to keep pace with these other programs. The turmoil of the last 2 years has compounded the problems the Men face in trying to compete. However, despite these challenges, the Penn State Men's Team has managed to bring a strong core of dedicated players to campus, which has enabled them to remain competitive.
Many Alumni have questions about the program regarding where it currently sits and how it is run. When rugby became a "team sport" in 2007 it gained significant support from the University including preferred facility access and most significantly varsity athlete health insurance. This means that the rugby players get treatment through Penn State Sports Medicine and Penn State covers anything that the players insurance does not. Included in this support is daily training hours with the rugby ATC and a rugby specific doctor.
While rugby formally remained a club sport, rugby no longer reports to the club sports director, reporting directly to Athletics Department. The University hired a manager to oversee both rugby and ice hockey and as well as a Director and Associate Director of Rugby. These positions combined both administrative and coaching roles, which turned out to be problematic as the increased support from the University came with increased obligations. Players could no longer show up to a practice and join the team, but instead had to first undergo a physical. The team also had to track players at practice and conditioning and comply with many other requirements that are standard in varsity athletics.
In the last couple of years, the Athletic Department added a Rugby Strength and Conditioning coach which enhanced the access the players had to the weight room. Ice hockey became varsity and rugby became the only "team sport." Last Summer when Club Sports moved from Athletics to Student Affairs, it was not clear if rugby would also be removed from the Athletics Department. Thankfully, with the support of the Athletic Department, rugby stayed in Athletics and now the Director of Rugby reports directly to an Associate Athletic Director.
The hiring of the 2 head coaches, along with myself as the Director of Rugby, is the organizational structure that the Alumni Board has been working towards for the last several years. The additional University positions would be possible only with the financial support of the Alumni and the 3-year commitment the Alumni Board has made to fund the positions.
I hope that you are as excited as I am about the future of Penn State Rugby, and I ask that you support the teams by your presence at games, Alumni events, and by making a donation to this year's campaigns.
With Blake finally coming on board I will be able to step away from the coaching role I have fulfilled over the last several years and focus on building the best Men's and Women's programs in the country. I hope you will join me on that journey.
Always willing to answer questions or concerns.
Director of Rugby - Penn State University