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Women’s rugby to become a varsity sport in 2022–2023

Courtesy of Princeton University Rugby Football Club.
Courtesy of Princeton University Rugby Football Club.

The women’s rugby team will be promoted to the varsity level in the 2022–23 academic year, according to a recent Athletics Department email and public announcement. The new varsity status would allow the team greater access to facilities, fields, coaching, and equipment — as well as support travel costs and other expenses — needed to compete at a higher intercollegiate level.

The women’s rugby team was established as a club sport at Princeton in 1979 and competes under the national governing body USA Rugby. The team won national championship titles in 1995 and 1996, which initiated funding of the Princeton University Rugby Endowment. The Tigers also advanced to the Final Four in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005; placed third in the USA Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championships in 2011, 2012, and 2018; and won the Ivy League Championships in 2013.

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Upon elevation to varsity status, the team will compete as one of 27 members of the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA), which includes other Division I institutions such as Brown University, Dartmouth College, and Harvard.

“This is an exciting day for Princeton women’s rugby and Princeton Athletics,” Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 said. “The women’s rugby team has been a transformative experience for generations of Princetonians, providing valuable educational opportunities and offering a strong, vibrant, empowering and diverse community. A tremendous amount of effort has gone into this process, and I am thankful for the passionate work of the club’s student officers and members of the Princeton University Rugby Endowment board. We look forward to working together on a smooth transition from club to varsity status.”

In a letter sent to the executive director of the Ivy League Council of Presidents in June, a “consortium of advocates for women and girls in sports” concluded that all eight Ivy League institutions failed to provide equal benefits and opportunities to female athletes, as required by Title IX. Signees of the letter include Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of Champion Women, and Amy Poyer, Senior Staff Attorney of the California Women’s Law Center. Title IX, passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Richard Nixon in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in athletic benefits and opportunities.

The NCAA identifies women’s rugby as one of five sports on its “Emerging Sports For Women” list, which intends to help schools provide more equal athletics opportunities. The other four sports are women’s acrobatics, equestrian, triathlon, and wrestling.

“We are proudly celebrating the 50th anniversary of women’s athletics at Princeton this year, and I can think of no better way to continue that celebration than by making this announcement which will provide even more opportunities for female student-athletes to enjoy the enormous benefits of varsity athletics participation,” Samaan said in the announcement.

The rugby team will become Princeton’s 19th varsity program for women. The number of club sports offered will therefore drop from 37 to 36 in the 2022–23 academic year.

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No change has been made to the men’s rugby club status.

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