Why is there no CIS men's rugby?

Honestly, I can't work it out. It's a sport played at universities across the country. Admittedly, not as widely as hockey or basketball, which have 19 and 16 teams in the OUA alone, compared to men's rugby's nine, but the lack of attention paid has certainly led to the quality of the league dropping.

For example, every year the men's rugby OUA final is played on the same day as football's Yates Cup, which this year forced students at Queen's and Western to choose to watch the highly-advertised and highly-funded football final, or the rugby final which is played at a neutral site in Markham.

Even with the fans split, though, you'd think at least the OUA would provide some presence at the rugby final? Not so. I, the Queen's Journal's sports editor, wrote the OUA game recap for the rugby final, and our photography editor Tyler Ball provided the photos. Then we wonder why Wilfrid Laurier's coach left the program and the Windsor Lancers and Trent Excalibur left the league altogether.

I can't speak to the way rugby is treated in Canada West, Quebec or the AUS, but based on the treatment of men's rugby by the OUA and CIS, I can't imagine it's too different.

This ill-treatment does nothing but harm the sport and its players. While women's rugby players and teams can be honoured with national rankings and All-Canadian designations, men's rugby players can only be judged by the talent in their province. Their provincial title is the highest honour they can win, being named a provincial All-Star is the best team they can be named to. And even then, at least in the OUA, being named an All-Star isn't such a great honour, it effectively means your coach thinks you're a fantastic rugby player. That's because OUA All-Star designations aren't doled out judiciously by a collective of the league's coaches - they are given out based on the league's standings at the end of the year! The first place team gets six All-Stars, second and third place teams get five each, fourth and fifth place teams get four each, sixth and seventh place teams get three each, and eighth and ninth place teams get two each, for a total of 34 All-Stars, all of whom are nominated by their own coaches, which are listed without any care for position. Surely, this makes being listed an OUA All-Star in men's rugby less of an achievement than having the same designation from basketball or soccer.

It's not a gender-balancing issue either. One Queen's Athletics employee I asked said it was because the CIS didn't want more men's sports than women's and football tips the balance. This is not the case, though. There are 11 CIS women's sports, and 10 CIS men's sports.

So I leave it an open question - why is men's rugby not a CIS sport? It could only be good for the sport. Maybe fewer coaches would leave, maybe fewer programs would collapse, maybe more student-athletes would have the opportunity to compete at the elite level and be recognized on the national and international stage. But maybe I'm an idealist. Who knows.
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  1. If rugby were to be added to the CIS roster, the most logical move would be Sevens. The tournament nature of the sport, and limited roster size, would alleviate travel costs and make for a great regionalized format.

    Here at UVic, rugby is huge. We actually hosted Canadian championships in 1997 and '98 and there was some momentum to resurrect the championship this year.

  2. Sevens is too often the cop out solution by organizers in various athletic organizations. Very few rugby players play sevens while moving through the development model. The ratio of sevens competitions compared to the number of 15-man events is miniscule.

    If the full version is good enough for women then it's good enough for men. I used to buy the gender equity argument, too but it's time to recognize a sport that has strong roots in our nation and continues to grow at a rapid pace at the high school level.

  3. Your Queen's source is correct in terms of gender balance for total number of participants (football roster compared to field hockey & women's rugby roster), not total number of sports.

    But I agree, men's rugby should be a CIS sport and the OUA needs to treat it better come championships weekend. They need to have some presence.

  4. Football does tip the balance - resources, coaches, facilities, roster size...
    And marketability comes into it as well. I spoke to a source at Western and one at McMaster about this last year and can tell you men's rugby would only come in as a fully fledged CIS sport IF another women's sport comes in. And tell the athletic departments to do more, without resources that will not be an easy sell...

  5. It's all because the CIS is concerned about perceived equality. Until the CIS realizes that Football and Hockey are "Marquee" sports, and start to treat them accordingly.then all the CIS sports will suffer in the mean time.

  6. The first invitational 7's tourney just finished with UVIC defeating WESTERN 34-17 at UBC to win the first National CIS 7's title (2011). 7's is becoming a bigger deal than it used to be, and I believe it is a good place to start as evidenced by the tourney and its organizational success