Utah rugby team will resume play, but on two-year probation
The University of Utah on Monday agreed to reinstate the men's rugby club after January, but the club will remain on two year's probation for violating player behavior standards and for using the university's athletic logo without permission.
The reinstatement came as 12 members of the team also on Monday released a letter of apology that explained its violations and reassessed the club's leadership.
"Members of the team have taken responsibility for their mistakes and now must be held accountable," Barbara Snyder, vice president for student affairs, said in a written statement. "The rugby program has a rich history with a passionate following and I'm confident it will emerge stronger after this unfortunate chapter."
Utah's rugby team is a club sport managed through Campus Recreation Services, not University Athletics.
The club originally was put on probation in June 2011 for failing to follow policies and pay money owed to the university. Then, according to the team's letter, in May 2012, during a return trip from an Elite 8 match at St. Mary's in Moraga, Calif., students bought and drank alcohol. On the same trip, a player assaulted a trainer.
Following those infractions, the rugby club was put on suspension for one year and was banned from competing in Utah's name. However, the team, under another name, continued to wear uniforms featuring the university drum-and-feather logo.
In April, the U. of U. then expanded the suspension through 2014.
Team member Dan Christensen on Monday acknowledged that writing the letter was part of the club's reinstatement. There was another reason, too.
"We wanted to let the public know what was going on," he said. "It was a good time to clear that up. At the same time, we wanted to take responsibility for our actions."
Christensen said that so far, none of the players, many of whom are from outside Utah and came to school to play rugby, have left the program.
U. of U. administrators are meeting with team members to outline to outline a memorandum of understanding that "clearly defines expectations that must be followed in order for the program to continue," according to the statement. "Once the suspension is revoked this January, the team will then be on probationary status for two years."
The team's letter blamed the team's problems on a lack of communication and mistakes made by "a few zealous alumni, players and coaches."
"The Â team publicly and formally apologizes to the University of Utah," the letter reads. "Working together with university administration, the University of Utah Men's Rugby Club will be restructured to operate according to university expectations ... We look forward to continue working with the university administration to bring the club back into full compliance."
The rugby club is also looking for a new coach following the resignation of Blake Burdette. According to club sport guidelines, any coach is under the supervision of the team. Coaches are elected by the team and can be fired. No coaches have yet been approached.
Christensen said the team hopes to schedule its first opponent in January.
"Hopefully, we can travel to Mesquite and play a team from California," he said.