Rugby is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport at BYU, but that hasn’t stopped Cougar fans from adopting BYU’s club as one of their own.
BYU rugby plays its home games on South Field at BYU. South Field has been known over the past several years as the venue for the BYU’s women’s soccer team, which leads the nation in college women’s soccer attendance.
In the fall months, South Field is packed full of soccer fanatics, watching one of the best women’s soccer programs in the nation. Come spring, the venue turns to rugby, and fans from all over Utah come to watch the highly successful BYU squad.
According to Rugbymag.com, the Internet authority on rugby teams throughout the country, the Cougars are ranked third among club teams this year.
BYU rugby has won the national championship each of the last two seasons and is looking to defend its title this year. Its loyal fans were on full display earlier this month, when the Cougars beat the Utes in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
Rugby sports information director Justin Green said the growing popularity of rugby among students at BYU has been noticeable.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in attendance among students in the last few years,” Green said. “Not only has the success of the team contributed to a higher level of excitement, but the energy and passion of the fans at South Field has made the watching experience even more enjoyable.”
Because rugby is not an official NCAA-sanctioned sport, the program faces challenges other sports at BYU do not. For example, rugby does not benefit from allowing students to use their ROC pass. Instead, rugby has to charge fans individually for admission in order to help fund the team.
The cost of admission has not deterred fans, however, as rugby draws thousands of fans for each home match.
“At the Utah game we had about 4,500 fans,” Green said. “This season’s average has been over a thousand, and the team has played well. The fans showing up to games definitely energizes the players.”
For many students in Provo, the rules of rugby are fairly foreign. But for fans attending matches at South Field, the team has provided a way to entertain and inform all spectators through an in-house play-by-play announcer named Jared Akenhead.
Akenhead stands at midfield, just out of bounds, and calls the game like a TV broadcaster would, except he pays special attention to explaining the basic rules and strategies so new fans can understand and appreciate the game.
For fans in attendance, the announcer is making a positive impact.
“The match against Utah was my first-ever rugby experience, and it was awesome,” said Jeff Mickelsen, a BYU sophomore majoring in accounting. “One of my buddies suggested that we go, and so I did. I didn’t know any of the rules beforehand, and if it wasn’t for the play-by-play guy, I would have had no idea what was happening. He made it really fun for us.”
So far this year, BYU rugby is 15-1, coming off a victory over Arizona State University April 12.
The club will look to defend its titles, starting the Varsity Cup playoffs on April 19. The location and opponent have yet to be decided.