University ‘shmacks’ rugby team with five-year suspension, team appeals
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 22:09
Sophomore rugby team member Thomas Abram has been playing rugby since freshman year of high school and said the university’s club program is a crucial aspect of what attracted him to enroll in the first place. Now, Abram will be unable to play rugby for the remainder of his college career after the Office of Student Conduct decided last week to suspend the entire program––which more than 80 students are a part of––for five years.
The suspension comes after the Sept. 9 “I’m Shmacked” events in which a party occurred at 402 S. College Ave., a house rented by four members of the rugby team. Abram said an individual who is on the rugby team was in contact with I’m Shmacked representatives, who paid the house member to host the party.
“I was shocked myself,” Abram said. “[The incidents] were not caused by the rugby team––it was caused by individuals acting on their own.”
Meredith Chapman, spokesperson for the university, confirmed the suspension in connection to the Sept. 9 party in an email statement. She stated the team is not permitted to gather on campus in both “practice sessions and in competition” until spring semester 2018.
“The University of Delaware has an established protocol in its Office of Student Conduct for dealing with individuals and groups who violate the Code of Conduct and engage in behaviors that are detrimental to themselves or the community,” Chapman stated.
The team is, however, allowed to appeal the university’s decision, Chapman stated.
“I’m Shmacked” and All AxcessU distanced themselves from the events via Twitter on Sept. 10, despite Abram’s claim that the group, which tours universities to film parties, paid the house members to host the party.
“No events at a venue was scheduled, named, or announced,” the All Axcess account tweeted. “@ImShmacked Fall Tour events are all held in accordance with local venues & managed in unison by All Axcess & the determined venue.”
Tickets were sold for $20 the night of Sept. 9 by “I’m Shmacked.”
The party caused shockwaves at the university, spurring an expulsion, several arrests by the Newark Police Department and a joint email sent to students from university President Patrick Harker and Provost Domenico Grasso.
Bjorn Haglid, head coach of the rugby team, said he feels the university’s decision was wrong, and the actions of a few members of the team should not decide the fate of the entire program. Haglid also said the actions were overly punitive against the team.
“I believe it was unduly given, and the facts paint an entirely different story,” Haglid said. “They were too quick to blame the easy stereotype rugby team. Guilty until proven innocent.”
Haglid said he believes the university is targeting the wrong people, especially since the event was organized by a third party, “I’m Shmacked.”
Haglid said recent events have been tied to “I’m Shmacked” campus visits, including a party in the area of the University of Rhode Island that resulted in six people going to the hospital. That incident took place on Sept. 12, days after the riots at the university.
The rugby team received news of the program’s five-year suspension Wednesday, Abram said. Senior Ian Combs, president of the team, wrote and sent a three-page appeal yesterday, which the university is required to respond to by Friday.
Abram also said parents are requesting a meeting with Harker and club sports administration.
Abram, who did not attend the “I’m Shmacked” party, said he estimates 30 of the 80 members were in attendance. He said it was not an official rugby social gathering but rather “individuals on the team acting independently of the team.”
By suspending the entire program for five years, the university’s decision will leave a massive impact on the Division I team, which ranks among the top 25 in the country, Abram said.
“All we can do is appeal and hope for the best,” Abram said. “Five years means everyone on the team is done. A lot of kids will transfer if the suspension is not revoked.”
A five-year suspension is substantially longer than the infamous “death penalty”––a two-year suspension––that stands as the most severe punishment permitted to be issued by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Haglid said a five-year ban will effectively end a program’s relevance entirely, and it would take far longer than five years for rugby at the university to be anything more than an afterthought should the ban stay in place.
“For any sport, a five-year ban means you’re not competitive again for another 12 or 13 years,” Haglid said. “Hopefully people look at the overall picture like we have had to so we can see how this happened and find a way to regulate how social media gets to kids on campus.”