Section: News

College suspends rugby indefinitely due to concussions

College suspends rugby indefinitely due to concussions

Courtesy of Bill Gardner

The College suspended the men’s and women’s rugby teams indefinitely on Oct. 6 due to concerns about the teams’ high rates of injury and noncompliance with risk management procedures recommended by the College’s insurer.

The teams’ operations will halt while the College embarks on a review process of the program. The six College administrators involved hope to address the number of concussions incurred by rugby players, which they say is disproportionate compared to other high-risk varsity sports.

“This fall, the rugby teams have already experienced nine concussions,” Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 said. “For comparison’s sake, I think it’s important to then put that against the number of concussions for all varsity sports combined to date, which is five.”

The men’s and women’s rugby teams declined to comment after multiple requests and an emailed list of questions to the presidents of each team. “The rugby teams do not want any affiliation with this article,” president of the women’s rugby team Caroline Doherty ’18 wrote in an Oct. 9 email to the Collegian.

The administrators involved also made the decision due to concerns about the College’s liability for these injuries. Over the summer, Kenyon’s insurance company, Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators (EIIA), revised some of its guidelines related to club sports, particularly regarding concussion management. EIIA’s risk management guidelines, which Manager of Business Services Fred Linger shared with the Collegian, deem rugby a “very high risk” club sport and recommend a series of safety precautions. Kenyon rugby teams do not have these measures in place, including licensed instructors/coaches and ensured access to athletic trainers, Bonham said.

“We provide a certified athletic trainer at all our home contests, and that is absolutely crucial to the health and safety of our students,” Director of Athletics Peter Smith said. “We have to assess, is that being reciprocated at the same level at other institutions?”

Linger, who is EIIA’s point of contact at Kenyon, came across the provider’s guidelines and brought them to the attention of the College at the beginning of October.

“The suspension of rugby operations came primarily from looking at student-athlete health and welfare, but in conjunction, we got the risk management information and that was put into the conversation,” Smith said. “It’s not directly a result of that.”

These guidelines are not mandated by EIIA; they are recommendations for best practices. However, it is in the College’s interest to adhere to these guidelines, Linger said. 

“In the case of a catastrophic injury or something that would need litigation, you would find yourself in the situation of explaining why you thought it was best to ignore these guidelines,” Linger said. “Some of them may not work for us, but you want to be able to explain why you didn’t think they would work.”

The decision to suspend the rugby teams was preceded by several conversations with the players in which administrators expressed their concerns about student safety, Bonham said. In a conversation on Sept. 29, Greg Wallace, who oversees club sports at the College, suggested the team hire a coach.

“My understanding is that the students did not seem receptive to those ideas, particularly to the idea that there would be greater oversight by non-students,” Bonham, who was not at the meeting but received notes from the attendees, said.

Next week, Marc Ferguson, the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Women’s Collegiate Rugby Conference, will come to campus and conduct an outside review of the program. He will have conversations with members of both rugby teams and provide recommendations as to how the College might enhance the program’s safety.

“Ferguson has extensive rugby knowledge and is very interested in preserving and promoting the sport in the college ranks,” Smith said.

“We want to have rugby exist in a healthy and safe environment and see if we can achieve that.”

If rugby players continue to practice during their suspension, they will undergo a student conduct review process for failure to comply with a College official, Bonham said.

Bonham and Smith said they are unsure how long the process will take.

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