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Over the last several years, Iona College in New Rochelle, NY, has become a premier place to play college rugby. The school has gone from a division two college program to a well-respected top division one program in both 7s and 15s. This past June, the Gaels participated in their first ever Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) and managed to reach the final eight in the process.
As the sport has gained popularity across the United States, Iona College has embraced the sport and seen it blossom on campus. The team regularly attracts thousands of people to their home games and homecoming is focused around rugby. Last season the college struck a deal with ESPN to air its games on the network’s streaming platforms ESPN3 and ESPN+.
For a long time Iona was focused on 15s play, but events like the CRC gave Iona an appetite for 7s. Seeing games aired on national television and in elite stadiums, Iona wanted to take advantage of that opportunity for its student athletes. Iona College Trustee and Rugby Hall of Famer Dave McCabe, saw the value in the Olympic version of the sport. After working with Head Coach Bruce McLane, the team decided to bring in experienced 7s coach Paul Enright, and quickly the team became a force in its Liberty Conference and on the national stage.
“We saw the exposure that the Penn Mutual CRC was giving to programs and student athletes and we wanted to give that opportunity to our boys,” McLane said. “We worked very hard at developing our sevens program and we were rewarded with an invitation to the CRC this year.”
The hard work from the rugby program has not gone unnoticed. The college leadership appreciates the success on the field but more importantly the values of respect, integrity and commitment that the games teaches.
“The essence of rugby, the skills, the leadership, and the values are what we like to espouse as a college,” said Iona College President Dr. Joseph Nyre while attending the CRC in June.
At Iona, rugby falls under the auspices of the athletic department. However, the school only offers academic scholarships. The players that come to Iona to play rugby earn their way and in many respects, McCabe credits this for their success on the pitch and their role as college brand ambassadors.
“The quality of the kids we have playing on our team are not only good athletes but well-rounded individuals and I think that fits within our culture here at Iona,” said McCabe.
The college looks to demonstrate these values day in and day out both on the field and in the community. With the exposure of events like the Penn Mutual CRC, Iona College is continuing to grow its rugby program and showcase its values driven culture.
“We are very proud of our team for representing Iona College and we think it is great what Penn Mutual is doing for rugby and the national attention that results from a strong corporation getting behind a great sport,” Nyre concluded.