Top USA club out in the cold
31/Jul/02 Brian Lowe
Life University, one of the top rugby teams in the United States, is
on shaky ground following the sudden dumping of the entire athletics
program at the institution where it was founded.
The Running Eagles club will more than likely drop to Division One as
a result of the Atlanta-based College suffering a serious fall in
Life University is among the leading chiropractic schools in the
country and the loss of revenue has been attributed to the University
having its accreditation withdrawn by the Chiropractic Council of
Education. The withdrawal of the accreditation caused a substantial
drop in enrollments, which in turn led to a reported $1.8 million
That shortfall was the driving force behind the decision to slash the
University's entire athletics program, including track, basketball,
soccer and ice hockey. Rugby, however, will probably remain the only
organized sport to be played at the school, albeit at the lower
The sequence of events began just weeks after the University's
founder Sid Williams was unceremoniously let go. The College's
interim president Michael Schmidt subsequently decided on the cuts
and told all the coaches and their staff that they'd need to find
One of those coaches, Mel Smith, who completed his eleventh season
with the rugby team this year was stunned, "I'm very sad and
disappointed. It has caused me some sleepless nights, but I'm trying
to be philosophical. I've got my family and I have to get on with it.
"We were told we had to look for new jobs and it all boiled down to
the accreditation being taken away. Without accreditation students
who would've enrolled haven't and others have left, so it's a domino
effect with the revenue dropping."
Smith said that he tried to convince Schmidt to keep the rugby
program intact so as to enable the rugby-playing students to finish
what they'd started, "Scholarships will still be available, but my
position won't be necessary any longer. The school has a different
emphasis now with academics coming first.
"The best thing about rugby continuing is that it has been synonymous
with Life University for the past 20 years, but I'm going to miss
everyone that I've been associated with, it's an empty feeling.
"It's been an incredible experience and I've been fortunate to have
seen both the highs and lows. I'm very grateful for the opportunity
that was given to me."
Smith added that as a result of the decision to cut the athletics
program, the rugby club would almost certainly be forced to drop out
of the US Super League because of the financial commitment involved.
The Running Eagles won the Super League championship in 2000 and made
it to the playoffs in the two subsequent seasons.
As for his own future, Smith isn't sure, although he hopes to be able
to continue his involvement with the game that has been so much a
part of his life for so long.