NIRA is the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association, which facilitates NCAA women’s rugby.
Currently, there are 25 programs across all three NCAA Divisions. This number increases regularly and we anticipate the elevation or addition of 3-5 new programs in 2023-24.
An advocacy initiative working with athletic departments and NCAA conferences, across all divisions, to encourage and facilitate the elevation or addition of women’s rugby. The initiative endeavors to achieve sponsorship of at least 40 NCAA collegiate women’s rugby programs so that women’s rugby becomes an NCAA Championship sport..
An emerging sport is a women’s sport recognized by the NCAA that is intended to help schools provide more athletics opportunities for women and more sport-sponsorship options for the institutions, and also help that sport achieve NCAA championship status.
In short, women’s rugby is an NCAA sport like all other NCAA sports, but while it is in emerging status the NCAA does not sponsor its championships.
Currently, NIRA programs pursue Divisional Championship fall 15s. Programs may elect to participate in 7s during the spring. It is permissible for DI and DII programs, legislatively, to participate in an NGB sanctioned 7s Championship.
What is the difference between an NCAA women’s rugby program and non-NCAA college rugby programs club?
While the differences vary, the most significant difference is the that NIRA programs are administered by their athletics department and follow all, NCAA policies and bylaws; including but not limited to mechanisms and timing of recruiting, practice parameters, minimum and maximum number of contests, player eligibility, etc.
D1 Elite is a competition of four teams governed by USA Rugby and CRAA, an organization governing non-NCAA rugby for men and women. One D1 Elite team is listed as a sponsored NCAA sport for women at their institution,, but they are not currently members of NIRA.
Some college rugby teams aer administered within their Athletics Departments or under a special category at their institution giving them institutional dispensation to use the term varsity. However, this does not mean they are sponsored NCAA varsity programs by definition. Furthermore, NIRA programs are exclusively NCAA programs..
“The NCAA’s three divisions were created in 1973 to align like-minded campuses in the areas of philosophy, competition and opportunity.”
To learn more about the different divisions, please visit:
I see a lot of schools promoting “scholarships”. What does that mean? What type of scholarships can I earn for rugby?
There are a limited number of Division I and Division II women’s college rugby programs under NIRA that can offer athletics-based scholarships. However, most programs are able to offer academic or merit based aid through financial aid or admissions.
To learn more about athletic scholarships please visit: https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2014/10/6/scholarships.aspx
The only accredited institutions in the US offering full athletics-based scholarships for female-identifying rugby participants are a few NIRA Division I teams.
Most, if not all, NIRA programs have a recruiting form through which you can contact a coach or coaches. Additionally, their athletics website should have their direct contact information. For easy access to these pages, visit nirawrugby.org and click on the specific program under the “team” tab.
Coaches are guided by NCAA policies when it comes to communicating with prospective student-athletes. However, this guidance varies slightly amongst the divisions. You should dictate to the coach though which means to contact you and set boundaries as you see fit. If you feel the communication from a coach is overwhelming, inappropriate or uncomfortable, you should let your club or high school coach know and/or the college coach’s athletic director. For more information on contact and recruiting policies, you can peruse the division manuals and search for the relevant information: https://www.ncaapublications.com/s-13-Manuals.aspx
Again, this may vary from coach to coach or team to team, but there are policies each coach must adhere to. These policies govern interaction at PSA practices, matches and events, as well PSA visits to college campuses and the type of communication coaches and college administrators can have with a PSA. In some cases, a college coach may connect with a PSA’s high school or club coach. In others, college coaches may attend matches and events and make contact with PSAs within the parameters set forth by the NCAA. And in others, you may receive an email or phone call from a prospective coach.
Yes. If you are interested in attending an institution with a NIRA program, reach out to the coach. All NIRA programs have a prospective student athlete questionnaire on their athletics department website. That is the most efficient way to initiate contact.
This varies by program. You should inquire with the prospective coach as they may offer walk-on tryouts or preseason invitations.
Here again there are variations amongst the divisions but, briefly, an official visit is one in which a portion of a prospective student athlete’s costs of visiting may be covered by the sponsoring program. For more information, visit and review the respective Divisional manuals: https://www.ncaapublications.com/s-13-Manuals.aspx
For more information about steps to becoming an NCAA Student-Athlete, please visit: https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2021/2/8/student-athletes-future.aspx