By Allyn Freeman

In 1921, the nascent NCAA organization scheduled its first college championship in Track and Field. Since then, in more than one-hundred years, it has coordinated women’s and men’s athletic titles for three college divisions and multiple sports. Over time, certain schools have dominated a specific Division I sport, winning frequently. The most victorious academic institution has been national NCAA champion 34-times in one sport. Question: Can you name that college and the Men’s sport? Answer: At end of article.

One university has won 33-national Men’s rugby championships in a sport not operated by the NCAA: the University of California at Berkeley. The four-decade domination includes a 98 and a 70-game win streak. More victories and more Eagles than any other college. How did this school become the most successful rugby program in the USA?


Rugby first appeared at U. California in 1882. The university continued to play almost annually for 141-years, including an isolated span in the first part of the 20th Century when most of the nation played gridiron. It competed against the All Blacks and the Wallabies. The nine-year, 1906 to 1914, “Big Game” rugby rivalry against Stanford seeded many Cal players for the two USA fifteens that won Olympic gold in 1920 at Antwerp and 1924 in Paris. 

Cal’s yearly home and away series with the University of British Columbia, (“The World Cup”) remains the oldest continually played collegiate rugby rivalry in North America with 102 contests total. The annual competition has often determined the unofficial North American college rugby champion. 

Cal offered rugby through the 1920s and into the 1930s, when a few rugby clubs played in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Olympic Club. Miles “Doc” Hudson, a New Zealand native, arrived at the college, graduating in the Class of 1935, earning a dental degree in 1937 in San Francisco. He assumed the Cal rugby head coaching position in 1938. He achieved an outstanding 339-84-23 record during 36-years from 1938 to 1974. He was inducted into the first US Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011.

Outstanding Academic Institution

The University of California at Berkeley is ranked the number one public American university. It placed 20th in the US News and World Reports magazine of all US colleges. Undergrad tuition is $15,000 for in-state students compared to $45,000 per annum for neighboring rival Stanford. 

Cal-Berkeley offers graduate education in numerous fields, including degrees in Law (J.D.) and Business (M.B.A.), and an M.D. program in conjunction with University of San Francisco.

Jack Clark, Coach

The success of California’s rugby ascendancy parallels the arrival of Jack Clark as the program’s sixth head coach in 1984.  Currently, he begins his thirty-ninth year.  A former Cal football and rugby standout, he won his first cap for the US Eagles in 1979, a side he later coached, including the 1995 Rugby World Cup. His head coaching record at the university stands at 693-97-5 (88-percent). He was inducted into the US Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.

California’s numerous college championships exist in three different competitions. Clark’s first title occurred in 1985. 

  • US Rugby D1 National Title – 26
  • Varsity Cup – 2  (Actually, 3 with a victory after BYU was penalized for an ineligible player)
  • College Rugby Championship (Sevens) – 5

Tom Billips, Coach

Billips graduated from Augustana College in Illinois. He began playing rugger professionally in 1996 for Blackheath in the UK. He competed in Sevens for the US, and earned an Eagles’ fifteen’s cap in 1993 against Canada. (44 total career caps).  He coached the Eagles in 2002, ending the position in 2006 with a record 12 Test Match wins. He was named assistant head coach at Cal in 2000. Billips was inducted into the US Rugby Hall of Fame in 2015.

Reasons for Cal’s Rugby Preeminence

  1. Four-decades of collegiate fifteens and sevens championships’ participation;
  2. Witter Field Rugby Complex – Modern, 1995 stadium (6,900 seats) with full practice facilities;
  3. Highest quality, experienced coaching staff with winning records;
  4. Proximity to recruit top Bay Area rugby-playing high school boys;
  5. Superior, affordable education at top university;
  6. Pathway for advancement to US Eagle 7s/15s and professional rugby; 
  7. Pathway to US Olympic Sevens programs; and, 
  8. Rugby at Cal is a Varsity sport.

Quiz Answer: Oklahoma State, Wrestling. (34 titles)

Final Note

Since last winning Division 1 in 2011, Cal has been runners up twice. Life has won four titles and Cal’s nearby rival St. Mary’s (Oakland) three tournaments. It is an indication less of a California decline, than a significant upgrading in American college rugby. Emerging, top tier programs exist at Lindenwood, Kutztown, and Arkansas State with noticeable improvement also at Army and Navy. Yet California remains annually the singular college to defeat for the championship. 

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