Austin Weber was a sophomore in fall 2015 when the OU Rugby Club was driving home from playing Texas A&M.
Up until then, he said he had heard stories about players drinking alcohol but had never witnessed any alcohol use during team activities. According to his story, that changed on the trip back from College Station.
“On the way home, one of the coaches stopped and let us buy alcohol,” Weber said. “I know a few guys who were 21 and over; they were buying beers at the gas station. But I knew it was a red flag from the get-go. If you’re in an OU sanctioned sport, you just can’t be doing stuff like that.”
Now, the OU Rugby Club is under investigation by the university.
“The university is aware of and is actively reviewing allegations of potential misconduct by members of the university’s club rugby team,” said Clarke Stroud, vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “At this stage, the allegations have not be substantiated and appear to have been made by individuals dissatisfied by recent personnel changes within the rugby program. The university, however, takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will continue its inquiry into the matter.”
Jon Velie, a Norman-based attorney and OU Rugby Club director, said he is aware of the complaints made to the university. He said he was not aware of the allegations until a complaint was made.
“We’re now aware of something that wasn’t told to us specifically,” Velie said. “We will cooperate with the university and anything they want to do to handle that.”
Stroud is most likely referring to former OU rugby coach Jason Horowitz in his statement, who resigned in December 2014. Players who spoke to The Transcript indicated they were fans of Horowitz. Several players left the program after Horowitz resigned, which happened shortly after a parent from the opposite sideline in a game against TCU sent a letter to OU complaining about Horowitz’s behavior toward a referee.
The players who quit felt Horowitz had been forced out and the reported incident was used as an excuse. Velie was quoted in a story on Rugbytoday.com, saying the decision to part ways wasn’t based on a single incident.
Velie told The Transcript there was still “unhappiness” about that saga, but he didn’t want to address it at the moment.
Weber was a member of the team when OU rugby traveled to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York earlier this year for the Varsity Cup, although he didn’t go on that trip. OU was defeated April 9 by Army in the first round.
Early the next morning, officers with the nearby Town of Woodbury Police Department responded to calls at the America’s Best Value Inn in Central Valley, New York. The reporting party said people were on the upstairs balcony “spitting and throwing cigarette butts on his car.”
Police who responded cited seven people for either purchasing alcohol for those under the legal drinking age or for possessing an alcoholic beverage while under the legal age, and four were listed as arrested. Six of the names in the report — William Neff, Lukas Prosence, Collin Bray, Christopher Greer, Alexander Campbell and Colton Grantham — are listed in a roster OU rugby posted on its Facebook page in January ahead of a match against Texas A&M.
Weber said the players don’t just drink alcohol on road trips. There’s a place for it in the rugby clubhouse located on the OU campus, Weber said.
“I have seen alcohol in the clubhouse,” he said. “They have a special room where they store beer and whatnot.”
Michael Andersen, a former OU rugby player, said he also has seen alcohol in the clubhouse. It happened in 2010 when he was invited on a trip to experience the club program.
“I came to an OU rugby game and I watched them play,” he said. “Afterward, I went to the clubhouse and that’s where they gave me alcohol.”
He was under 21 at the time and said the experience kind of rattled him. After attending the University of Central Oklahoma, he decided to transfer to OU and join the rugby squad under Horowitz.
Horowitz said he was made aware of drinking before he arrived and looked to put an end to it.
“For a long time, I heard about what was going on and saw things go on,” he said. “I’m not the rugby police. I can’t go around bashing people, but if something happened to those kids, I’d feel responsible. We had four- to five-hour meetings discussing the past. These guys wanted to play and be respected, just like anyone on campus.”
Weber said he is concerned about what he sees as a dangerous environment in OU rugby right now.
“I’m not perfect,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed college and had parties, but I’ve never been involved in that kind of activity on the OU rugby team. I definitely think it’s affecting not only us as a whole, but our determination to be the next-level team we want to be. I think a lot of the guys have been impacted negatively because of things like this. Something has to be done about this.”
The OU Rugby Club is not associated with the OU Athletics Department.