$1M gift elevates rugby at University of Arizona

Feb. 2, 2023

An additional $23,000 in outright support will fund player scholarships for the current recruitment year.

UA Rugby player diving for rugby ball

The University of Arizona rugby program will now offer scholarships to its student-athletes thanks to a $1 million gift from Jason Figley, a parent of a current and a former rugby player at UArizona.

"The gift will allow us to continue to strive to be the best program in the country," said Sean Duffy, rugby program director and men's rugby head coach at UArizona. "A rugby scholarship signals to prospective athletes that we're serious about rugby here – we want our program to grow, and we want to support you as part of our team."

Group photo- from left: Donor Jason Figley, rugby team captain James Rivers and rugby coach Sean Duffy.

From left: Donor Jason Figley, rugby team captain James Rivers and rugby coach Sean Duffy.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

Half of the gift is being used to create an endowment to fund scholarships through the newly created Front Foot Scholars program. The remainder of the gift will be used to endow a coach's fund and to make improvements to the training center used by all club sports at the university. In recognition of Figley's support, the facility will be named the Front Foot Training Center. To take care of immediate needs, Figley gave an additional $23,000 in outright scholarship funds to support this year's recruiting cycle. 

"Front foot" is a rugby term describing a player who's already moving forward to receive a passed ball, creating an advantage for the next attack.

"It's much easier to play rugby, and it's much easier to get through life, if you're on the front foot," said Figley, who played rugby at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. "Imagine you're going to go into a tackle or to contact. It's much easier to go into those positions with you leaning forward on your front foot catching the ball, versus a defender that's on his back foot. We want those kids to go through life on their front foot, just like we want them to play rugby. It gives them a little bit of an advantage."

"Club sports like rugby teach students the importance of resilience and perseverance, lessons they can take with them throughout life," said Robert C. Robbins, president of the University of Arizona. "Through his generous gift, Mr. Figley has shown his commitment to ensuring the success of our rugby players on the field, in the classroom, and wherever their paths take them after graduation." 

Facility upgrades and scholarship support made possible by the gift will help enhance recruiting efforts for Arizona, which is one of 67 teams in Division 1-A.

"Generous gifts like this make all the difference in sports programs that enrich student life and success," said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. "This gift will support our rugby team in continuing to compete at a high level nationally and to look to the future with determination and a winning spirit."

Recruiting Support

The University of Arizona rugby program may be the hook that gets athletes interested in the university, but strong academic programs, a community atmosphere and Tucson's weather creates an attractive package for recruits, Duffy said. The program attracts athletes from France, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and other countries.

"Parents are happy knowing their son is going to graduate with both an incredible degree and sport experience," Duffy said. "With the network they build here during their four years, both within the team and around it, they will truly be able to go wherever they want post-graduation."

Weight Room Expansion

The rugby team weight room, located within the university's Student Recreation Center, is shared by all the campus club sports teams plus faculty and staff. Right now, the weight room doesn't have enough equipment to allow all of the team's members to work out together. Once the facility is upgraded with new equipment, the team can work out more players simultaneously, allowing for continuity and team unity. The addition of state-of-the art Olympic equipment will transform the space, which, when complete, will be dedicated for use solely to club sports teams.

Engaging Alumni

Duffy hopes Figley's investment gets rugby alumni excited – as well as inspired to give.

"It shows that we have big plans to continue to grow and support our athletes, and hopefully will encourage others to give," he said.

The men's rugby program has more than 2,000 alumni, who will celebrate the program's 54th anniversary during events being held March 16-19.