In the spirit of being proactive, I have a few thoughts on the 2012 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships. Yes, it’s months away, but I wanted to encourage the College Competitions Committee to make the right decisions before all the decisions have been made.
Let’s get the pat on the back out of the way first: nice job announcing a date (Nov. 16-17, 2012) for the championships well in advance. The biggest problem last year was the date. Not only was it slow in being announced, it was chosen poorly. Don’t want to get too hung up on the actual date, though I would have liked to see it tied into USA Sevens in Las Vegas, but at least it’s out there and should avoid finals.
The most important thing the committee should now consider: does it give every team a chance to participate?
Last year, several of the qualifying tournaments were exclusive, either because they were open to conference members only or because they were attempting to leverage traditional college conference lines. That probably won’t change, as tournaments like the Atlantic Coast Invitational, Big Ten and SEC 7s aren’t likely to open their doors and are likely to remain automatic qualifying tournaments.
That’s fine. Let them use their “brands” to try and evangelize the game in their area, and let DI-AA rugby conferences try to build their “brands” with 7s.
But DI-A and DII teams need to be given a reasonable chance to compete for automatic qualifiers. UW-Milwaukee made it to Nationals last year as an at-large, but they, along with any other interested DII team in the country, need to have a reasonable chance to earn an automatic bid this year.
Likewise, DI-A teams not affiliated with a DI-AA conference, like Navy, Army, Texas A&M, etc. need insurance in case they’re shut out of a local conference-based tournament.
With the championship date set and less problematic, teams are able to prepare in advance, so don’t expect to see as many teams turn down bids to Nationals as last year. An at-large bid won’t likely trickle down to a UW-Milwaukee this year, so legislate the equal opportunity.
Here’s what I propose: have at least four open-entry tournaments across the country, one in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Pacific Coast. If Chico State wants to qualify, they should have a chance to drive 12 hours or less and do so. Same goes for Emporia State (KS), Eckerd (FL) and Colgate (NY) or any other obscure school in the country.
There are great athletes playing rugby all over the country, and USA Rugby’s championships and qualifiers could serve as aa way to unearth them. Find the next Paul Emerick playing at Northern Iowa, the next Todd Clever playing for Nevada-Reno and the next Gareth Jones playing at Temple.
USA Rugby needs to make sure its college 7s championships are accessible not just because there could be a diamond in the rough somewhere out there, but because USA Rugby is more of a service provider than a commercial money machine. USA Sevens is a private entity trying to make money. They can be as exclusive as they want. USA Rugby taxes its members and should provide them equal opportunities to compete.