A recent point-counterpoint discussion between Michigan coach Matt Trenary and Wheeling Jesuit coach Eric Taber has inspired my latest rant. Both bring up great points, and I think they cover a large part of the spectrum of what coaches might be taking into account when planning their 7s seasons (You might be able to tell by their takes Taber coaches in a well-funded program, while Trenary leads a true club.)
I think it’s fair to say most coaches and players would opt for the chance to compete in the Collegiate Rugby Championship over any other 7s tournament if given the opportunity. Of course, the qualification opportunities are very limited, and the CRC has a well of teams it goes back to each year, so the vast majority of college programs have little-to-no shot at playing in the CRC.
For most teams, the USA Rugby Collegiate 7s National Championship is the biggest carrot within reach. But that event lacks the cachet of the CRC, not only because of the lack of TV coverage, fan attention, venue quality, etc., but because teams decline the opportunity to compete, like Virginia Tech, or they simply don’t attempt to qualify, like Army.
But, as Taber points out, a National Championship is a National Championship, and USA Rugby’s is the only true one on offer. I would never discourage teams from attending the National Championship. If I coached a team that had a chance to win it all and had qualified, we’d be planning on a trip to College Station in December. But only if it didn’t stop us from attending the Las Vegas Invitational.
Sure, my employer’s parent company is USA Sevens, and sure, they put on the LVI. There will be some shameless plugs for the LVI and USA Sevens leading up to the February event. But this isn’t one of them.
The chance to win your way into the CRC is certainly a large part of the appeal for the LVI. Without it, less really good teams would likely make the trip to Las Vegas. But just like it isn’t easy to leave College Station with hardware, it isn’t easy to qualify for the CRC, as the LVI has compiled what are probably the two best college 7s tournament fields ever the last two winters.
Life, Utah, Kutztown, Davenport, Central Washington, UCLA, San Diego State and Miami (OH), Air Force, Stony Brook and a bunch of other really good teams duked it out in the desert earlier this year in the LVI, and the 2011 field was nearly just as stacked.
USA Sevens is also what I refer to as the Super Bowl of rugby in America. Sin City is teeming with rugby fans, jerseys, signage and revelry Wednesday through Sunday. There are parties to attend, opening ceremonies to take in, costumes to wear and great rugby to watch at every turn. Just as basketball coaches from every corner of America flock to the Final Four each year to network and fraternize, pretty much anyone who is anyone in American rugby does the same at USA Sevens.
Then there’s the whole USA Sevens tournament. Last year, after getting to watch guys like Tai Enosa, Peter Dahl and Justin Boyd beat the Spanish National Team and the High School All Americans play Canada and the Women’s Eagles play France and BYU and all its All Americans play Penn State, you got to watch the IRB Sevens World Series inside Sam Boyd Stadium.
And that’s all just ancillary excitement. If your team was good enough to reach the finals on Saturday, you got to play in Sam Boyd Stadium during a break in IRB action. Nowhere did a college 7s player play in front of more live fans than in the final of the 2012 CRC Qualifier final, including at the actual CRC. Not to mention, most of the LVI pool games are watched by more live fans than took in the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship final last year.
Want the chance to win your way onto NBC? Check. Want to play against top-notch competition? Check. Want to play in a stadium in front of a record crowd? Check. Want to be immersed in the greatest rugby experience in America for the better part of a week? Check. Oh, and I hear Las Vegas has some entertainment value of its own, outside of the whole rugby thing.
The CRC Qualifier is just a qualifying event for another tournament. The winner doesn’t get to call itself a National Champion. But, for all the reasons listed in the last several paragraphs, I believe it delivers the most bang for any college 7s team’s buck, outside of the actual CRC, in America.