Necessary disclaimer: the same people that sign my paycheck sign those of USA Sevens employees.
In the press release announcing the 15 teams invited to the third-annual Collegiate Rugby Championship, Texas 7s coach Jacob Lieberman called the CRC the pinnacle of American rugby. I couldn’t agree more. I truly believe it is.
USA Sevens in Las Vegas is still the most fun weekend a rugby fan can have on American soil, bar none. But in terms of reaching the non-rugby loving masses, the CRC is it. It’s American kids representing American colleges that people already have deep-running passions for. It’s how we can reach the key sports-watching demographic right now.
I have not sat in on discussions about who to invite to the CRC or what will make the event a success. I don’t know how those that have define success for the CRC. I’ve always thought it was a mix of television viewership and butts in seats. I still believe it is, but it’s become more evident that butts in seats are what register dollars for USA Sevens. Of course, the TV numbers are hugely important, because they keep the NBC cameras there, and the NBC cameras put butts in seats.
Teams coming to the 2012 rendition seem to fit into one or both of these two categories: (1) They’re from a school that is close enough to Philadelphia that they can be expected to land butts in seats. (2) They’re from a school that can plant eyeballs on TV screens.
Most rugby diehards seem to echo these perceived problems with the CRC: (1) How can they call it a championship if so-and-so-and-so-and-so aren’t invited. (2) They should have the best teams and best athletes.
Rebuttal to complaint No. 1: The CRC has never billed itself as a national championship, ever. USA Sevens is not using CIPP dollars to create the event, therefore it doesn’t owe every CIPP-paying school a right to be involved.
Rebuttal to complaint No. 2: I would also love to see Arkansas State, Life, BYU and St. Mary’s on NBC. I would much prefer it. There are phenomenal athletes on some of those teams, and their talents would translate on TV regardless of what jersey they're wearing. But I understand this important fact – the CRC is not about me. I love the CRC, and I will always follow it closely, but its success, ultimately, doesn’t hinge on whether or not I watch and support the event.
If the CRC is going to be as successful as it can be, if it’s going to reach the heights I believe those at USA Sevens envision it reaching, it’s got to go beyond us rugby addicts. It has to reach the masses. It has to turn the heads of casual sports fan. THAT’S A MUST.
You and I will keep watching. We will, and we should. It’s a phenomenal event. If the Atlantic Coast Invitational were on NBC, would you not tune in because Central Washington wasn’t invited? I sure wouldn’t miss it.
If I was in school at Life or Arkansas State or St. Mary’s, I’d be upset, too. I’d kill for the chance to be play on national television. That’s what will make the CRC qualifier in Las Vegas the most fun 7s tournament in the country to watch live.
It was arguably already that last year, and this year it’ll be taken to a whole new level. Great teams like Air Force, Bowling Green, Texas, Kutztown, Delaware, UC Davis and Central Washington battled it out in some of the most hard-fought 7s matches I’ve ever seen. With the CRC invitees already announced this year, well in advance of the LVI, the field should be even bigger and better in Las Vegas as teams won’t be resting on their laurels thinking they might still be floated an invite.
Add in the fact that the final will be played inside Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday during the IRB event, in front of more people than attend the CRC, and you've got yourself a hell of a prize. The teams you're mad aren't invited to the CRC, many of them have already registered to play in Las Vegas. I'm getting excited as I type this thinking about the possible match-ups.
USA Sevens has always been enough of a draw to go to Las Vegas in February, but now there’s another huge reason, and maybe one to get to Sin City a few days early for.
The CRC is what it is, and though not ideal, it's pretty darned fantastic.