Ed Rendell, chair of the USA 7s CRC Host Committee, and former Governor of Pennsylvania, writes on Philly.com about Rugby 7s. The article is reprinted with permission here. (go to www.usasevenscrc.com for tickets to the Collegiate Rugby Championship this June 2-3).
Believe it or not, Philadelphia is on its way to becoming an even better sports town than you and I already know it is. Although we all know that there aren’t many cities that can go toe to toe with us in terms of our passion for our four major sports teams, our sports landscape is currently expanding and taking on a more diverse and international appeal.
At the forefront of this expansion is the sport of rugby and its rapid surge in popularity throughout the country, which is only beginning to rival its popularity abroad.
On June 2 and 3, the Collegiate Rugby Championship returns to PPL Park for its second year, after an inaugural event last year that opened many people’s eyes to the fast-paced and highly entertaining sport of Olympic Sevens rugby.
Last year, I made a few appearances to promote the tournament and I also had a chance to see the action firsthand and realized just how entertaining it was. This year, I served as the chair of a host committee we assembled that met periodically to develop initiatives to ensure that the tournament would be as successful as possible for years to come. Aside from getting involved purely as a fan of all things Philly sports, I could see the potential impact of the event on our region and I wanted to do as much as I could to make sure that NBC and USA Sevens kept bringing the tournament back to Philly each year.
The great news is that the rise of rugby in the United States has made this tournament a marquee event that brings in the best rugby stars in the USA and puts the focus of the rugby world on the greater Philadelphia area. The tournament includes some of the country’s elite athletic powerhouses – Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Penn State, Notre Dame, as well as local entries Temple and Delaware. With sevens rugby becoming an official Olympic sport in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the Collegiate Rugby Championship is quickly becoming a must see for scouts looking for the future stars of the US Olympic rugby sevens team. In fact, four players who played in the tournament in 2011 are already under contract with the US Olympic team. Several scouts from the major international leagues are also making the trip to Chester to see what the US talent pool might hold for them. Even the NFL is apparently watching, as Nate Ebner, a CRC participant in 2011, was recently drafted by the New England Patriots.
And speaking of the NFL, if you love watching the NFL and the Eagles, you’ll love rugby sevens. The game is played in two 7-minute halves and the action is nonstop and incredibly fast with no huddles or breaks. Leonard Peters, former safety for the Jets and the Bears, once said: "When I heard how short the time of the games were, I thought I would kill that. My first game, after 2 minutes, I was begging the coach to take me out."
The hitting is amazing, considering that the players wear no padding and nothing to protect their heads (although because of correct tackle coaching techniques, there are significantly fewer concussions than on the gridiron. Are you tired of watching Asante Samuel and many other NFL defenders play "olé" defense with halfhearted arm tackles? The tackling in rugby sevens is as it used to be in the NFL – head tucked and shoulder planted firmly on the ballcarrier’s gut.
The CRC has also had a major impact on several of the participating universities’ rugby programs. Typically, rugby has been deemed a club sport and, as such, has not been eligible for university funds – at most colleges. But thanks to the CRC and the recognition of rugby sevens by the International Olympic Committee, both Texas and Notre Dame have changed the designation of their rugby sevens programs from "club" to "Olympic." The Temple team, which had possibly the largest support base at the tournament last year, has also been campaigning hard to receive official recognition by the university, and the powers that be are listening.
It makes perfect sense for Philadelphia to be the premier rugby town in the country, as this area is widely known to have as many competing high school teams and clubs as any in the country. The organizers of the CRC know this, and that’s why they are hosting a national high school tournament on Friday, June 1, at Drexel, with the championship matches to be played on the weekend at PPL Park in between the college matches.
NBC Sports and USA Sevens hope to make Philadelphia the permanent home of this tournament, and for the good of our region, we need to ensure that this happens. Last year’s crowd was good, but we need to do better to lock in this tournament and make it as much of a Philadelphia event as the Army-Navy Game has been.
If we can do this, the benefits to the area will be terrific. There already have been talks of some major international matches being played here in the near future. One only needs to look as far as the huge success of some of the international soccer matches that we have hosted of late to see what an impact events like this can have on our region. As we continue to expand our great sports landscape to include more internationally strong sports, our chance at a legitimate future Olympic bid will only increase. So if you haven’t already, I urge you to check out the exciting action at the Collegiate Rugby Championship. If nothing else, you’ll see incredibly large athletes engaging in intense physical contact, and that I know you’ll love.