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Column - On College 7s Championships

College Women
College Men

Column - On College 7s Championships

Colleen McCloskey photo.

So we now know the teams playing for a major 7s championship in college rugby, and, boy, it's a lot of teams.

It's a lot even though USA Rugby drastically reduced their number of teams participating. We still have 16 USA DI Men's teams, 24 CRC Men's teams, 12 USA Women's teams, 16 CRC Women's teams, 12 USA DII Men's teams, 8 NSCRO Men's teams, and 6 CRC Collegiate Challenge teams.

USA Rugby Women's College 7s Field Finalized.

USA Rugby Men's College 7s Field Finalized.

That's 94 teams shooting for some sort of major championship. Is that too many? 

 

What the Championships Mean

The CRC Collegiate Challenge is a nice local Philadelphia-area tournament for local (ish) teams. Fordham, Mount Saint Mary's, Rowan, Villanova, Penn, and West Chester compete. That's not the worst field of teams you'll ever see. And while if you were a cynical sort you might say this tournament exists only to make sure more local fans show up at Talen Energy Stadium, this is a tournament worth seeing. Fordham v MSM would be our pick for the final, and that's a good matchup. (I mistakenly had Delaware in that list, but Delaware was moved up to the main CRC. I went by the CRC's own list of teams on their website, but that's inaccurate - sorry.)

The main CRC calls itself a national championship, and it's not, because the teams are invited. It's an invitational. However, it's a really, really good invitational, and quite possibly on with a better competitive level that USA Rugby's event. No college team has done superbly well in both tournaments in the same year - CRC winners have struggled in the USA tournament, and vice versa. But ... you can argue that either is a national championship. This is more true on the men's side than on the women's side, as the teams invited on the women's side of the CRC are very strong at the top, but it's not a strong field top to bottom.

The DII Men's competition kind of shows us why USA Rugby exists. They have real DII programs, from smaller school who take rugby seriously. It's a good and entertaining championship, and something the CRC is not equipped to put together.

What the CRC is equipped to put together is a meaningful venue for the NSCRO (National Small College) tournament. That's a good, worthwhile and definable national championship, and technically the only one the CRC hosts.

 

Exposure and Environment

Teams play in the CRC because they get to play in the stadium with several thousand fans cheering in the stadium. That's great ... except it doesn't happen a lot. Teams have to play in the satellite fields, which are very nice but not the stadium, and the non Men's CRC tournament teams really don't have a lot of guarantee to get into the stadium.

Even more so is TV coverage. Playing well on NBC is worth the trip, for sure. Playing pretty well and not getting any time on the major network because of the timing, or because they're showing a consolation final, is frustrating. Basically my beef is that NBC doesn't show enough of the Cup Quarterfinals, which are often some of the best games.

USA Rugby cannot offer the same environment, but Infinity Park is a nice place and can look good with a crowd of 1,000 people. They have The Rugby Channel covering the event, and that's not TV, but it's better than YouTube, or nothing.

 

Format

USA Rugby might come under some criticism for how they handled the qualification process (fair criticism) and how they announced (or didn't announce) how the qualifiers were selected (also fair). They might also come under criticism for reducing the size of their championship tournaments, but I think it's a good move. I wrote in 2012 that a 24-team DI tournament was too big. The way 7s tournaments work, 16 teams is the right size.

Why? Well, in a 16-team tournament everyone plays three pool games, and it's easy to see who makes the Cup Quarterfinals - finish in the top two in your pool. In a 20-team tournament (5 pools of 4) your pool winners go through, plus three of the five 2nd-place teams.

The problem with that is, no on really knows how the pools should be, and you can put, unintentionally, three teams in a really tough pool, and some others in an easy pool. And since points difference is the chief tiebreaker among the 2nd-place teams, the competitive balance of each pool is highly important. But even so, one or two off-balance teams don't kill the mix. You can still get through if you're 2-1 in a competitive pool.

How does the CRC do it? 24 teams. It's a pretty lousy way to set it up and a more cynical person might think they just piled in more teams just to get more fans in the stadium to see their team play once. But cynicism aside, 24 teams is a bad way to set up a tournament. You have six pools, so those pool winners go to the quarterfinals. Only two of the six second-place teams go through, and that means that it's all about which 2nd-place teams can roll up 50 on some unsuspecting or injury-plagued opponent.

So what that means is you can lose your first game on Saturday morning and realize that you're pretty much done for a chance at the Cup.

 

So I like USA Rugby's tighter competition. Having 12 teams in the women and DII will work nicely. The wild cards are best third-place teams, which gives some teams a mulligan on a flubbed game. In a championship like this, I approve. But the CRC has some excellent teams, and that atmosphere, and that network TV. It's an excellent combination. It's still an invitational, but a really, really good one.

We will come back with some opinions on who are the best 7s teams in the nation.