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Pat Clifton Touts Player Experience In Handling 7s For NCR

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Pat Clifton Touts Player Experience In Handling 7s For NCR

Pat Clifton.

National Collegiate Rugby has hired Pat Clifton to run the organization’s 7s competitions as its 7s Commissioner, and the hiring certainly seems to be a decent fit.

(Editor’s note: Pat Clifton and Alex Goff worked together for several years at RugbyMag and United World Sports, and remain friends.)

Clifton’s experience includes working at United World Sports, which ran the USA 7s in Las Vegas and the CRC 7s in Chester, Pa. And while he was mostly on the journalism side, he had repeated exposure to how those major tournaments were run (both good and bad), and through that and the journalistic coverage of college rugby, saw what college teams wanted and needed out of a national-level 7s competition.

In addition, Clifton has run his own tournaments, including the Heart of America tournament, which was a direct CRC qualifier.

Clifton also has been a college rugby coach, and saw success as he ran the Lindenwood-Belleville program. However, he left under a bit of a cloud when he ran afoul of regulations. Clifton’s Lynx team fielded some players who were carrying a 75% load of classes. That’s good enough for USA Rugby’s regulations, but wasn’t good enough for the school, which expected all sports team players to carry a full load of classwork. As a result, those players were not in good standing as far as Lindenwood-Belleville University was concerned, and that led to some forfeitures, and ultimately Clifton leaving the position.

It was a case, in some ways, of a reverse loophole.

The Player Experience

Moving ahead, Clifton said he has some ideas about how he and NCR can address the 7s play in the college game.

“I love 7s and I love college 7s and I’ve spent a lot of time in it so I am excited,” Clifton said. “The thing that I’m excited about is that the player experience needs to be at the forefront and I think that got lost for a while in American rugby. This I think is a good opportunity and position to put the player experience at the forefront. I think that’s what people play for—the memories and the experiences that they have.”

Clifton alludes to the CRC and said he’d like to bring some of the elements of the CRC back. Some of those elements have been gone, and he wants to bring them back.

The CRC had multiple levels of competition, although the men’s D1 competition was on the biggest stage. NCR also has multiple levels of competition, and in fact is still working through how they all operate together. In 7s, there’s an opportunity to perhaps mix teams that normally would play 15s in separate divisions.

“In 7s we saw some crazy upsets in the CRC and we saw them in USA Rugby’s championships; Cal doesn’t win the West Coast 7s or the PAC 7s every year,” Clifton said. “I think 7s is a great equalizer and that’s where we can be a little bit more like a March Madness and we can have some parity. I remember Dixie State showing up at the CRC qualifier in Las Vegas and being like ‘Dixie State can play some danged rugby.’ And every year there’s an opportunity for teams like that to compete at that level.”

Nothing Set In Stone

Of course Clifton’s task is complicated by COVID-19. What would normally be an NCR season of 15s in the fall and 7s in the spring will likely be a condense 15s-then-7s spring, with some areas perhaps unable to play much at all. So Clifton’s ideas will have to be created mostly for 2022 and beyond, with a modified plan for 2021.

“I just came on,” Clifton said as a caveat. “Let’s assume we get back to something we’re used to in 2021-2022. What happens in the spring won’t be a cookie-cutter format we can cut and past going forward. But it does give us an opportunity to trial some formats and try some interesting things.”

The hope is for a championship event for the spring, but the progress of the COVID pandemic and the potential of at least two vaccines being on the market do not, as yet, provide a definite roadmap to normalcy. So everything is couched in terms of “if” and “we hope.” But Clifton has a reputation of being willing to explore new ideas. Serious college 7s is still only ten years old, so there’s not much of a tradition in how it is run; it will be interesting to see how Clifton adds his own influence.