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Small College & 7s - A Perfect Union

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Small College & 7s - A Perfect Union

Simpson College (black/red) is a perfect of example of how small colleges and 7s complement each other. (Sara McDowell photo)

Small colleges and 7s makes sense, especially for women, and an unlikely proponent is propagating the concept.



“For anyone who knows me, it’s quite strange that I’m trumpeting the benefits of 7s,” said Bryn Chivers, whose coaching highlights range from USA Women's U20s to the Lao 7s national team. “When I talk to someone like Julie McCoy down in Arkansas, she just laughs and laughs that I am talking about 7s, because she has heard me on many occasions voice my disdain for it.”

Times have changed, and Chivers is now the NSCRO Women’s 7s commissioner. He sees 7s as an invaluable tool to save – and grow – small college programs, and used the following scenario to demonstrate its potential effect:

You’re a small college – with a coach or not – and constantly worrying about whether you can field 15 players for your upcoming game in the fall. Your season looks like 28-0, 28-0, 28-0 – you forfeit all of your games because you need to borrow two players from the opposition. Teammates – juniors and seniors – are entrusted as administrators, and their heads hang low after a season of trying to keep their team afloat. They don’t know how they’re going to get through another season. And then the spring rolls around – this player is studying abroad, that one has bad grades and can’t play – and now you’re down to 11 players.

But what if you were playing 7s? You’d have four subs! You’ve never had subs! And it’s the first time you’ve put out a team and everyone has the same-colored socks, because you didn’t need to borrow players. You can establish your own identity.

Chivers traveled throughout Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Ohio, and Minnesota preaching the 7s gospel, but more importantly, showed teams how to structure a spring schedule that included both 7s and 15s.

“The reality is 7s is a specialist sport; it really is for the lighter, faster players for the most part,” Chivers said. “It’s a challenge for small colleges that can’t afford to lose those 15s players to 7s in the spring.”

Chivers encouraged teams to include social 15s tournaments – like the Wayne State tournament in Nebraska or All Saints in Minnesota – with small, round-robin 7s tournaments. Develop a circuit where every other weekend 4-5 teams compete in a different location. Ohio embraced that idea, went one step farther, and formed a 7s league. Tiffin University player/coach Sequoya Barlow took the lead, and three other teams competed in four consecutive tournaments. Ohio Wesleyan won the title, and Chivers awarded an automatic berth to the NSCRO 7s championship, but runner-up Tiffin also earned an at-large bid.

Now in its second year, the women’s NSCRO 7s Championship has expanded to eight teams, and will occur alongside ACRA’s DI and DII 7s championships in West Point, N.Y. Chivers indicated that many more teams applied this year – including a team from California that later had to withdraw but would have marked the competition’s first West Coast participant. Defending champ Wayne State returns and is looking strong again, but all eyes will be on Simpson College, which is the poster child for small colleges and 7s. In 2015, Simpson College authorized the formation of a women’s 7s program that only competes in the spring, and coach Kelsie McDowell (a Northern Iowa alum and fall coach for Southeast Polk High School) has developed a squad that posted wins over Wayne State and DI Iowa State (read more).

Interestingly, the five of the eight championship contenders are from the Midwest, despite the East Coast event site, popularity of 7s in the region, and density of schools. Mount St. Mary's represents the EPRU, William & Mary is out of Virginia, and Endicott College is from Massachusetts. Chivers needs a few more point people to help structure small college 7s around the country, but he’s confident that the progress made in the Midwest will be realized elsewhere.

This weekend's championship is an important step in spreading the word, and pairing with ACRA was a smart move.

“Any tournament where players can see women from all over the country, celebrating this game together, is important,” Chivers said. “We could have had a stand-alone championship, but it doesn’t have the same feel as a 20-team tournament. You walk by fields that always have games going on, and it’s exciting to watch teams when you’re not playing – which isn’t possible at an eight-team 7s tournament. It’s always fascinating – your team will watch a team they’ve never seen, but they’ll find a favorite. For whatever reason, an entire team will get behind another team and really want them to win – will cheer for them and everything – and that happens at every level.”

Get your fill on 7s rugby this weekend during the NSCRO and ACRA 7s championship: field 1 will be live-streamed here on Saturday, and here on Sunday.