On the back of the Olympic announcement and the highly successful Las Vegas Sevens event, rugby has made yet another huge leap in the United States.
American International Media, owners of the USA Sevens Tournament and Rugby Magazine, are set to launch the first ever Collegiate Sevens Championship in conjunction with USA Rugby and NBC.
NBC will broadcast live from the tournament, which takes place June 5-6 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The broadcast marks collegiate rugby’s debut on network television.
For fans of collegiate rugby, this may be a bit of a bittersweet pill. Many have heralded the explosion of college rugby, but I’m betting most never expected that breakthrough would come via sevens. While the full game of rugby has gotten more and more exposure in recent years at the collegiate level, the few television broadcasts have come through ESPN U which is not available as a regular channel through most providers.
In one weekend in June, more viewers will have access to the Collegiate Sevens Championship than all previous collegiate rugby broadcasts combined.
NBC will broadcast the games in the 4:30-6:00pm (EST) time slot on both Saturday and Sunday, while Universal Sports will air coverage from 2:00-4:30pm (EST) both days. Further details on the tournament are expected in the coming week.
NBC Sports Executive VP Jon Miller said, “Rugby Sevens is an exciting, fast-paced sport that is growing in global popularity, participation and interest. USA Sevens is the ideal partner for this event, which features the best collegiate rugby teams in the country.”
The tournament consists of sixteen teams, some that are the cream of the crop and others that have more traditional collegiate brand appeal. Reports suggest that American International Media and NBC handpicked the lineup of teams and the choices are understandable. If they are able to tap into the vast collegiate sports market there is a limitless world ahead of them and sevens.
The tournament field includes current rugby powerhouses Cal, Penn State, San Diego State, Utah, Army, Navy, and Dartmouth as well as Arizona State, Florida, Harvard, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, and Yale.
Yes, some of the teams are “head scratchers” in terms of competition level. Yes, there are teams out there that could compete better. It is all part of the process of selling not only college sevens, but also the collegiate rugby brand. As a commercial product as well as a collegiate championship, some of the teams chosen are there because of who they are and fan bases that they represent.
Teams such as Kutztown, St. Mary’s, Arkansas State, and a handful of others may feel slighted. From a pure playing perspective they have every right to feel that way as well. For a first-up offering on National television, the Collegiate Sevens Championship needs big names to fill out the field for obvious reasons.
Never fear, with this tournament serving as a stepping stone for the future there will be plenty of opportunities down the road for teams, like St. Mary’s and Kutztown, to make their mark in collegiate sevens.
Who knows, teams like Michigan, Arizona State, and Florida may surprise everyone. The schools certainly aren’t lacking for athletes. The opportunity to play a growing and exciting Olympic sport on national television should be an interesting proposal for scholarship athletes who have finished their eligibility.
The simple fact that NBC is interested in the product shows the level that they believe the sport can reach. There’s no real secret as to why, all of a sudden, there is major interest in sevens from broadcasters. If one weren’t familiar with the origins of sevens, you could be lured into thinking that it was a game made specifically for television. With breaks every seven minutes and non stop action, sevens gives fans plenty to cheer for and advertisers plenty of commercial options.
The choice of dates may also be quite telling. The championship coincides with the start of the Churchill Cup in Colorado. The Churchill Cup has struggled with attendance in America and has traditionally been broadcast on the now defunct Setanta Sports. There has been limited exposure for the tournament outside of the rugby playing community. Recent finals have hovered around 10,000 people in attendance.
The Collegiate Sevens Championship has a chance to throw down a marker for college rugby and the game of sevens if it can rack up strong attendance and viewing numbers. However, the tournament will lack the international drawing power that helped put 40,000 people in the seats for the Las Vegas Sevens.
A big weekend in Columbus will go a long way towards opening more doors for the sport in America.
This article was originally published on www.rugbyamerica.net .