NBC's New College Rugby Championship Inches Closer

Ted HardyContributor IMarch 30, 2010

Details are firming up concerning the new Collegiate Sevens Championship set to play June 4-6 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

A joint effort between USA Sevens, LLC, and NBC, the Collegiate Sevens Championship represents the first ever live network television appearance for college rugby in America.

One of the most exciting developments of the past year, the Collegiate Sevens Championship puts college rugby and sevens on display on a platform that has previously shunned the sport.

A few of the participating teams have changed from the original report, but all of the big names are still there.

The 16-team field now consists of Cal, Indiana, Notre Dame, Penn State, Dartmouth, Harvard, Florida, Tennessee, Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, Army, Navy, Ohio State, San Diego State, and Bowling Green.

While the announcement of the championship is relatively new, teams were contacted as early as January by USA Sevens, LLC regarding the tournament.

The teams have been announced, but many of them are still awaiting official approval from their universities regarding their participation in the championship.

NBC has provided teams with informational packets requiring permission to use logos and other permissions that will have to get final approval from athletic departments.

“We forwarded the documents to the director of student recreation (we are a sports club and as such fall under their governance). They have indicated that they will help us work our way through the various channels, including the legal department, to see if we can meet the contractual obligations,” said University of Tennessee head coach Butch Robertson.

While the obligations may be steep, this is a positive step forward for rugby and the perception the sport receives on campus and in the media. The fact that NBC is going, at lengths, to secure all the proper rights to market the various collegiate brands immediately raises the bar for rugby across the board.

Future progress, along with the inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympics, may help rugby stake a foothold akin to varsity athletics. A position some teams have worked very hard to obtain and other teams covet.

“I imagine that we will gain more momentum and traction with the university and alumni, particularly if we represent ourselves well,” said San Diego State head coach Matt Sherman. ”It could lead to future opportunities to showcase sevens around other athletic events, like half time at a football game. It could also potentially lead to greater assistance on campus in the form of funding, access to facilities, etc."

USA Sevens CEO Jon Prusmack added: “The colleges are the future of rugby in the United States. Teaming with NBC Sports takes Rugby Sevens to the next level.”

The pools for the tournament will be released next week at a press conference. It’s a pretty good estimate that they will rank the teams and divide the pools up evenly, with some consideration for natural rivalries.

Expect to see Penn State/Ohio State, Army/Navy, and Florida/Tennessee in the same pools to ensure that the historic collegiate rivalries get their time to shine on national television.

San Diego State’s Matt Sherman summed it up nicely, ”I think sevens is a game that’s attractive to spectators and sponsors with its pace and flow, that’s simple and easy to understand for those new to the game, that has higher levels of parity making most matches competitive between teams that might be mismatched in a 15's game.”

Sherman also added, “I think the Collegiate Sevens Championship is particularly great because we’re seeing the value of college brands being invested in by a network channel.”

The inaugural Rugby Sevens Collegiate Championship will broadcast on NBC Sports on Saturday and Sunday, June 5-6 from 4:30-6 PM (EST).

“Rugby Sevens is an exciting, fast-paced sport that is growing in global popularity, participation and interest,” said NBC Sports executive vice president Jon Miller. “USA Sevens is the ideal partner for this event, which features the best collegiate rugby teams in the country.”

Universal Sports will provide extended coverage on Saturday and Sunday, June 5-6 from 2-4:30 PM (EST).

The tournament opens a new chapter for rugby in America and provides the rightful respect that college rugby deserves.

On the flip side, the tournament also brings to light the lack of a plan from USA Rugby in regards to sevens.

The Olympic decision was a foregone conclusion that many had expected since last summer. The final stamp of approval in October was merely a formality.

Now, almost six months after the announcement, USA Rugby has produced no formal plan for the advancement of sevens (at any level) in the United States.

The reality is that, as an Olympic sport, rugby sevens is now the more visible and recognized variation of the game in America. USA Rugby has seemingly stumbled on this very important leverage point.

This is where USA Sevens, LLC has once again stepped in and proved to be one of the mightiest torch-bearers for rugby in the USA. Aside from the hugely successful USA Sevens tournament, they have now stepped up to the plate and partnered with NBC to launch the Collegiate Sevens Championship.

The tournament is ripe with possibilities and could easily expand into four qualifying tournaments with sixteen teams apiece. Do the math and you get...ahem...64 teams.

Just like March madness.

The biggest issue at hand is the incorporation of sevens into the already muddled and condensed college rugby season. Theoretically, the championship only needs two weekends to complete. The first weekend to play the qualifiers and the second for the championship.

Opinions and speculation, on the subject, have varied from making the fall into sevens season to simply taking two weekends out of the spring to play the sevens championship.

Ultimately, the interest of sponsors and the television networks will determine the final resting place for the competition. Regardless of what USA Rugby or anyone else has to say about the matter.

That being the case, don’t expect NBC or USA Sevens, LLC. to even attempt to compete with college football for revenue dollars or fans. To do so is just asking for failure and neither group is going to put college rugby in that position. Anyone backing a proposal for a fall sevens season and championship is setting the commercial aspects of the competition up for failure.

Tennessee head coach Butch Robertson finished, “any positive exposure for the game in this country is good.  The fact that a major network is on board to broadcast the tournament indicates that they recognize the possibility of a revenue source somewhere.” 

A press conference to announce the final details of the championship is set for April 6 in Columbus, Ohio. The conference includes a final list of participants, TV broadcast schedule, sponsors, and pool breakdowns.

This article was originally published at Rugby America


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