Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
What an exciting year for American rugby!
This past year has produced tremendous gains for the game at all levels, with youth and high school rugby seeing the most prodigious growth.
This growth is accompanied by an all-time high in exposure for the sport as television networks are finally beginning to pay attention to rugby in America. NBC jumped on the bandwagon with live coverage on network television and supplementary coverage of rugby through their partner network Universal Sports and online coverage via UniversalSports.Com. This exposure has put rugby in the homes of more Americans than ever before.
Let us look back at some of the big American rugby news stories from 2010.
The year started off on a bit of a sour note as Setanta Sports announced that they were no longer going to provide rugby coverage in America. A sad day for many ardent rugby fans as Setanta had provided a bumper crop of rugby coverage for years. Luckily, Fox Sports Plus stepped in to fill the gaps for fans, but it just isn’t the same without Setanta.
There is no bigger news story during the month of February than the USA 7’s. This past year was a bit more special as the tournament had a new location in Las Vegas. The change of venue to a city with more drawing power paid off as crowds were at an all-time high. The future for the USA 7’s in Las Vegas appears to be bright. Within a few years, Las Vegas could become a rugby destination along the lines of Dubai or Hong Kong.
To make the story even better, the USA rolled off three wins on Day 2 to claim the Bowl Title and pick up their first IRB World Series points of the season.
Rumors of a new collegiate competition begin to build steam. Cal Head Coach, Jack Clark is leading the charge to form a premier competition for the top collegiate programs in the nation.
The USA 7’s team uses the momentum they gathered in Las Vegas to advance to their first Cup Final in team history. The squad loses to Samoa in the final, but sends notice to the rest of the 7’s world that they are a team on the upswing.
After rumors swirling around of a collegiate 7’s championship, the Collegiate Championship Invitational is officially announced. Organized by the USA 7’s LLC, even bigger news was that NBC was playing a vital role in the tournament and would provide live coverage of the event on national television.
The broadcast schedule for the Collegiate Championship Invitational is released. Sixteen collegiate teams from across the nation battle it out over the course of two days for the title. NBC provided live coverage on both days of the event.
The collegiate playoffs are in full swing with tournament sites all around the nation.
The long road to the collegiate championships comes to an end. Cal defeats BYU in the men’s Division I Championship and Claremont defeats Temple in the Men’s Division II Championship. Penn State defeats Stanford in the Women’s Division I Championship and Washington State defeats Temple in the Women’s Division II Championship.
The High School and U19 Championships wrap up at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. Xavier HS (NY) wins the Boys High School title, United (UT) wins the Boys U19 championship, and the Amazons of Sacramento (CA) take home the Girls U19 crown.
The New York Athletic Club outlasts San Francisco Golden Gate in the USA Rugby Super League Championship.
Dallas Mavericks owner and former Indiana University rugger Mark Cuban kicks in $25,000 for scholarship money to go to the winning team at the Collegiate Championship Invitational. It is his first major involvement in rugby at a national level… and hopefully not his last.
The Churchill Cup kicks off another season. The USA posts a 39-22 win over Russia then drops games to the England Saxons and France “A”. The finals of the Churchill Cup are played at New York’s new Red Bull Stadium.
The Collegiate Championship Invitational nearly gets drowned out as heavy storms in the Columbus area put a damper on crowds. Despite the poor weather, the play on the field is quite good and the final between Utah and Cal is an instant classic. TV ratings come back very positive, as the CCI was the highest rated sports event that weekend, topping a PGA event and the Collegiate Lacrosse Championship that played on ESPN. Attendance figures were poor as the rain scared away fringe fans and rugby fans seemed to just stay at home to watch. The poor turnout ultimately costs Columbus another shot at hosting.
The Men’s club championship takes place at Infinity Park. Las Vegas takes home the hardware in Division I, the Tampa Krewe wins Division II, and OMBAC wins the Division III title to the chagrin of many fans.
NBC continues to show their support of rugby as they announce that they have acquired rights to broadcast the 2011 & 2015 Rugby World Cups. Coverage includes live broadcast on NBC as well as full tournament coverage on their partner network Universal Sports and online at UniversalSports.Com.
The club 7’s season in full swing, tournaments are on the schedule for every weekend across the nation.
The Collegiate All-American team is named for the squad’s upcoming tour to Europe. The team struggled on tour against some tough academy sides, but pick up plenty of great experience in the process.
The Women’s National team begins their preparation for the 2010 Women’s World Cup.
After months of speculation, the new Division I Premier competition announces their new conferences and the teams that make up the four conferences.
Old Puget Sound Beach takes home the Men’s Club 7’s title and NOVA wins the Women’s Club 7’s championship.
Long time rugby scribe, Ed Hagerty lets the fists fly in an editorial in Rugby Magazine. Hagerty calls the USA Rugby Board of Directors, and more specifically Kevin Roberts, to the carpet.
After a year of great strides for rugby in America, the bastion of the sport Cal is demoted from a Varsity sport at the University to Varsity Club status. The squad became a casualty of Title IX politics, but retained most of its prior benefits and access to facilities in the demotion. A much better outcome than team sports baseball, women’s lacrosse, and men & women’s gymnastics, which were cut entirely.
The Women’s National team finishes 5th at the Women’s World Cup. Losses to England and Ireland in pool play cost the Women a chance at making it into the race for the title. The Women exact revenge on Ireland later in the tournament before beating rivals Canada for 5th place.
One of the first collegiate conferences to align along traditional conference rivalry boundaries, The Atlantic Coast Rugby League host the Atlantic Coast Invitational 7’s to bring together teams from traditional ACC schools. In a sign of what the future holds for collegiate 7’s, USA 7’s LLC signs on to a long term deal with the ACI 7’s. North Carolina State beats the odds and takes home the 2010 title.
The USA Selects travel to Argentina to play in the Americas Rugby Championship. The ARC gets off on a good foot for the USA Selects as they defeat Tonga A who participated in the tournament despite not being a North American team. You would have thought a team like Mexico or one of the other South American nations would have been a better fit. The home team and eventual champs Argentina Jaguars defeat the USA Selects easily in Round 2. The final match for the USA Selects was cross-border rival Canada Selects. The two teams play closely with Canada coming out on top 17-6. The game turns out to be the only USA/Canada 15’s match of the year.
World banking giant HSBC signs on as sponsor of the wildly popular IRB Sevens World Series. The new partnership is an indicator of the growing surge felt in sevens with a strong boost from the Olympics.
After almost a year of teasing, the new USA Rugby website launches.
The USA Eagles go 1-3 on their European tour with their lone win coming over Portugal. The Eagles suffer a heartbreaking extra time defeat against Georgia in their final game. The Eagles also played Saracens and Scotland A while on tour. Head Coach, Eddie O’Sullivan got a good look at the nucleus of his World Cup squad during the tour.
After a disappointing turnout in Columbus, the CCI moves to Philadelphia and changes its name. The CCI is now the Collegiate Rugby Championship. NBC continues their support of the sport and are set to air live coverage on both days of the tournament with supplemental coverage on their partner networks.
After much deliberation, the USA Rugby Board approves the restructure of college rugby. The new plan begins the process of pulling college teams away from the territorial and local unions and pushes them towards the formation of conferences along the lines of traditional college sports.
The Women’s Championships take place in Arizona. New York outguns Beantown to take home the Women’s Premier League title, the San Diego Surfers win the Division I title, and Albany win the mantle in Division II.
Team USA starts the HSBC World Series season on a high note in Dubai as they advance to the Cup Quarterfinals for the first time ever in Dubai. The strong start nets the team World Series points right out of the gate.
The newly formed Utah Warriors join RSL. Under operation using a business model and backed by Utah businessman Sean Whalen. The Warriors face plenty of scrutiny as they represent what may be the beginning of professional rugby in the United States.
NBC broadcast partner Universal Sports adds HSBC World Series coverage to their offerings. Coverage of the tournaments is added to their online service as well as their cable channel.
As expected, NBC picks up coverage of the USA 7’s as they continue to position themselves in rugby’s corner. NBC is set to show live coverage from Las Vegas during both days of the tournament.
Wow, that covers most of the big news from the year and there was a lot of big news to hit this past year. However, there is still a couple days left for something big to happen. A year or two ago, I would have said “no way”, but you cannot discount what is happening in American rugby these days. We are truly in unchartered waters in regards to exposure and participation.
We are writing our own story.
Let’s make the chapter about 2011 even better than the one for 2010.
Happy New Year everyone!