Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

March Madness… Rugby 7’s Style

by Ted Hardy, Editor, Rugby America

Fan of college basketball’s March Madness?

Mad that your team didn’t get invited to the 16-team Collegiate Rugby Championship out on by NBC and USA Sevens LLC?

Wondering when in the heck college rugby is going to have a formalized 7’s championship?

In our everlasting efforts to open up the floor to new ideas… how about a 64-team March Madness style rugby 7’s tournament?

Here’s the deal.

Organizing college 7’s into some form of competitive structure is going to be pure madness. I honestly don’t envy the group branded with the task. There are just so many teams and so many ideas being floated around that it could take years to sort out and even longer to get right.

In the meantime, I say let’s cast the nets far and wide and have some serious fun in the process. If you think 16 teams on NBC is great, can you really resist the idea of 64? Basketball’s March Madness takes nearly a month to complete… rugby can do the same in one weekend.

That’s right… 64 teams playing a single elimination tournament over the course of three days. And yes… I did say single elimination.

Would it suck to travel to play in the tournament only to get bounced in the first round? You bet your butt it would, but this is all about the experience and giving as many teams as possible a shot at the title. That’s the awesome part of the NCAA tournament. While incredibly unlikely, there is always a Cinderella team that advances well past the expectations of pundits.

Now, onto the really hard part… how do you seed or fill a field with 64 teams? USA Rugby would have to tap into the many collegiate 7’s tournaments that are popping up around the land. In fact, it might be a simple step to require every one of the new conferences to also play a conference 7’s tournament.

The Atlantic Coast, SEC, Ivy, and Northwest Collegiate are already doing this. Sounds like a pretty simple solution. USA Rugby is looking for 16 Division I conferences for the 2011-2012 competitive cycle. Take those sixteen conference and the four Collegiate Premier conferences and that could be 20 conference tournaments.

If you took the top three teams from each of those 20 conference tournaments, that would give you 60 teams. For the sake of making it easy, you could give four bids to each of the four Collegiate Premier conferences and that gives you 64 teams.

If you want it to be a little more intriguing, then there could also be a last-ditch qualifying tournament, open to everyone, to hand out the final four spots.

So, 64 teams… one weekend… one champion. Every deserving team gets a shot at the title. NBC and USA 7’s can still have the CRC and use that as a promotional tool, but you’d have to imagine that it wouldn’t be too hard to sell something like this.

Playing the tournament wouldn’t be as tough as you think. With a total of 63 games needing played, a stadium with a suitable second field would be absolutely necessary for the first two rounds, but there are plenty that fit the bill. The tournament can also be played Friday-Sunday to avoid burning out the fans in attendance.

Or play it Friday-Saturday and get BYU to show up. We’ll let USA Rugby work that out.

Worried about teams playing too much? Not a problem… the championship team will have won six games en route to hoisting the championship trophy. The schedule is actually quite easy on the teams playing. Far more so than the IRB World Series events which are grueling events on players.

So, what do you think?

Sounds like a boatload of fun to me. The tournament has a ton of resale value. Marketable brands… underdogs… the whole lot. Then again, I am the one that wrote the article. I’m supposed to trumpet my ideas. I’m more concerned with hearing from fans of the game and those involved with college rugby.

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6 comments on “March Madness… Rugby 7’s Style

  1. Big5
    March 16, 2011

    Well on the face of it, I think its a great idea. But I think the only problem is travel costs. Could you get 64 teams to shell out the money that NBC is requiring, plus travel…? I know that they are paying for flight and hotels for the players and coaches now, but with 64 teams in the mix I doubt the could keep that up. And if they cant do that it would raise the cost of $3000 per team (ticket guarantees) to probably closer to $8,000 to 10,000 per team. And without guaranteed TV time and a 1 and done type tournament, I think half the teams wouldn’t do it, because of the price.

    I like the idea of 4 qualifying tournaments where you don’t have to worry about ticket sales. You can have an East, North, South and West. 16 teams in each. Then you take the top 4 teams from each tournament, to compete in the CRC. Then you are getting what we would hope to be 16 quality teams along with brand names in the CRC. NBC can still broadcast the name teams, but if one of the smaller teams should happen to sneak into the semifinals then that’s a bigger story to cover… Kutztown vs Cal. David and Goliath…etc.

    what about pushing each conference to have their own 7’s tournament. Then you take the top 3 or 4 from that and move them on to the Regional tournament. Then to the National…. Maybe price would be too high. but most colleges go to 2 or 3 tournaments a year anyway, why not turn one of them into a 7’s tournament.

    Either way, great topic to think about

  2. Rugby America
    March 16, 2011

    There would be no reason to call for the same requirements as NBC. I understand why they’re doing it, but I do not support the idea of what amounts to a very large entrance fee. Although, the exposure is second to none and is probably worth every cent.

    For the above proposal, I actually prefer a separation from the CRC. I like the CRC for what it is, but when the time comes, we need an outright college 7’s championship. Regardless of the qualification process, NBC is always going to want/need to have the big names at their event. If we whittled down the college field on a level stage, then the final 16 teams would be missing alot of name brands.

    There will still be travel costs for teams, but not ticket fees or any such thing. Although, playing one conference qualifier and then possibly playing in the championship would probably still be less expensive than playing in a series of qualifying events or playing in a conference, regional, and then championship.

    I do believe a 64-team event like this, played in a mid-sized stadium, could do very well attendance wise. Even without requiring teams to purchase batches of tickets.

    However, none of this addresses the real issue, which is the overall development of college 7’s. A more robust competition may be needed long-term.

    Still, it is fun to play around with ideas.

  3. Big5
    March 16, 2011

    So the other problem that might come up with a 64 team single elimination tournament is keeping the fans in the stadium. Right now your “Average Joe” spectator wants to watch his team and then move on. So I think if you are in a one-and-done tournament it would be hard for fans to want to spend the money to travel and then possibly be eliminated from the weekend 20 minutes later.

    The only reason I think this, is because of last years CRC in Columbus. I think OSU played in the morning and they had maybe 300 OSU fans there cheering for them and then immediately after the game, the majority of OSU fans left…. I was like, hey guys, where ya going they have another game in 2 or 3 hours… And since there was no readmittance, every time OSU played they seriously probably had a brand new group of fans watching them. This was not the case for Vegas and a educated crowd, but could be hard, just saying.

    The total attendance for the weekend in Columbus was almost 9,000 from what I was told, but it didn’t look like it because every time a team was done their fans were leaving. It was crazy, but I guess if you are not used to an all day type of tournament why would you stick around. Again, great idea, but there are a few kinks to think through. Its a tough one.

  4. Rugby America
    March 16, 2011

    That is actually a really great point.

    It is going to take some time for your average sports fan to acclimate themselves to the style of a 7’s tournament. Las Vegas did so well because of the diversity of the crowd.

    I am a firm believer in 7’s being a great introduction to the sport. However, with the fervor that college sports fans have for their teams makes me wonder if college 15’s is the version that will have the bigger breakthrough.

    It may also be likely that conference driven 7’s tournaments will be more attractive to casual fans than a national tournament. Fans of any team are more invested in the conference as a whole. Ohio State fans follow the Big 10, same for the SEC, ACC, etc. Fans may be more likely to stick around to see games if they involve other teams to which they have some sort of attachment.

    So, as you mentioned above with the Buckeyes at the CRC, if the next game had been Michigan vs. Indiana, then there would be a much better chance that the fans would have stuck around.

    Could be a interesting trend to follow as more conference tournaments get up an running. I plan to attend at least one of them in the fall. Maybe a crowd survey is going to be in order?

  5. Big5
    March 16, 2011

    I think you’re right. Conference tournaments might have better retention on fans to start. I think over time fans will “get it” and stay around and just have a good time, but to start it will be hard. I’d love to see the Big 10 put on a tournament and the Big 10 network broadcast it… I think that has some potential.

    I also think it would be easier for teams like Michigan (D3) to field a better quality sevens team.

    Crowd survey would be a good idea too. Are you going to CRC in Philly?

  6. Rugby America
    March 16, 2011

    I will be at the CRC in June and I will also be at the ACC 7’s in September.

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2011 by in Club Sevens, College Rugby, Editorials, Rugby News.
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