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There are four ways to qualify for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship – through the Big Ten, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conference 7s championships, and via the Las Vegas Invitational. Specific conference tournaments have been qualifiers in the past, and the LVI has certainly been a route to the big show before, but never have there been so many opportunities to win your way into the marquee college 7s event in one year.
“The CRC was started as an educational event for rugby, right? With something that’s a product that nobody knew of before, let’s just say that 99-percent of the American population didn’t know about rugby, NBC advised pretty strongly that we needed to use brands that people understand. So they might not understand rugby, but they understand Ohio State, they understand Tennessee, they understand Florida,” said CRC tournament director Donal Walsh.
“What’s happened is the tournament’s evolved, and people at NBC, and people in the sponsor world, and people in the greater community, understand that there’s great universities out there like Life University, Central Washington University and Kutztown University that are great rugby programs in their own right and can compete with the best in the country.
“So now there’s greater interest to sort of expand and say, maybe we should be setting up qualifiers and giving every school an opportunity to get in and compete at the event. Ultimately, we’d like to get to where maybe half the tournament is invitees, and half the entries are qualifiers over the course of the year.”
The Las Vegas Invitational remains the lone open qualifying event, though CRC organizers are looking to expand there. In an effort to get an open qualifier on the East Coast, they have been in discussions with the operator of the American Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s event, but the process has been slow.
The LVI has successfully married some of the best teams in the country in years past, especially in 2011 and 2012, when there was a CRC qualification division. Utah, winners of the inaugural CRC in 2010, beat a JP Eloff-led Davenport team to advance to the qualifier final in 2012, where they lost to Life in front of tens of thousands of fans in Sam Boyd Stadium. Life has been a mainstay in the CRC ever since.
That same year, UCLA showed up and reached the quarterfinals in Las Vegas, losing to the Utes. The next year, the Bruins were invited to the CRC, and they’ll make their third-straight trip to Philadelphia in June.
Kutztown competed at the LVI multiple times, finishing second to Central Washington in 2011. The Golden Bears were invited to the CRC in 2013, and like UCLA, will be returning in June.
The Penn Mutual CRC qualifying division for 2015 is shaping up to be another loaded competition. Back-to-back USA Rugby College 7s National Champion Arkansas State, as well as Kutztown, American International College, Notre Dame College and Stony Brook, are signed on. They’re ranked 1, 5, 6, 12, and 24, respectively, in our 7s Top 25.
Mix in St. Joe’s, which won the Bowl at the CRC in June and is coming back in 2015, Bowling Green, which won the Bowl at the inaugural CRC, and a quality side like Air Force, and you have a great field. More are expected to join the fray and make the competition even stronger.
In addition to being a top-notch tournament with a second-to-none prize, the CRC qualifier division will again see its final played live in Sam Boyd Stadium. Nowhere else in America can a college 7s team play in front of as many fans.