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New things are weird. Shot clocks, designated hitters, and 43-yard extra points – sporting innovations that have either become staples in the mainstream games we know and love, or are reportedly on their way to becoming so.
If United World Sports has its way, Super 7s will be the equivalent for rugby. At the Collegiate Rugby Championship, a team from New York and a team from Ontario played 7s for 48 minutes. Rosters of 16 went at it for 12-minute quarters. The Canadians won. Lots of tries were scored.
UWS taped the game with multiple cameras, did coach and player interviews, and is splicing together a mock broadcast for potential sponsors for America’s first professional league. NBC was consulted, and tweaks are being considered based on that input, as well as self-assessment. But the reality is UWS, the company that created the Collegiate Rugby Championship from thin air and brought the Varsity Cup and USA Sevens into the national limelight, thinks Super 7s is the way forward.
Developing a professional 15s league is still far-fetched. Player rosters, and therefore the overall costs of owning a team, are too large. Not enough commercial time in a 15s game. Too much dead time – kicking for territory, scrums, etc. It’s not fan friendly for those non-rugby people needed to make any pro venture successful.
In its current format, 7s has to be played in tournaments involving many teams. That means, if you only want to watch your team, you get to for 14 minutes, and then you have to wait an hour or two to see them again. It’s hard, UWS executives would argue, for teams to build fan bases that way. Their answer: Super 7s.
There are critics from lots of angles. Player welfare, some coaches argue, isn’t being considered. Field time being equal, players are running the equivalent of a full game-and-a-half in a very tight window. The standard of the game, others claim, goes down dramatically throughout the course of the contest. Some are just downright indignant about making a change to the game whatsoever.
There is still a sizeable contingent of good rugby people who’d be happier if 7s didn’t exist. To them, and to those who don’t like Super 7s simply because it’s different, I say get over it. If it weren’t for some wacky thinkers, 7s would have never been invented to begin with. In rugby, we’ve seen tries go from being worth nothing to worth five points. We’ve seen tees used at restarts, and then not used at restarts. Change is OK, as long as it’s progress. Without change in sports, wouldn’t we still be kicking around human skulls, or something like that?
I say that with the confidence that Super 7s inventors won’t do away with rucks or meaningful scrums or introduce downs. If Super 7s rules, or laws, remain as close to those of 7s as those do to 15s laws, then no harm, no foul. It needs to remain rugby union, and it needs to remain 7s, time and substitution parameters not included.
Those two bits where things change – time and subs – are still very tweakable. I say, go with more, shorter intervals. Three commercial breaks (at the end of the first, second and third quarters) isn’t enough. How about two 20-minute halves, with TV timeouts at the first stoppages in play after the five and 10-minute marks of each half? That builds your in-game breaks to five, but still allows for long periods of play.
Also, and this one I suspect won’t be liked, stop the clock for scrums, lineouts and scores. The Miller minute is a no-brainer. When it comes to time in sports, Americans get it right. Let’s not reward time wasting. Let’s not take away time for players to make plays, for comebacks to happen, and let’s not have some arbitrary amount of unpoliced injury time determine a win or loss. (If you’re an Atletico fan, you surely don’t disagree after the Champions League final). It adds drama and decreases BS gamesmanship.
With those changes, we now have 40 minutes of actual play, the same as a college basketball game. We have sufficient commercial breaks.
Substitutions should be rolling. Like indoor soccer or hockey, you have to enter and exit the field of play from the same space, and teams can’t have more players on the field than the allotted 7.
How often in 7s do you see eight of the 14 players on the field sucking wind around midfield while a guy like Carlin Isles is making a lonely run to the try line? Factor in another dozen seconds for the conversion kick and getting the ball to midfield, and you have ample time for subs to be rolled on. The more opportunity teams have to put fresh legs on the field, the better the player welfare and the standard.
The standard in the exhibition at the CRC, by the way, wasn’t bad. Morgan Findlay was still violently stepping guys well into the fourth quarter, the New York team exploded for a 31-5 run in the third quarter, the Canadians answered with a big fourth-quarter run, and the game was exciting to watch from start to finish. And all in a time of year when most aren’t in anywhere near 7s shape.
As for player welfare, I’m alright with bumping the roster up two spots. Do that, and with the time reduced to 40 minutes, you’d be looking at an average of just under 16 minutes per player. I think that’s a doable compromise.
Look, I’m no different than most of you. I wish Super 7s wasn’t necessary. I wish we were at a point in this country where we could have professional 15s in its traditional form. I wish we could have a regular, ole professional 7s circuit, and I think maybe we could. (It would help if USA Rugby would quit selling the rights to such a competition to someone apparently using the contracts to make his desk less wobbly.)
But the people who have opened so many doors for American rugby, the ones who don’t tax us, yet give us opportunities to play on national television, in major league venues, and enjoy a world-class international rugby event on American soil, think this Super 7s is the way to actually get professional rugby in this country off the ground.
This isn’t a group that sends out empty press releases. When they put their fancy logo on something, it means something. They don’t sell tickets to an event they’re going to cancel later. They don’t drum up interest in something they don’t have the ability to pull off.
If you want professional rugby in America, get behind the group that’s put its money where its mouth is time and time again, even if it means getting behind something new.