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NATE EBNER

In one sense, the current Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) for college sevens began in Copenhagen, Demark, during the first week of October 2009. Then, at the International Olympic Committee’s meeting, rugby’s seven-a-side version for Women and Men was approved as new sport for the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Question: What was the other sport voted in? Answer at end of article.)

The National Broadcast Company (NBC), which historically televised the summer Olympic Games, realized that to build an audience it might benefit viewership if the network also aired rugby sevens in the lead up to the 2016 Rio event. The only significant sevens rugby tournament in the USA was the annual Las Vegas Sevens operated by United World Sports. The tournament, one of the ten stops on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens circuit, featured unfamiliar teams from countries rarely seen on American television (Fiji, Samoa, Argentina, Kenya, New Zealand, etc.).

What NBC needed was a new rugby event with potentially more appeal to its traditional sports audience.  In the absence of any USA professional sevens sides, the only feasible answer was to stage a new event with recognizable college teams.

United World Sports obliged by creating the Collegiate Rugby Championship in 2010, inviting sixteen teams, including Army, Navy, Ohio State, Arizona, California, and others.

Columbus, Ohio’s, Crew Stadium, the Major League Soccer venue, was chosen to host the inaugural event. With scant promotion, there was only a handful of friends and family in the stands. To NBC’s delight, it sold $1 million in ads for the two-day event that aired eight hours of sports programming.

Except for a few sides with existing sevens programs, the rugby from many of the other schools lacked the high standard of sevens rugby as played today.  Many of these colleges playing sevens for the first time, cobbled together teams as best they could.

And yet, the spectacular final between Utah and Cal was a match for the ages as the teams traded scores. Utah football All-American Thretton Palamo threaded through the Cal defense for a try at the death, and a tie ensued 26-26. In overtime, Don Pati scored under the posts to give the Utes a 31-26 sudden death victory.

Each year since, the quality of sevens play has significantly improved for all entries, both Men’s and Women’s sides. The venue moved the next year in 2011 to Chester, Pennsylvania, home of the Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union inside Talen Energy Stadium.

Named to that CRC 2010  first All-Tournament team was Ohio State’s Nate Ebner (New England Patriots), who played for the USA Eagles in the Rio Olympics.

The Penn Mutual Insurance Collegiate Rugby Championship commences its ninth showing in two weeks, June 1,2,3. Arriving in Chester will be 24-Men’s and 16 Women’s colleges to compete  for the 2018 championship. Today’s CRC college athletes will become tomorrow’s USA Olympic players, showcased on television at this successful 2018 event.

(Golf)