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Editor's note: the original version of this article incorrectly stated St. Mary's had received an invite to the CRC. St. Mary's has never received an invite to the CRC. A retraction of this mistake was published Jul 2, 2014.
The Collegiate Rugby Championship annually comes under fire for the makeup of its tournament, and the latest round of shots have left the gun. The bottom line – there are some really good 7s teams that don’t play in the CRC, and some pretty poor teams that do.
St. Mary’s, BYU, Arkansas State, Central Washington, Utah and American International College aren’t involved. Why?
BYU cannot play on Sundays. That’s an easy one, and it’s well known.
Utah played in the first two CRCs, declined to play in the third, and they haven’t been invited back since.
Does turning down the tournament once mean you’re forever barred? No. Did you see all those Rhino jerseys on the backs of teams at the CRC this year? The owners of the CRC, United World Sports, are also in the Rhino hustle. Utah was wearing new Rhino kit this spring. Coincidence? Maybe. Are people within UWS in contact with those at Utah, possibly looking at renewing a relationship? Maybe.
Arkansas State and St. Mary's inquired some years ago about how to go about getting into the CRC. They were told to go to the Las Vegas Invitational when it was a qualifier, and not only try to win their way in, but showcase what they have directly to UWS brass in person. Arkansas State and St. Mary's have never played in the LVI.
Kutztown made it known for years that it wanted to play in the CRC, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the Golden Bears actually broke in. Before that, KU regularly played at the LVI. Yes, Kutztown is local to Philadelphia and that helped, but it’s no closer now than it was in 2011 and 2012, when the Golden Bears were on the outside looking in. Delaware another example.
For what it’s worth, Arkansas State has been invited to join the Varsity Cup before, another UWS-related event, and said no thanks.
Is the selection of the CRC perfect? No. It’s not, and I won’t pretend it is. If it were up to me, Arkansas State and St. Mary’s would have standing invitations every year. They’re both DI NCAA schools with enough of a name brand, and a really high standard of play, that they’d make the competition more compelling.
This year’s semifinals of Cal vs. UCLA and Life vs. Kutztown were an awesome spectacle. Great athletes were tackling and dummying great athletes. The CRC desperately needs more of that, and the Gaels and Red Wolves would provide it.
I’d also give American International College, which bounced Kutztown from the ACRC Cup this spring, an invitation, should the event stay in Philadelphia, which isn’t a guarantee. UWS has invited Northeastern the last two years, presumably because they need a New England representative to try and draw in a few more fans. AIC helps fill that need, too, and the Yellow Jackets play some exciting 7s rugby.
I’d call it quits on the local pandering. Penn, Drexel, Temple and even St. Joe’s, don’t deliver enough butts in the seats to justify them being in the tournament. St. Joe’s was the best Philadelphia team in the tourney, though, and doesn’t drag down the standard.
The one piece of the puzzle no one considers with the local colleges is that they invest in the tournament. They may not provide a lot of fans, but they provide venues for the ancillary tournaments, and they buy advertising boards on the touch lines and commercial space. Not sure what value you can assign there, but these teams aren’t lighting up the turnstiles or the scoreboard at PPL Park.
I’d definitely bring the qualification back to the LVI. It made for an amazing sideshow to the IRB 7s in Vegas, it was a meeting ground for the east and the west, it allowed the Central Washingtons, Arkansas States, Davenports, Lindenwoods, etc. a chance to win their way in, and it gave the CRC a couple of credibility points with the rugby community, which it desperately needs.
The CRC also needs to do a better job of finding the Michigans, UCLAs and Virginia Techs – programs that provide big-name marketability, which is valued by NBC and UWS, that are also closing the gap between themselves and the Cals and Lifes of the world. And the CRC needs to cut bait with some of those other big-name programs that come back year after year and show little-to-no signs of closing the gap. Get serious, or get out. That’s not an easy task, identifying the coaches and leadership groups that not only want to close the gap, but are capable of doing it.
The point is, the CRC selection process isn’t perfect, but it’s not a farce. I’ve talked with tournament organizers on several occasions, and the UWS staff takes selection very seriously. They’ll admit they haven’t always made the right choices. However, they’re trying to do right, not only by their bottom line, but by the game of rugby as a whole.
If it weren’t for the CRC, would Michigan have raised its standard of 7s play the same way? Would Virginia Tech? Would half of the rest of college rugby? There’s a big argument to be made that they wouldn’t.
Tournament organizers are trying to strike the balance between making a buck in the game of rugby (or at least not losing a bunch), developing the game, and putting it in the limelight. They’ve made strides in each of those categories.