If You Build it They Will Come: True of False for the College Rugby Championship 7’s
This past week I had the pleasure of traveling to Philadelphia, PA, one of my favorite cities, to watch the College Rugby Championship 7’s tournament. Friendly, fun, and hard working city, everything that exemplifies rugby. I volunteered at the high school combine, a big step in colleges’ recruiting process. It was fantastic to see so many younger student-athletes who are dedicated playing rugby in the future. They were full of excitement, nerves, and joy. I had a blast running the obstacle courses’ and drills along side them. I’m not sure if I’m getting older and less athletic or these kids are just getting increasingly more athletic. What are we feeding them? They were strong, agile, fast, and had great skills. There were +300 student-athletes who participated. Great job and good luck to all. (Picture taken on my phone from right outside the stadium before we really got busy).
It was a good day of fun, food, and friends. Of course, I’d have rather laced up my boots and ran out on the pitch to play, but I’ll settle for watching. The atmosphere was incredible and extremely invigorating, especially after a long drive and sleepless night. It was great fun to see all different types of people enjoying themselves. That’s a big part of what rugby is about. It was great to feel that friendly rugby culture while I met new people. The stadium, PPL Park, was really nice and clean, the fans were excited, and strangers shared laughs and smiles as they became friends. It seemed bigger than last years CRC and I was happy that rugby is growing as a sport. I was so excited that $10 a drink and a insanely high price to park my car couldn’t even turn me off. It is a soccer stadium and business after all. I was turned off when I got inside to watch the actual games.
I was disappointed, to say the least, with the selection of teams. I understand 7’s is a bit of a show-off game, but that shouldn’t be what rugby is about. Rugby, at this high of a level, should be about the best players playing regardless of popularity or status. It shouldn’t be political or thought of as an economic function. In the long run rugby will lose if it looks at this as a business to gain money, rather than a way to develop the sport and more importantly to celebrate the best teams who worked hard and earned a national title. Please don’t get me wrong, Dartmouth earned it this year, but I felt other teams were only there for their name and they were not the best 7’s contenders in the nation. Life U is a smaller school that plays great rugby, year in and year out. Life deserved to be there and showed they belonged.
A major life lesson that rugby has taught me and my teammates through the years, has been a lesson of honor and humility. Players have to compete every single week for the spot on the team. It isn’t the flashy, show-off game, like those that we see on Sports Center. Many people love rugby largely because it’s an honest game. It’s as much an honest game off the field as well. Example?… We give quality banter to those divas who take dives and players who care more about hair-do’s than supporting the team. Commercialization will hurt this game.
No matter what we do for a living or where we do it, we all have people who are better than us at something. The best should play, for the good of the team, and if a scrum-half were better than me, I would expect he gets played over me. It is my responsibility to elevate my game. Instead of crossing our arms and pouting, we need to learn what we can do to improve. Then work hard to become better and compete for that position. Look at the great, excuse me, I mean legendary, Dan Carter playing at center instead of fly half for his club team, only a few months after his team won the World Cup. Pat Lambie moving fullback for the Natal Sharks. Or how about Jonny Wilkinson, who didn’t play as much as the general public thought he should have during this past World Cup. As an individual, rugby ingrains us with the mentality of “team first.” Rugby is, after all, the great team sport. As a larger lesson than just the individual one, we should carry it over to our team selection. And to be honest there was a huge gap in the quality of play. The teams at the CRC were either very advanced in rugby 7’s tactics, fitness, and skill or they were beginners at best.
There could have been many other schools there who were just as competitive or better, but they didn’t get invited to take the pitch at PPL Park because they were perceived as not having as big a name or fan base. I understand it’s a business, but rugby is about integrity and it’s an honest sport; it should be more than just bringing in money. Also, some would argue that smaller, close-knit schools would bring more interested and intense fans than the quiet crowd at PPL park this past week. LifeU is a perfect example of this. They were a great team and had the most visible and loudest fans there.
For the business crowd, it’s better to grow slow at a consistent rate with a quality product (rugby) than to grow rapidly in the first few years only to lose, forever, those who care about the game and eventually, the game itself. Who would be encouraged to play all out if it’s the same teams every year? How many fans, outside of begrudgingly dragged, immediate family members, would buy tickets and stick around to watch games if they were mostly shut-outs. Sure the 14 minutes were exciting, but more exciting events can take place in 14 minutes than just watching sitting in the hot sun to watch a power house dominate a lack luster team. I couldn’t help but think some teams were only there because a handful of executives that run the CRC thought it would be good to bring in a school with a big name to garner a fan base. Business 101: you can’t make people like your product if you’re delivering below known potential. You need a great product first then build institutions around it. You will not succeed by building a fan base first only to give them low-quality rugby to watch. Imagine a really beautiful restaurant with great service and really nice dinner plates, place settings, and chairs. The piano is playing soft music in the background and you’ve eaten incredible food here before. Tonight the chef makes you something off the menu… it’s not awful, but you know it’s not his best. Tell me you don’t leave a little disappointed. We have better 7’s teams in the US, why were they not invited? Why don’t smaller schools get a chance to compete? This left a bad taste in my mouth.
I may be wrong and I may not know the whole process or details of team selection, but if the CRC made that information more readily available, it would help. Or if they increased transparency and invitations to other schools with solid programs we would be more inclined to watch. I love rugby and will continue to support its growth. I still had a fun time, but I just hope we can remedy this poor decision making before it’s too late. I’m not saying that the players don’t work hard or they didn’t deserve to be there, just simply that better teams exist yet they were not given an equal chance because, I suspect they weren’t deemed as a high profit school. Congrats to all the players and their families, you all fought hard. Next year, I’ll seriously consider going the the RSL final or the DI-III finals instead because they have a play-off system before going to the CRC. If I’m going to pay the high parking fees and sneak in drinks and popcorn to avoid double-digit prices for a draft, I want to watch good, honest, rugby at the very least. I say all this with love. I push and challenge the CRC because rugby has taught us to bring out the best in each other. Rugby is bringing out the best in me and I challenge them to do better because I know, together, we are capable of doing more.