Point Counter-Point: Collegiate Sevens Championship

Back from a bit of an in-season hiatus, we’ll do something different today. We being Matt Trenary and Eric Taber. This will be a point counter-point piece on whether or not teams with significant travel should attend USA Rugby’s Collegiate Sevens National Championship. This centers around the financial commitments of championships as any free championships would almost assuredly be fully attended. But depending on the location, teams could spend $10,000 to attend. Could that money be used for something better? These will mostly be our own personal opinions but may include some devil’s advocating for discussion purposes. So feel free to leave some comments on what we missed and what you think.

Opening Statement
MT: Your program should have goals and associated costs identified. This helps focus the players and team efforts. If $500 per player is put towards a championship, endowment, Varsity Cup match, or tour, it’s all the same as the players are aware, behind the plan, and it offers a positive experience to the players. All of the team’s actions should have the goal of giving the players (and future players) a great experience of education, camaraderie, competition, enjoyment, challenge, etc.

The problem with some championship runs is that they can negatively impact your team while still costing money. Some negative examples being players not attending due to cost, financial fatigue that limits future growth or experiences, or a splitting of the program between the players that attend and those that don’t. As the price increases, these negative impacts are more likely. Weigh the positive and negative possibilities against the cost of attending and you should have a decent analysis of whether to attend or not.

ET: Your team just qualified to compete in a National Championship. How great is that? It’s the chance to give your athletes the validation they deserve for working their butts off in all those cold training sessions and early morning lifts, and an honor that the boys/girls will relish for their whole lives.

It’s my belief that as a coach, you have to enable your players to compete at the highest level they can/want to. If you qualify for a championship, that is important to them, and you should go. Will it be expensive? Probably. Are there ways to maximize your dollars, Yes. In my opinion the positives of traveling to a national championship that your team has qualified for, far outweigh the negatives.

A player who is expected to play should not miss out due to financials. The team just needs to know that going into the qualifying event, there is a possibility you will add a trip to Texas on to that if you win. Rugby is, for the most part, a pay-to-play sport in the USA. If guys know going into the qualification process that it may cost them $X to go to nationals, they will decide weather it is a wise option for them. Will you lose a guy or two, possibly. However, it’s important that there be a fundraising plan, or payment plan for the player be available to him/her.

I’m not saying you should not at least analyze your scenario. It’s my opinion that budgeting, fundraising, and managing expectations of your players is the key to attending championships. The key here is to manage the expectations of your team. What’s the old adage? “Prior planning prevents pissed-off people”? If your team’s goal for the season is to qualify for, and compete in the 7s National Championship, then the guys have to be on board with it from day one. One plan I have put into place over the years is to divvy up the cost per player, and put the onus on them to hit that target. If each player has a fundraising strategy provided to them, the opportunity to participate in a championship will be the motivation to raise the funds as individuals, and often times individual fundraising is an easier proposition with the likes of parents, family friends, and business owners they know.

Does it matter where the money comes from?
MT: Somewhat. Whether player funded or program funded, you are still out the money. But some forms of support are more likely for a championship than to be used somewhere else; university championship fund, alumni support, and the player’s pocket included. Players are more likely to fork over for a chance at a title than to balk at it and toss in $500 towards the club’s endowment. So a rough estimate of $8,000 to go to Texas and play isn’t necessarily $8,000 that you can put towards anything else of need.

ET: I actually agree here, however I believe funding for a Championship is such a special cause that donors/funds/endowments, etc are more likely to step up to the plate. To this point, it might be a wise idea to re-approach previous donors when a championship is on offer. For example, alumni who may have given their annual donation will be apt to donate again if an appeal is made to support the Championship team. Instead of looking at it as $8,000 in the hole, look at it as an opportunity to raise a new $8,000. It should also be noted that if you plan to attend a championship, a fundraising plan should be in place to activate when needed…. call it a contingency plan.

Does it matter who’s championship it is?
MT: I don’t think it matters so much about who is running the thing as simply, how good is the event. How can fans see it? How is the venue? Do the players have an environment to do their best? USA Rugby catches flack for their events but has put fifteens championships in an MLS stadium and on forms of ESPN. But on the sevens side, turf fields with minimal bleachers and USTREAM versus the CRC’s MLS stadium and NBC make the CRC the clear winner. Although the CRC requires teams to sell thousands of dollars in tickets to attend, they still have the financial ability to provide an environment where players will perform their best and the fans will see it.

I’m not saying that USA Rugby’s Collegiate Sevens Championship doesn’t matter. It absolutely does and the winner should proudly take home the trophy and put up pictures on their website. But the CRC’s professionalism may make a more lasting impression on the players and fans. And if that’s part of your team’s mission, then it is something to consider.

ET: Call me a purist, or, call me a coach at a small school, but in my opinion the CRC is not a Championship. It’s undeniable that since the first 7s events back in the Home Depot Center in LA, rugby events in the USA have come a long way. USA Sevens should be proud of their accomplishments. They are certainly good for rugby. The fact that USA Sevens offers logistics benefits to offset costs for teams at the CRC is attractive, but the requirement to sell tickets makes it a more difficult proposition for those teams. Still, the fact remains that this is an invitation only tournament. Las Vegas is the only opportunity for a school like Central Washington, Life, or even Wheeling Jesuit to qualify for the CRC, the rest are invites. (The ACRL is considered a “qualifier” but each of those schools is an attractive brand name for USA 7s to take advantage of, and enjoys a semi-close proximity to Philly and their alumni.)

Recently VA Tech announced they would not be attending the USA Rugby tournament. I feel this decision is short sighted, and simply bad for the game. There really are no legitimate reasons for this team to not attend both events other than poor planning/fundraising, and having a political statement to make. Blacksburg is a 7 hour drive from Philly. USA 7s subsidizes the trip, therefore making it a cost effective option for the Hokies, but it’s still not a National Championship.

Does it matter what other teams are competing?
MT: Yes. I wish that both the USA Rugby event and the CRC had all the top teams. But neither will. It’s a big country and getting all 16 or 24 teams to the same event is tough. BYU hasn’t been in any of the sevens championships to date. How strange is that?

But neither event really has much of an advantage in terms of competing teams yet. Maybe all of the big dogs show up in College Station. It would give USA Rugby’s event a distinct advantage over the CRC. But there have been a few teams already saying they won’t go which doesn’t bode well. So the teams matter, but so far we haven’t really had an event that has all of the best teams.

ET: I’m not so sure it does. My team qualifies for a National Championship that is comprised of other tournament winners… I want to go. My team gets invited to participate because our school is 30 minutes from the stadium… I feel like I’m being used for ticket sales.

Does it matter what else your program is doing?
MT: To me this is the most likely reason to decline an invite. If you have laid out goals and this championship doesn’t help you meet those goals, then you need to reconsider. We are unfortunately at a point where not everyone sees the USA Rugby Collegiate Sevens Championship as THE championship. This isn’t the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament where everyone knows that’s the national championship and the NIT isn’t.  But that wasn’t always the case. Even so, CRC versus USA Rugby’s championship might not even be the question. It might come down to building the program in other ways or even doing what’s best for the students who may have exams or significant study time occurring during the tournament as was last year.

ET:  What is more important than winning a championship? Or: no matter what you are doing, how could winning a national championship hurt your cause? USA Rugby’s tournament is the only true championship on offer. Once the event budget grows for the USAR championship, you will see more benefits, and perhaps more broadcast exposure. These are exciting times we live in for 7s, and the Olympics are a powerful force. This is one asset that USA 7s cannot leverage… the Olympic Rings. The National Governing Body will continue to hold the Championship and develop it. However, Rome was not built in a day. I believe the American rugby public often suffers from a delusion of grandeur. Like D1-A Rugby, building the product takes time. It’s detrimental to everyone’s goals for the sport of rugby to simply pick up your toys and go home… so to say.

How much is too much?
MT: I guess that’s the million dollar question. How much is a championship worth? Or more specifically, how much is a shot at a championship worth? How much is finishing last at the national championship tournament worth? I think all of the previous questions are rolled into this. Are all of the best teams there? What’s the alternative?

If you have the money and academic impact is minimal, you go. Would take a strong alternate need for the money not to. If you have to cover more than $5,000 and can just go the CRC, you probably go CRC. If all of the money is coming out of the player’s pockets and no alternative, I wouldn’t want it to cost more than $300 per person.

ET: A championship is priceless. It adds an undeniable and immeasurable value to your club, and will ensure your athletes have achieved their goals. The qualification process is the beauty of the National Championship. Even if a team finishes last at Nationals, they still won something to get there. Maybe that win was Colorado winning the Pac 12, or Ohio State winning the Big Ten. These are meaningful victories against opposition they can be proud to have beat. Just because the conference standard is not as strong as others really isn’t the point. The point is, they won, and went and represented their conference against the best. To me, therein lies the value of making the trip.

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13 Comments

  1. Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Mr. Taber’s comments about Virginia Tech’s decision are somewhat misinformed. A bigger issue than the financial burden is the academic burden, given the timing of the event and the inability of rugby student-athletes to get the same preferential treatment with respect to missing classes and the like as varsity student-athletes at that school. However, perhaps the biggest issue goes to what Mr. Trenary said-look at the quality of the event. The ACRL 7s is a better quality event from the standpoint of the participants than the College Station event. So these kids just finished playing in a conference tournament qualifier and now would be taking a step BACKWARDS in terms of experience to pay $X out of their own pocket to go to College Station and play on intramural fields. The championship is not even in a stadium. Not even a little one. Let me repeat-USAR is hosting a national championship and it is being played on intramural fields on a college campus. Same place where frat flag football is played. Combine that with the conflicts with the academic calendar, the fact that these kids have now qualified to play at the CRC, and there is minimal incentive to play in College Station. And the argument that it is a true national championship is dubious at best. Let’s see who actually shows up this year in College Station (we already know BYU is not going to, nor is Utah). So the same argument remains as with the CRC – some of the best teams are not there. Just my opinion.

  2. Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Also, in terms of growing the rugby program at Virginia Tech, participating in the USA Rugby 7s national championship provides very little return on investment. Nobody in their administration cares about it and it will not raise the profile of the team on campus. Competing in the CRC, however? completely different story. Even ask Life-which was the better value for their program last year-College Station or the CRC. Not even close. For a school like Virginia Tech, which denies 10s of thousands of applicants each year and doesn’t have the need to figure out ways to get kids to come to their school like Wheeling Jesuit does, what is going to help get the administration behind possibly pushing the rugby program out of rec sports and into either the athletic department or some other designation like “team sports” at Penn State? It’s not playing on the intramural fields at College Station, it’s playing on national TV at the CRC. I would think that a coach at a varsity program would think in terms of “how can other schools also become varsity programs?” However, this isn’t the mindset that many of these varsity programs have because if the big schools were to become varsity, then what happens to Wheeling Jesuit? It goes back to being a non-factor, just like in other sports. The irony here is that these varsity programs that are springing up need the big schools to remain at the recreational level. Arkansas State built their program on the idea that they could garner attention by beating teams like Tennessee, Florida, etc. Now they have gotten themselves into a position where their league consists of Davenport and Life and the school is no longer as interested in funding the rugby team. All these varsity programs say the same thing-other teams need to get better, get more support from the University, etc. Well, at schools like Virginia Tech, getting better and getting more university support means going to the CRC instead of the Texas A&M intramural fields college 7s jamboree. So don’t tell other schools what they need to do and then criticize them when they do exactly that.

  3. rj1
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    “For a school like Virginia Tech, which denies 10s of thousands of applicants each year and doesn’t have the need to figure out ways to get kids to come to their school like Wheeling Jesuit does, what is going to help get the administration behind possibly pushing the rugby program out of rec sports and into either the athletic department or some other designation like “team sports” at Penn State?”

    This is where the argument completely falls apart, please elaborate how The Virginia Polytechnic Institute will get into the athletics department, which for me means varsity status, within the context of federal law? Honestly, there’s no difference between the VT rugby team and the VT ice hockey team at the moment, ice hockey is actually more popular than rugby amongst students at the campus I’d bet because there is no NHL for rugby, and if you attempted to sell people on ice hockey becoming a varsity sport inside the VT athletics department, everyone would laugh at you.

    So please, give me the plan.

    “I would think that a coach at a varsity program would think in terms of “how can other schools also become varsity programs?”

    How within the context of current federal law and the current budget cuts that have been going on at major college athletics departments around the country will that happen? Athletics departments are not looking to add to their expense, they’re looking to cut. The college rugby world saw that last year with Cal.

    “The irony here is that these varsity programs that are springing up need the big schools to remain at the recreational level. Arkansas State built their program on the idea that they could garner attention by beating teams like Tennessee, Florida, etc. Now they have gotten themselves into a position where their league consists of Davenport and Life and the school is no longer as interested in funding the rugby team.”

    What?

    Rugby gets no attention in this country, even with the CRC and USA Sevens existing. A sport can’t be built off of four hours’ national TV time per year as some in college rugby think. I live in the same part of the world as the ACRL and know their teams and their coaches personally, while I applaud what they do, in rugby terms they’re the equivalent of the Sun Belt for FBS football. I’ve never seen such a misplaced sense of arrogance of what these people think they are when John Swofford, ACC commissioner, has probably never heard of the league, given it consideration, or given them any funding. It’s led to them being arrogant snobs on conference membership where a truly good rugby program in East Carolina is disenfranchised while embracing hopelessly Division III-level programs in Duke and Georgia Tech that had to eventually self-relegate themselves.

    The conference expansion also works against the ACRL because with the ACC trying to retain BCS relevance in college football (they’re losing that battle at the moment) they’re grabbing onto the northeast and Notre Dame, and none of the current teams can afford the travel up to the northeast and back, none of the northeastern teams are going to choose to join the southern teams in the conference when they have all their neighbors right nextdoor they can play far cheaper, so the ACRL representing the ACC is lacking due to the great geographical distances between the teams now since the ACC is not giving them any money and the conference is designed with football and only football in mind to the point that it has screwed over the conference’s one calling card they had for years and years: basketball.

    Someday the college rugby world will realize they’re not football and instead they’re more college hockey. Emulating a conference structure designed for football and football only is only going to lead to tears and club bankruptcies.

  4. Another ACRL fan
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    “a truly good rugby program in East Carolina is disenfranchised”

    ECU were given a chance to compete in the ACRL sevens series and pulled out the night before the Maryland event!

    You obviously accept extremely low standards – glad the ACRL doesn’t.

  5. Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    You make some decent points regarding Title IX, and the reality is that rugby’s chance at reciving elevated status at major universities is to follow the Penn St. path. Varisty status is highly unlikely. But the point remains, the chances of gaining elevated status, funding, recognition at a school like Virginia Tech is not enhanced in any manner by participating in the College Station event. But good points with respect to varsity status.

    ” truly good rugby program in East Carolina is disenfranchised”

    This is where you lose credibility. Anyone who knows anything about East Carolina knows that while they have some good rugby athletes, their program is a disgrace, with no coach, no commitment (they bailed on an ACRL 7s event they were invited to and committed to at 10pm on Friday night before the event), and for the record, East Carolina never once asked to join the ACRL save for a facebook message from some player’s dad to a coach of one of the teams. Pretty professional, eh? Not quite what the ACRL is looking for. And you’re right on Duke and Georgia Tech, it turned out they didn’t fit, so now they are gone. Alot of that had to do with the lack of organization and coaching at those schools though and is further evidence as to why ECU would not be a fit.

    And the commissioner of the ACRL happens to know John Swofford personally, as his law firm represents the ACC. So yeah, Swofford knows all about the ACRL. Does he care? Not really, but that’s not the point of the ACRL forming along recognized conference lines. Do high school rugby players care about playing in a conference like the ACRL or the SCRC? Yup. That’s why there were 15 Gonzaga alums on teams at the ACRL 7s two weekends ago, a dozen Charlotte Catholic alums, etc.

    Good discussion points though, and I do like the idea of college rugby emulating college hockey in terms of conference structure where the traditional NCAA conference structure doesn’t work. College gymnastics does this too. But where a traditional conference structure works, (Ivy, Big 10, ACRL, Pac-12, SCRC) there are tangible benefits.

  6. rj1
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    ““a truly good rugby program in East Carolina is disenfranchised”

    ECU were given a chance to compete in the ACRL sevens series and pulled out the night before the Maryland event”

    I’m talking XVs. I don’t really care about 7s.

  7. rj1
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    “But the point remains, the chances of gaining elevated status, funding, recognition at a school like Virginia Tech is not enhanced in any manner by participating in the College Station event.”

    Hey, if VT thinks that, power to them. And in the confines of their budget, it is perfectly understandable. But such an attitude is why them and the ACRL are the minor leagues when it comes to college rugby and VT when they get to Philly will not be successful.

    My alma mater N.C. State played in the CRC last year and their time on TV consisted of two 14-minute matches, one they got killed in and the other they lost competitively. If all a side has to go for in a calendar year is to get 2 short games on TV, I wouldn’t give them any money or recognition. That’s it? That’s all the hard practices and labor and sweat is for, so half your team minus the props and locks can play on TV for a half-hour?

    State’s one win in that tournament was they beat Army in the consolation Sunday morning (not on TV) and the players told me they went out and got hammered the night before. You can say that’s unprofessional, I can say that’s ACRL-level rugby. That’s why Wheeling Jesuit are probably a better rugby team than Virginia Tech, whether you want to accept it or not.

    “This is where you lose credibility. Anyone who knows anything about East Carolina knows that while they have some good rugby athletes, their program is a disgrace, with no coach, no commitment”

    Really? On the 7s front, I saw them in person this past June defeat N.C. State at the Charity 7s hosted by Raleigh Rugby Football Club and go on to win the tournament destroying a team that had Amir Khan on it, and if you’re knowledgeable on the local rugby, you know who he is. If we’re talking XVs, they’re more than a match for Carolina and State, I believe ECU and State tied in the spring, and State beat them by a try a couple weeks ago. If State or the rest of the ACRL think it’s better they play Georgia Tech and beat them 100-0, again, that’s why they’re the minor leagues when it comes to college rugby in this country.

    “Not really, but that’s not the point of the ACRL forming along recognized conference lines.”

    So you think Navy should not be in the conference?

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      No, I think the ACRL made a decision to bring in a team that fits what they are trying to acheive as a rugby conference. Similar to the ACC bringing in Notre Dame. The point is, the ACRL is open to making decisions that help the conference. Bringing in ECU won’t help the conference. And I happened to be at that tournament you are talking about where “ECU” beat NC State. Most of “ECU’s” players on that team were not collegiately eligible, as they had graduated or were in their 6th, 7th, 8th year of trying to graduate from “ECU.” So trying to use the “Greenville Reapers” as your basis for arguing that the ACRL should let in ECU is not very convincing. But at the end of the day, the ACRL can do what they want, right? So can ECU. I would think based on your comments about the ACRL, that ECU would much rather find a better confernce to play in anyways. Maybe get into the D1-A mid-South with Life, Davenport, Ark. St. Or the D1-A East with Kuztown, Delaware, Army. Sounds like you think that’s where they really belong-not in a conference that would have the audacity to disenfranchise them.

      And if NC State’s players went out and got drunk on the Saturday night of the CRC, then I wouldn’t give any money to them as an alum either.

  8. Matt Trenary
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Hey guys, thanks for the comment.s. A lot of ideas going around here but it seems that you all agree that pushing for varsity or varsityish status is the way to go.

    Although I may have missed your flurry of comments, to help focus this discussion, I’d like to pose a question. Which comes first for a school like Va Tech, acting and operating as a varsity program or becoming a varsity program?

  9. Blacksburger
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Virginia Tech is never going to become a varsity program, but for the past three years or so they have been acting like one. Just because they decide not to go to nationals changes nothing with regards to them acting like a Varsity Program. What gives Taber the right to preach what is wrong and what is right and accuse people of making political statements?

    Writing checks and sitting in a small school ivory tower isn’t going make the big schools take places like Wheeling Jesuit serious – just as the Athletics Department at Virginia Tech is never going to take the rugby program serious.

  10. Matt Trenary
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Just want to clarify a few common misconceptions that I feel are alluded to here.

    1. The Wheeling’s and Davenport’s don’t have a ton of money. Their coaches have other jobs. They have to solicit donations just like every program. They have an edge with scholarships (though they are still limited in their scholarships) but are mostly successful by what the word varsity means to everyone involved and how it leverages addition commitment from players. 5 days a week of practice whether club or varsity will make you a good program.
    2. A recently promoted sport here had a million dollar a year budget as a club sport and raised an additional six million to get elevated. Every athletic department has a price. You may be at year 3 of 20 which sounds awfully long but we can’t say that big schools will never take you serious. Cal won their first handful of national championships as a club team. Our ideas of how much, how long, and how successful should probably be expanded.

    Additionally, we’d love to hear what Va Tech has been doing the last three years. What is the practice schedule? Are the coaches paid? How has the ACRL helped?

    • Davenport
      Posted November 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      Davenport’s budget is over $100K per year. Compared to many teams, that might be considered ‘a ton’

  11. Robert
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    BYU doesn’t compete on Sundays. Nor will it ever. It is against their religion. So unless they go to a Fri/Sat type format they will not play in 7s series.

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