What a great 7s season, and congratulations to Belmont Shore for being men’s national champs, and Berkeley for winning the women’s championship.
I think the final tournament was enjoyable, and several other qualifiers and territorial championships provided surprises and drama.
But … it’s not good enough. We need to find a better way to promote the best level of 7s, and make it fun and challenging for the players (that’s why we play, right?).
The emergence of college and high school 7s since the sport’s acceptance into the Olympics and the development of the NBC/USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship has shown that there is plenty of 7s talent out there eager to play at a high level. Admittedly, some of it is raw, but the talent is there and needs to be developed.
Playing only one territorial championship or seeding tournament, followed by a national tournament (as happens in the South, Pacific Coast and SoCal), is insufficient true competition for good players. The territorial series pursued in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West are better, but flawed.
In the Northeast, the same four or five teams compete, and as a result no one gets pulled out of their comfort zone. In the Midwest, many more teams compete, but with some weekends featuring more than one qualifier tournament, the competition can be diluted. In the West, the three-tournament system often means anyone who doesn’t garner points in the first weekend just doesn’t bother after that.
So now is the time, truly, to consider once again a national 7s series.
The summer could provide between five and eight weekends of competition, depending on how early you start or how late you finish. Established tournaments would be used as part of the series, and the Championship brackets would be open to any legal club.
It is possible to do this. You could use two tournaments every weekend, making it easier for clubs to travel, and you could make it all into a series, rather than culminating in one championship tournament.
This vision, put forth by many smart people, so I am not taking credit for the idea, could include:
10-16 tournaments held no earlier than June 16 2012 and no later than August 7 2012.
Tournaments could be two days.
All participating teams would have to be USA Rugby eligible.
Teams would use their best results (for example, best four tournament finishes) for points. This would allow teams that can’t be there every weekend to still compete.
You could hold tournaments in Tacoma, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Atlanta, Daytona, DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and I am sure many other places, too.
You could have such a mix that one week the tournaments are split East v. West, and another North v. South, meaning that a club in Chicago or Virginia wouldn’t be playing against the same group of teams every week.
But how much is this going to cost, Alex?
Tough question to answer exactly, but here’s an educated guess: Say we have seven weekends of competition, with two tournaments each weekend. Say we have 8-12 teams each tournament (rare is the top-level bracket that has more than that). Let’s also say that half of those teams drive to the tournament, and of those, two-thirds use a hotel.
Say also that all teams pay an entry fee. We are looking at a total cost of about $500,000. Is that coverable?
Could you charge a club dues to enter the tournament, and get a little creative with video, sponsorships and grants to develop such a competition? Certainly you could.
But think on this: even if there were no sponsors, no grants from the IRB or USOC, or no gate or ticket sales, wouldn’t fixing our national 7s competition to make it more fun and more successful in developing Eagles be worth it anyway?