The structure for the second USA Rugby Collegiate 7s National Championships has been announced, and the new date has also been released. There are some interesting changes.
For starters, USA Rugby continues to provide incentive for men’s teams to hurry up and get in a conference, as they are only awarding automatic bids to conference-based tournaments that have a minimum of seven member teams participating.
Last year, non-conference-affiliated tournaments were included as automatic qualifiers.
The new qualification format does encourage conferences that perhaps weren’t going to put on tournaments to do so, as that’s now the only vehicle to guarantee its member teams a shot at automatic qualification.
It also appears to promote DI-A conference 7s tournaments, of which there were none last season. We still don’t know a lot about the makeup of DI-A, but we can make some guesses, and it doesn‘t seem all too likely that most DI-A conferences will have the requisite 7 member teams to garner an automatic bid for their 7s champion.
If the West consists of BYU, Wyoming, Colorado, Colorado State and Air Force, it can’t offer automatic qualification to its conference 7s tournament champion, because it only has five member teams. If the Pac-12 group were to go ahead with its league, whether DI-A or DI-AA, it would also be too small. Same for the Mid-South, as it existed last year, or the Allied Rugby Conference as it exists currently.
What sense does it make for the champion of the Keystone Conference 7s tournament to get an automatic bid if the Pac-12 champion can’t?
The biggest mistake, as I see it, in the new setup? The legislated omission of DII and NSCRO teams. As stated in the press release, the USA Rugby Men’s College 7s Championship is reserved for DI teams only. Lots of issues here.
Why not let DII teams qualify? The end goal, as communicated to me by members of the college competitions committee, is to have separate DI and DII championships. Sure, that makes sense. And the argument is that the DII conference structure is just not well enough equipped at this point to support a DII championship. As the commissioner of a fledgling DII conference, I agree.
There's also concern that if DII conferences wait until the first year of a DII 7s National Championship to run tournaments, those events will be run poorly. Last season, some first-time DI-AA qualifiers were thrown together last minute and were of poor quality. The Midwest qualifier had only four teams show up. Again, understood.
But why not let the DII teams try and compete in at-large qualifying tournaments this year?
“If the committed DII teams who want to do this are able to just hop into these at-large tournaments, there’s no incentive to work within their conference structure to create their own tournament,” a committee member said.
Fine, I suppose, but eliminating a DII team’s ability to qualify for Nationals this year doesn’t provide incentive, either.
As a membership organization, USA Rugby owes equal or representative opportunities to its constituents. It does not cost less to CIPP for a DII collegiate team than a DI collegiate team, and the number of registered men's DII and NSCRO teams outweighs the number of registered men's DI teams, but USA Rugby is now running one extra championship for DI players.
It also, I would argue, eliminates the opportunity for some really kick-butt DII and NSCRO players and teams to showcase their abilities to selectors.
For example, how often as a player for Principia College in Elsah, Ill. do you get to play in front of a selector? Unless you make it to the 15s semifinals, which is markedly more difficult than reaching 7s Nationals (more games to win, more teams to compete against, less teams make it to Nationals, etc.) you probably never do. But if you have three really awesome Thunderchickens who lead Principia to the 7s National Championships, they are now suddenly playing in front of selectors.
Not allowing DII and NSCRO teams to compete for a 7s National Championship isn’t just not fair and pointless, it effectively discourages DII and DIII teams from playing 7s.
7s is perhaps the best way to identify non-tight-five talent, period. By attending a 7s tournament, you get to see exponentially more teams, and usually the best non-tight-five players on those teams, thus widening the net. In the age of no men’s college National All Star Championships, USA Rugby should be looking to widen its net as much as possible.
The date for these 7s championships was changed after initial release. The same needs to be done with its structure.