This story originally ran on GrowRugby.com. Started by USA Rugby's and the University of Michigan's Matt Trenary, as well as former USA Rugby employee and current Wheeling Jesuit coach Eric Taber and a few others, GrowRugby.com is a site devoted to sharing ideas on how to grow the game in America. From time to time, we will repostGrowRugby stories here, with permission.
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.
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.