You’re Big? Fast? Tired of Football? Here’s Your Sport

Discussion in 'Rugby & Aussie Rules' started by yankee_rob, May 29, 2011.

  1. yankee_rob

    yankee_rob Member

    Aug 1, 2006
    London, England
    Nat'l Team:
    United States

    You’re Big? Fast? Tired of Football? Here’s Your Sport

    ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) — When Kellen Gordon became tired of being typecast as a lineman because of his size and made the switch to rugby from football in high school, there were few long-term goals to work toward.

    It gave him a reason to get a college education and offered the possibility of playing for a club team during the summers and after getting his degree. But Gordon, a player for Central Washington, otherwise had little more than the love of the game keeping him on the field.

    That all changed in 2009, when rugby sevens, the scaled-down version of the traditional 15-man game, was added to the Olympic roster for men and women beginning in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. The vote by the International Olympic Committee has led to a surge of interest in the sport, with the World Sevens Series making a stop in the United States and the second college championships for men’s sevens scheduled for next weekend.

    “A lot of guys dream about being on the USA 15s squad and go to a World Cup or something,” Gordon said. “The idea of the Olympics and playing sevens as well, the idea of playing that, and for a professional side, is exciting and something to work for.”

    When Central Washington and 15 other top college rugby programs gather near Philadelphia for the USA Sevens Collegiate championships, they will be playing before USA Rugby officials trying to project how certain players could fit into a plan that is a half-decade from reaching fruition. Even if Rio de Janeiro and the 2016 Olympics are still five years away, the core of the first United States Olympic sevens team will probably be on display in Chester, Pa., starting Saturday.

    That there even is a college championship devoted to the seven-a-side game is another milestone in the growth of rugby in the United States. According to statistics from USA Rugby, the sport had a 48 percent overall increase in participation from 2005 to 2010. That growth was most pronounced at the youth and high school levels. USA Rugby expects to get its 100,000th registered member soon, up from 62,000 five years ago.

    “I don’t think we’ve reached the tipping point,” said Nigel Melville, the chief executive of USA Rugby. “There is momentum being created, but I think there will be more momentum being created the next two years. By going to youth markets the last two years, we’ve increased the number of kids that will develop into rugby players. We have to keep those kids growing and building the skills and everything else that goes with it.”

    The optimism infusing Melville and others in the rugby community stems in part from the rise in popularity of sevens and its television-friendly format. The scaled-down game was once considered a “festival” version of the sport or a way to stay in shape during the off-season.

    But it has long been the game of choice in many smaller countries, especially the Pacific islands of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, whose teams are among the world’s best. The former Fijian star Waisale Serevi — considered the best sevens player in the world during his international career — now lives in the Seattle area and is teaching the game and trying to raise its profile.

    Sevens is played on the same field as the traditional 15-man game but is limited to 14 minutes of breakneck action carved into two seven-minute halves. In 15s, games go for 80 minutes and scoring usually comes in a staged progression because there are so many players on the field; in sevens, a score can seemingly happen at any time.

    It is a series of seven one-on-one matchups, in which athleticism is at a premium and there is no backup if one player makes a mistake.

    “If you have a lot of speed and have a lot of big power, 230- and 240-pound guys who can move like the wind, combined with the aerobic capacity with the ability to run 14 minutes straight, it’s something that makes a sevens athlete special,” said Evan Haigh, the coach of the Old Puget Sound Beach rugby club of Seattle, the reigning United States club champions at sevens.

    The game also is easier to understand for fans and players with limited rugby experience. The intricacies of rucking and scrumming that are crucial to success in 15s are not as important in sevens.

    NBC will broadcast the college championships, and it showed the Sevens World Series event in February in Las Vegas .

    For television executives, the short game fits perfectly between commercial breaks. For the college championships, teams will play three pool matches on the first day before advancing to the knockout phase on Day 2.

    “Our attention spans nowadays are based on the 30-minute sitcom,” said Dan Lyle, the executive director of USA Sevens, the organization that runs the Las Vegas event and the college championships.

    “It very much plays itself toward the American audience,” he said.

    Lyle was largely responsible for putting together the field that will compete in Pennsylvania. It is a mixture of traditional rugby powers, like California and Utah — which played for the title last year — and some big-name Division I schools seeking a larger rugby profile. Arizona, Army, Boston College, Dartmouth, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Navy, Penn State and Temple make up the rest of the invited field.

    “We set out to find the best historic schools combined with good high-quality brands that would show a cross section of the United States and appeal from California to Maine to Florida to Texas,” Lyle said. “We went out with that criteria and we’re looking to help change programs.”

    Central Washington is the only team to earn its way into the tournament, and the only N.C.A.A. Division II program in the field. In the college rugby world, the Wildcats are far from small-school, considered the top program in the Pacific Northwest.

    “I think what we proved to ourselves,” said a Central Washington player, Tim Stanfill, “is it doesn’t matter what name or where you are from or what the name is on your jersey.”

Share This Page