Sunday, June 1, 2014

Collegiate Rugby Sevens and US Quidditch

This weekend, 20 men's rugby sevens teams played for the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) at PPL Park, the home of the Philadlephia Union in Chester, PA. As someone who is drawn to learning about unusual sports, I've enjoyed watching the CRC on NBC and NBC Sports. However, lucky for you, my small knowledge of rugby sevens often led to my mind drifting and thinking about quidditch. 140 characters was not enough to hold all my thoughts. 
Photo by Collegiate Rugby Championship

What's In A Name?
The transition from the IQA to US Quidditch might have been a little shocking at first, but I am confident that it will be the right decision on many levels. Not only will US Quidditch be able to focus more time and resources on US quidditch players, but with a name similar to established organizations like USA Rugby, I am hoping the change will also boost respect for quidditch among other established sports governing bodies. 

I remember being very excited to hear that the 2013-14 membership program had been modeled after organizations like USA Rugby, USA Lacrosse, US Gymnastics and USA Track and Field. I hope US Quidditch continues to follow in the footsteps of these organizations. In my opinion, Membership should just be the beginning. In the following years, I expect other US Quidditch departments to take cues from USA Rugby and company, all highly successful governing bodies for non-"Big Four" sports.
Photo by Collegiate Rugby Championship
Administering Many Divisions
Recent dialogue in the quidditch community has suggested that a split between college and community teams is imminent. In addition, some have predicted that quidditch will need to split into separate weight classes as the sport attracts bigger players. When we get there, the advent of new divisions will raise many questions for US Quidditch. USA Rugby has proved that handling many different sectors of a sport is possible.

USA Rugby has over 115,000 members, with 1,200 high school teams, 900 college teams, 700 senior club teams, and 400 youth teams. At the college level, USA Rugby administers competition in both 15-player and 7-player rugby for both men and women. I would guess that similar divisions exist at the high school and senior club levels. When quidditch splits into different divisions, US Quidditch should look towards USA Rugby.
Photo by Collegiate Rugby Championship
A Faster Game
Like quidditch, rugby is a full-contact sport where tackles do not signal a stoppage of the clock. Mixed with its physicality, rugby sevens' fast-paced and fun-to-watch gameplay is likely what makes it attractive to NBC. At World Cup VII, we saw many games that were significantly slowed by stoppages due to physical contact infractions. Quidditch games were often mired in stoppages and confusion. 

One of the things that contributes to rugby sevens' lightning-fast gameplay is the respect all players show to their opponents and the referee. Despite the presence of 6'7", 250 pound behemoths, the referee is the clear and unquestioned enforcer on the rugby pitch. The referee is constantly communicating with players and imposing his will on the game. Through several hours of games, not once did I see a player stop and argue with a referee at the CRC. 
Photo by Ben Holland

The behavior of players and coaches at World Cup VII was truly detrimental to the game of quidditch. I saw players getting in the faces of referees, captains charging out onto the pitch and referees overwhelmed by onslaughts of criticism. Although this behavior is frequently seen in basketball, quidditch is not an established sport like Dr. James Naismith's game. For new viewers unfamiliar with the game, arguing comes off as immature and stupid. New viewers want to watch players play quidditch, not argue about confusing and complicated rules. Rugby recognizes this and fosters a culture of respect on the pitch. Assuming the quality of referees continues to improve, head referees should be entrusted to make more decisions and direct gameplay with the clock running. Giving referees this power would limit chances for arguments, speed up games and keep new viewers captivated.
Photo by Collegiate Rugby Championship
Finally, rugby sevens seems to have a system for when an offensive player is brought down and retains possession of the quaffle. The defensive player is forced to release the tackled player and several offensive players rush over to the tackled player, take the rugby ball and restart the attack. Especially when beaters are preoccupied, a routine tackle in quidditch can result in a messy scrum. After being released by the defensive player, the offensive player would have to hand the quaffle over to a teammate. Since defending chasers and keepers couldn't create a scrum, beaters would have to be more alert and pounce on a tackled player more quickly. Pressure from beaters to hand off the quaffle would force tackled players to make quicker decisions and keep gameplay moving.
Photo by Nicole Harrig
A New Slate of Events 
By the time US Quidditch reaches its five-year and 10-year birthdays in 2019 and 2024, I hope it will have revamped its end-of-year events. Using USA Rugby's model, my proposal builds in a Collegiate Quidditch Championship to attract the attention and money that the Collegiate Rugby Championship has attracted. Before I explain my new events and adjustments to current events, let's review the Collegiate Rugby Championship.

What? The CRC is the championship for collegiate men's rugby sevens. Games are about 15 minutes and the tournament has pool play followed by bracket play. Who? The CRC is contested between 20 teams from across the country divided into five pools of four teams. Some teams qualify through regional championships and some teams are invited based on the quality school's rugby program. When? The CRC takes place in late May/early June over a three-day period. Pool play happens on Friday and Saturday and bracket play occurs on Sunday. The CRC is awarded after the graduations of most of the participating universities. Where? Since 2011, the CRC has been played at PPL Park, the 18,500-seat home of the Philadelphia Union, a 2009 expansion team in Major League Soccer. In its inaugural year (2010), the CRC was played at Columbus Crew Stadium, the stadium of another MLS team. Only one game occurs at a time.

With some modifications, I had a vision that 5-10 years down the line, US Quidditch will have their own Collegiate Quidditch Championship.

What? The CQC would be the championship for the highest level of collegiate quidditch. The tournament would have pool play followed by bracket play. Who? The CQC would be contested between 32 teams from across the country divided into eight pools of four teams. All teams would qualify through new "collegiate" regional championships (organized by USQ). When? It's not possible right now, but I hope that in 5-10 years, the end of the academic year won't have to be the end of the season for elite collegiate quidditch teams. Lined up with the CRC and the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament, late May/early June would be a great time for the CQC. In addition, with classes finished, a three-day tournament would be possible. Pool play would happen on Friday and Saturday and bracket play would occur on Sunday. Where? For the CQC to garner television and advertisement interest and therefore allow US Quidditch to grow like USA Rugby has grown, the CQC would have to take place in a stadium. There are hundreds of college football stadiums in the United State that seat more than 10,000 fans. Anyone of the 13 soccer-specific stadiums for MLS teams in the United States are also intriguing options. Football and soccer fields could each fit at least two quidditch pitches, with one at each end.
Photo by Kat Ignatova
With the beginning of the Collegiate Quidditch Championship, a Community Shield of Quidditch would be born. Like the CQC, CSQ would be organized by US Quidditch.

What? The CSQ would serve as the championship for the highest level of club quidditch teams. The tournament would have pool play followed by bracket play. Who? The CSQ would be contested between 16 community teams from across the country divided into four pools of four teams. All teams would qualify through new "community" regional championships (organized by USQ). When? The CSQ would take place a week after the CQC. Pool play would happen on Saturday and bracket play would occur on Sunday. Where? Unlike the CQC, which would seek to garner television and advertisement interest, the CSQ would not seek mainstream relevance. The CSQ would be contested in American parks or sports complexes like the facilities in Kissimmee and North Myrtle Beach.  

Photo by Ben Holland
Even with the start of the CQC and CCQ, the IQA World Cup would not cease to exist. In fact, under my vision, World Cups XII and XIII wouldn't be much different from World Cups VI and VII. The IQA World Cup would be organized by the new IQA, with assistance from the national leagues.

What? The World Cup would continue to be a tournament open to all official college and community teams from all countries. The tournament would have pool play followed by bracket play. Who? The World Cup would be contested between 80 official teams from across the world divided into 16 pools of five teams. The World Cup would still require qualification through "open" regional championships (organized by the IQA). College teams playing in the CQC would have the chance to qualify for and play in the World Cup. Community teams playing in the CSQ would have the chance to qualify for and play in the World Cup. When? The World Cup would stay in early April, a perfect time for most quidditch players. Where? The World Cup would be held at parks like Austin-Tindall Park or North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex. Due to the high concentration of teams in North America, the IQA World Cup would be held in the United States or Canada most frequently. However, a European or Australian World Cup would not be off limits.

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