There's new life in an old conundrum: Becoming a world power isn't the same as becoming a mainstream sport -- which should come first?
To gain stature in American sporting culture, name-brand schools, television, and Olympic 7s are a winning combination, as the USA Sevens College Rugby Championship is demonstrating. The formula for reaching the World Cup's knockout rounds is unknown, because it's never been done, although it clearly includes a larger share of the union's revenue and less third-party resources.
USARFU's budget relative to its would-be rivals and also the nation's gross domestic product is insufficient to achieve both simultaneously. One has to take precedence.
The plot thickens. USARFU's slogan is 'to inspire America to fall in love with rugby', which suggests that reaching the mainstream is the primary objective. But the union's biggest line item is the national team. And while the International Rugby Board is encouraging -- if not to say underwriting -- test competition, what Dublin really wants, on behalf of the small- and mid-sized countries that form its elite, is to tap into our commercial sports market.
Six years ago, when the union's parlous financial condition led to installing a new set of directors with little experience of American rugby, and the IRB simultaneously launched its test-oriented investment program, the matter looked to be settled. But test results haven't improved and Boulder's position has continued to deteriorate. Meanwhile, the youth and high school segments have exploded independent of central direction.
Though senior playing numbers are not growing so fast as the kids, the environment bears resemblance. While Boulder hasn't replaced the Inter-Territorial Tournament, thereby reducing the number of representative opportunities, the Super League (or division 1) never sought to lift the standard of national team candidates, but only to compete nationally. They pay their dues and their own bills too. Who's to say their model is 'wrong'? What moral authority impels them to sacrifice for the international game?
Reaching the World Cup semifinals would confer elite status on the US national team, yet probably not so much as winning a bronze medal at the Olympics. Ironic though it may be, 15s is becoming technically more demanding and athletically less prestigious.
It is said that 15s is where the real money is. Not in the States it's not, and the people who should know better appear to be confused about what they really want.