The USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship has 'sparked a mini-revolution', organizers claimed yesterday in announcing the June 2012 tournament's competitors.
It's fair to say the CRC's 2010 launch prompted scores of school teams to take up the abbreviated game. USARFU's national championship, which debuts next month, has accelerated the trend while creating the impetus for regional qualifying tournaments.
The CRC's unique, groundbreaking contribution may lie more in revitalizing invitational competition in American rugby.
The success of the NCAA's basketball championship has promoted the idea that inclusive knockout competition and commerce must go hand-in-hand. Not so.
Like the NCAA tournament, the primary objective of Boulder's national championships is to embrace all comers, so the competitions are seen as a 'true national title'. The purpose of the CRC, on the other hand, is to advance American International Media's sports entertainment business, notably its flagship 7s World Series tour event.
For the CRC, competitive merit is vital in order to execute the business plan, but not the overriding criterium. Certainly there are college teams who could defeat many of the CRC competitors, but 7s is difficult to predict anyway. AIM favors teams with local appeal in the Philadelphia area, the ability to sell tickets to large bases of alumni, or nationwide brand recognition that enhances the TV broadcast.
The CRC's venue, sponsor, and broadcast arrangements demonstrate the commercial side of the equation is working. Evidence the technical approach is also successful can be seen in the surplus of teams wanting to get into the 16-team pool, and in rugby fans debating who should and shouldn't be there. Exclusivity is the essence of desirable invitations.
Because the tournament is geared to appeal to the sporting mainstream, rather than tailored to the rugby community, the participant benefits for look to be strong. 'Since the  CRC we have raised an additional $10,000 from alumni, landed a new apparel sponsor, and have been contacted by 90 students (including two [defensive backs] from the football team) who want to play rugby', Texas coach Jacob Liberman said in statement circulated by the CRC.
USARFU officials have suggested the marketplace was never going to respond to its new championship before seeing proof of concept. The CRC exposed that fiction two years ago, preselling the event to NBC and sundry sponsors. Instead, Boulder's burden is to demonstrate it can rally commercial interests to its universal mandate.
It is not clear there is common ground, and the trajectory of the emerging college 7s tournaments may tell us something about the division.
For many years, American senior teams staged 15s tournaments in order to schedule more games and to raise money. By the 1990s, they lost their value for various reasons, one being that tournaments rarely reached audiences beyond the local rugby and merchant communities.
Now, as college teams realign themselves as conferences, brand-name schools have new opportunities to tap into large, ready-made fan bases. It is not necessarily fair that North Carolina State, Texas, and others will enjoy this advantage over competitive but lesser-known outfits such as Kutztown and Life. But it would remiss of the Atlantic Coast or Southwest leagues not to exploit their resources. The Ivy Rugby Conference, and specifically its 7s tournament, has already proven the model.
Ultimately, rugby's commercial trajectory may be like college football, with its invitational bowl games, rather than basketball. Gridiron's championship is imperfectly inclusive but highly lucrative. Its success does not rely solely on the NCAA, just as it is folly for rugby to wait on USARFU.
Defending champion Dartmouth, Army, Penn State, and 15s power Cal head the CRC's 2012 roster. Utah, which won the 2010 title, is among those hoping to earn the final invitation at a tournament staged in conjunction with February's USA 7s.
Separately, LSU has declined its invitation to USARFU's college 7s title, Rugby Magazine reported, becoming the first outfit to turn Boulder down after Wednesday's announcement of the 24-team field. Several teams made it known in advance they would decline to participate.
2012 USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship
Army, Arizona, California, Dartmouth, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina State, Navy, Notre Dame, Penn State, Temple, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin