Collegiate Rugby Championship

The History of the Penn Mutual CRC

The Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship Plays a Major Role In the Sport of Rugby’s Growth

Philadelphia, Penn. — May 8, 2015 — Now in its sixth year, the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (Penn Mutual CRC) has grown significantly since its inception. Major improvements for the 2015 event include introducing two more playing fields at PPL Park, and an expansion of the collegiate women’s bracket by 50% for a new total of 12 teams. Although the championship has only been around for six years, its existence and rugby’s rapid growth in the United States are intertwined.

The 1924 Parisian Games were the last time rugby was a part of the Summer Olympic Games; the 15-man rugby code left the United States as the two-time defending champions and current gold-medal holder. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that another serious attempt would occur to bring rugby back to the Olympic Games, this time in the 7-man code of the sport.

During that time the International Rugby Board (IRB), known as World Rugby as of 2015, made a massive effort to get rugby 7s considered as a potential Olympic sport. The organization put together a global campaign, with a large successful rugby tournament being a main requirement of any pitch to the International Olympic Committee. In 2009, rugby succeeded in its quest to be reintroduced into the Olympic Games when the International Olympic Committee announced that rugby sevens and golf would be the two new sports added to the 2016 Games in Rio De Janeiro.

United World Sports, the owners and operators of the USA Sevens international tournament, which is the only U.S. stop on the HSBC Sevens World Series and serves as an Olympic qualifier event, partnered with NBC Sports to launch the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC), the first ever college championship in America dedicated to the sevens format.

Instead of creating another international event and hosting teams like Fiji, New Zealand and Wales that Americans are not as familiar with, the unique popularity of collegiate athletics served as the ideal gateway to introduce the sport to the American sports fan; the CRC would serve as a great opportunity to get the public interested.

Once the announcement was made that rugby sevens would be an Olympic sport, it was decided that the first CRC would be held in 2010 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, OH. The first CRC was not well attended, so UWS and NBC decided to research a stronger location with geographic advantages, as well as a strong university infrastructure. The northeast was decided as the ideal location, with Philadelphia, PA being the optimum stop.

“Philadelphia would have been a great place to host the inaugural championship. However, construction was not finalized at PPL Park, so we couldn’t host it there the first year. Instead we said, ‘Lets go to a quintessential American collegiate town with a semi-big city feel that we believe the event could have a great kickoff at,’” said Walsh.

Despite low attendance, the broadcast numbers were surprisingly strong so NBC and UWS decided to double down on their investment and move the championship to Philadelphia.

By 2011, PPL Park was completed and located just south of Philadelphia. The geographic area seemed close enough to easily bring in teams from Boston, New York, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. Furthermore, the world class and scenic stadium would hold the CRC in America’s second most rugby dense region in the country, which presented a lot of men’s, women’s and youth opportunities.

The CRC became the first event at PPL Park outside of soccer, as well as the first time the functioning stadium was viewed on national television and paved the way for future rugby events to be hosted in Philadelphia including the 2013 Maori All Blacks match vs. the USA Rugby Eagles and the upcoming USA Eagles match against the Harlequins. The 2011 broadcast on NBC Sports lasted for eight hours over the weekend, and the event’s profile and infrastructure has been growing ever since.

On September 15, 2014, the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company announced a multi-year partnership with UWS and NBC Sports. The deal included an annual three-year title sponsorship for the CRC, as well as another UWS property the Varsity Cup; a 15s rugby match the next of which just took place at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on May 2, 2015.

“This is a watershed moment for the game of rugby within the domestic USA. Major broadcasters, sponsors and companies here are taking interest exclusively in rugby for the first time ever,” said Jonathan First, President of United World Sports. “The traditional value’s of rugby like teamwork, honesty and respect, appeal to every major corporation in the country. Penn Mutual is the first to act on this and we could not be happier.”

Moving forward, rugby will return to the Olympic Games following an 84-year hiatus. The Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship will continue to serve as part of a nationwide effort to continue building and educating people about the sport of rugby in the United States and include the top national college’s like Penn State, Notre Dame and Texas.

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