Not so long ago, Rugby Sevens was just a fun game used to train prospective Fifteens players on the fundamentals of the game and to increase their cardiovascular conditioning. And then something happened that no one expected. People liked it. A lot. And even more people liked watching it. And it grew to where it is today-it's own separate arm of rugby with its own athletes who look more like NFL wide receivers than props, a slightly different fanbase, and a a slew of small national teams like Samoa, Fiji, and Kenya that enjoy massive success.
Conventional wisdom says the success of Sevens will bring success in Fifteens and an overall growth in rugby. Sevens is exciting with lots of scoring and games that go down to the last minute. At any moment any team can come back, so hope is never lost. If there's one form of rugby that adrenaline-craved Americans can get behind, it's Sevens. It has the potential to turbocharge rugby in the USA.
But what if it doesn't? What if the future plays out differently and the American rugby fanbase goes completely away from Fifteens to Sevens? What if Americans fall so in love with Sevens that Fifteens completely falls away, the same way it did in the 1920's when this new organization called the NFL came along? What happens if our best resources go to Sevens, but still can’t get the USA to move up in the rankings and we continue to lose to tiny island nations and US protectorates like The Cook Islands? What if we don’t get picked for core status in the HSBC Sevens or…God Forbid…don’t qualify for the Olympics (which is a very real possibility)?
The answer-rugby will fall further down the sports ladder than it is now and all the ground we've gained will be lost and then some. As with any gamble, it will take a long time to recover. We're not trying to be naysayers and this is all pure speculation, but we all need to realize that the popularity of Sevens is something new that has shaken up the status quo of rugby. It's a very different game that could end up splitting rugby instead of galvanizing it. We all want this paradigm shift to be positive, but there is a real possibility that it will backfire, not just on Fifteens in the USA, but on the game as a whole here. We hope that's not the case, but as with anything paradigm shift it will take time to determine whether the long-term effects are positive or negative.