PPL Park to host rugby college championships

Posted: November 10, 2010

For those just getting used to the notion of professional soccer in Chester, there's more to come.

PPL Park will become the home of the Collegiate Rugby Sevens Championships in June, and if organizers have their way the 18,500-seat facility could become the annual venue for the 2-day event.

The tournament, to be held June 4-5, will feature 16 of the nation's top college rugby programs in a seven-on-seven format to be televised by NBC Sports. The event was held in Columbus, Ohio, last year, but organizers and TV sponsors said Philly was always the planned site.

"We wanted to come to Philly last year and had every intention of coming here, but unfortunately PPL Park wasn't done," said Jonathan Miller, executive vice president of NBC Sports, who noted the network planned to show more than 15 hours of rugby programming in 2011. "So we had to cut our teeth in Columbus for a year to get our feet wet and make our mistakes, but as soon as the stadium was complete, we got in contact and here we are."

PPL Park bested soccer-specific stadiums in New Jersey, Dallas, Chicago and Kansas City, which according to Miller and Donal Walsh, director of USA Sevens LLC, pined to host the event. The first seven teams to participate were announced yesterday, with Temple included in the mix with Penn State, Army, Navy, Notre Dame, Cal-Berkeley and Utah, the defending champion. The remaining nine teams will be announced at a later date.

"In America, rugby needed a kick-start especially with sevens rugby becoming an Olympic sport next summer," said Walsh. "We needed the impetus to get it going. Comments we've heard in America many times is that rugby is a phenomenal sport, but you do a bad job of explaining it to people. Sevens rugby is every ingredient that you want from rugby, it's hard-hitting, it's brash, something I think fans of American football can relate to."

Rugby is played in soccer stadiums around the world. Walsh said this event will leave "virtually no damage" to a field that also serves as the home of a Union club, which will be in midseason. Union CEO and managing partner Nick Sakiewicz said maintaining field integrity is top priority, but PPL was never built to host just one event.

It's also been rumored that PPL Park could become the future home of NCAA men's and women's lacrosse championships, but no definite word has been provided by the NCAA, which, according to a source, is still weighing other options.

"Our top priority is to ensure the integrity of pitch holds up first and foremost," said Sakiewicz. "We have said that we are a soccer stadium first and have invested a lot of money in that pitch. But we are very confident that the events we plan to host won't ever destroy the integrity of that."

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