A Response to The Open Letter

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Editor’s note: the following by Grant Cole, of This Is Texas Rugby (@ThisIsTxRugby) is a response to “An Open Letter to PRO Rugby & USA Rugby”. The Open Letter received a ton of traffic and obviously not everyone was in full agreement. Grant hopes to start a longer conversation about the realities of professional and club rugby in North America. This piece is presented in the spirit of respectful dialogue.

Much water has passed beneath the bridge since I began following and advocating for a professional rugby competition in the USA. In June of 2013, after I was told that the North American Pro Rugby (NAPR) concept had died on the vine because a member club funded by a municipality could not accept a $1mm/yr loss over the first 5 years, I created a Facebook page called We Want a Pro Rugby Comp in the USA with Rugby America’s Ted Hardy.

The NAPR had received a joint sanction from USA Rugby and Rugby Canada (which I was allowed to read) and was supposed to have teams in Vancouver, San Jose, Glendale, & Houston. It wasn’t huge, but it was better than nothing. When it fell through, I felt like we were back to square one. So, fresh off of what was considered a rather successful Social Media campaign (that I participated in heavily) that helped create a great atmosphere at USA v Ireland in Houston, I took to social media to support the cause of pro rugby.

I had been following (digging into, researching, and generally being nosy about) the various American-based pro rugby concepts since 2005 (when I found out about the “Manila Screw-job” of 1995 that kept the USA from getting a professional rugby comp then). I wasn’t a seasoned veteran of pro rugby ideas and support like Dan Santoro (former announcer for the doomed World Rugby Football League and long-time curator of the American Rugby News list-serv), but I dove in face first and had all of my ideas challenged along the way.

PRO Rugby

When we talk to PRO Rugby, we must understand that we are talking to a corporation with a vision, a mission, and goals. If we dial up our expectations for this corporation without first understanding what its mission and goals are, we will be sorely disappointed at every turn. We do not do this with other pro sports, so why would PRO Rugby be treated otherwise?

I encourage anyone thinking about what PRO Rugby should, or should not do, to use the contact point at that can take all such suggestions and admonishments. Seriously, go to that site and write to your heart’s content about how you think PRO Rugby should be run. Especially if you want your local team to have a certain mascot…

Also, The Lizard (AKA Stephen Lewis, Director of Rugby Operations for PRO Rugby) stated that PRO Rugby “intend(s) to slowly release the names of host cities as well as other details to keep the interest of fans instead of unloading it all at once” in a quote to America’s Rugby News.

USA Rugby
  1. There are clubs in the ‘MidWest’ linking up for premiership style competitions. The Rugby Gold Cup is between the top two Red River and top two Midwest teams from the previous season. The winner is based on series points. There are rumblings of another competition forming between several clubs that will likely be dubbed a Premiership, as well.
  2. A European Cup style competition was proposed last Spring to the Competitions Committee, but shot down because of cost of travel and doubts that PRP teams would be allowed to compete in it as PRP teams (the selling point of their inclusion). The competition was proposed to take place over a 6 month time period with at least 5 weeks in between playing weekends in order to allow for time to plan travel, fund-raise, etc. The proposal called for competition to include the eight D1 Regional playoff teams, the top two PRP teams, Seattle and the ARP champion from the previous season. Personally, I thought the proposal commercially viable, but I do not have a seat on the Competitions Committee to voice such an opinion.
  3. Affiliation between the PRP and anyone else is nigh on impossible with the power structure in the PRP at the moment. Additionally, there are plenty of allegations (miscommunications maybe?) of PRO Rugby contacting potential players to be contracted to the league without first contacting the club they are affiliated with to indicate interest in the player. Seven of these clubs must understand something though, they are participating in a competition that is not sanctioned by USA Rugby (despite USA Rugby’s generous offerings of sanctioning agreement and benefits). This means that a competition sanctioned by USA Rugby (i.e., PRO Rugby) is under zero obligation to talk to anyone but the player they might be interested in contracting.
  4. Erik Geib runs the USA Club Rugby Facebook page and does a more-than-decent job of keeping the club scores and Ranking Poll updated there, considering that he is one man doing the work of a whole department.  Follow the club scene there until the USA Rugby Board approves the budget to publish and maintain the very extensive USA Club Rugby website Geib has already created. Also, If you want to keep up with matches you can view standings, scores and teams by conference at the links attached below.
  5. Finally, it may seem like USA Rugby changed the competitions to break up the club system. However, it is important to remember that USA Rugby Congress and its Competitions Committee voted for that to occur, not the staffers in Boulder. So if it seems like the club system is fractured, the clubs have few to blame but the folks they have elected to Congress or sent to the Competitions Committee. Unless PRO Rugby owns its venues outright, why would USA Rugby need to work out a deal (that would undoubtedly possess various legal complications) with PRO Rugby to schedule club & collegiate championships at their stadiums? The clubs in those competitions need to step up and apply to host those competitions (which are scheduled out to 2017, right now) in local stadiums that can host rugby. It has always been the responsibility of the clubs to do this and for USA Rugby to provide consultation and assistance (or direction if the hosting club does not hire a broadcaster and USA Rugby must).

I agree that we love our rugby and we crave our rugby. I have said for years that when pro rugby comes, it will not come in the form that we like unless we form it first. We are the beggars in this situation and we cannot exactly be choosers until it is time to spend money on the product.

Grant Cole

 

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