I’ve learned recently that once you start putting your opinions on controversial matters on social media, you open yourself up to significant criticism. Some warranted, some not so much. I was PMing with the mother of a PRO Rugby player who thought I was being critical of the league. I was explaining the current situation from my personal interactions with aggrieved players, coaches, and vendors and she blocked me on all social media. She just didn’t like what I had to say. Anyway, I’ll continue to write my thoughts and opinions. I appreciate how many people have advised they enjoy my content and the debate. What I want to make clear moving forward is my “intent”, as apparently that is being questioned by some who may not understand the background.
Anything I do in rugby is with the goal of witnessing a USA Eagle team play competitively in a match that really counts. Really counts = Rugby World Cup Quarterfinal. Getting there would include beating a Tier one team in the pool round. That would mean that for the very first time everyone in the US rugby community would be united in saying without any reservation, ‘We are where we need to be’. Achieving this would be a dream come true. Why? Because we aren’t close, and we’ve spent the last decades consistently losing ground.
That’s it. All I want is to watch the USA Eagles play in a match where it is all on the line in the only competition every person in the rugby world agrees is the pinnacle: the Rugby World Cup.
The only ‘on-field’ concern I have regards our results. I do have an opinion on our leadership. Today’s loss to Romania is the culmination of an egregious absence of leadership for many years at USA Rugby.
Be Part of the Solution!
For those who have said, ‘be part of the solution’, you should know that I paid my own way to events where I have no stake, such as the USA Rugby National Development Summit & the CRC 7’s, among others, just as many others do. I did it to learn more about who is running and managing rugby in the US and to learn what their plans and strategies are. I did it to get educated about the state of rugby off the pitch. I wanted to learn as much as I could about rugby in the US – all levels of the sport and all participants. I did this as I was nominated for one of the USA Rugby Board seats that was awarded in August of this year. The seat was awarded to a former marketing executive from the McDonald’s Corporation.
Payne has inherited a Mess
I have faith in Dan Payne, who, I think we can all agree, has inherited a mess. My personal interactions with Payne have been nothing short of gratifying and optimistic. I want to do everything in my power to help him get answers & grow our sport, make the Eagles competitive and realize the dream of watching our teams in in Red, White, and Blue play in an RWC quarterfinal.. He has inherited the following:
- ‘RIM’, currently selling off shares of USA Rugby’s future value at cents on the dollar,
- The ‘exclusive’ contract previously awarded to the likes of Doug Schoninger for PRO Rugby and Bill Tatham for other professional ventures. PRO Rugby is a mess. Tatham’s role (recently extended by Melville as one of his final acts) is still a mystery.
- A Board who could be favorably described as anemic, and are the architects of this mess. A lot of Harvard MBA’s on that board, but no Strategic Plan.
As a CEO of over 20 years, and commensurate Board experience, I would advise Payne to rally Congress to replace the lot. RIM must be thoroughly reviewed and if necessary, dismantled.
Top-Tier Competition. A must have.
I am the biggest proponent for a top-tier professional competition within North American borders there is. I lived the life of amateur playing against professional. I get it. I’m all for bringing franchises from other competitions such as Pro 12, Super Rugby, etc… to our country. But, my biggest concern is that all of this lead to the sustainable success of our National Teams. The state of our competitions is killing our ability to compete consistently in XVs at the international level.
The Strategic Plan has to come. (See article from May, 2016)
- It must include a 10 year vision.
- All action cycles and deliverables must align with this 10 year vision.
- This vision would include the immediate and essential creation of a proper top-tier competition (in conjunction with a lot of the financial players looking to participate in rugby in America). The comp would be something most of us envision being called ‘Professional’.
- The NGB can’t run a league, but surely can provide the clear structure and pathway within which that league should operate. For example, the competition locations should be determined only following a thorough audit of every club in America. This audit should be executed by an outside, professional organization.
- It is my opinion that PRO will ultimately not be that top-tier competition, and we should be prepared to not lose any momentum.
- Semi-Professional clubs could feed into this competition, and also participate in a relegation format as well as numerous Champions/Challenge Cup formats to enhance local rivalries. There are numerous ‘semi-professional’ clubs making big moves to raise their levels both on and off the field.
- Academies, Schools, and potentially University could feed into the master ‘semi-professional clubs’.
- College and Women’s Competitions must be addressed and created to align with the NGB guidance. Again, done with a comprehensive audit of every club in America.
Meanwhile, I will enjoy this game at the local level, boys/girls/men/women, and watch the feast of international rugby available to us on NBCSN, and ESPN. The Rugby Channel is offering increased USA team coverage as well.
Just over a year ago, The Springboks put 50 points on us in one half in the RWC. Our CEO said on worldwide TV that night that he was happy with our plan and our journey. Since that infamous and unfortunate quote, I’ve found that USA Rugby has no plan for the future. We are still suffering the Melville legacy. This is where we are. I know Dan Payne will correct that, and I stand ready to help him in any way possible. We can no longer afford to sit back and accept losses to the likes of Brazil, Uruguay, and just today Romania. It is embarrassing. If we want a seat at the table of global rugby we are going to have to earn it.