There has been a lot of news and a lot of back and forth regarding PRO Rugby over the last few days. To help clear some of that up we thought we would share some of the main points and main takeaways.
To understand where PRO Rugby is at the moment you have to back to the inaugural season. By most measures the season was a success. There were issues, which we'll touch on in just a minute, but teams played in decent places, fans turned out, and the quality of play was pretty good by the end of the year. Overall, it was a positive. However, the issues that occurred during the season would fester and linger to the point of the arguing back and forth that we have now.
According to the solid reporting of Pat Clifton PRO Rugby left several vendors, including a women's shelter, unpaid. They also left several players unpaid. PRO Rugby claims that those players violated the terms of their contracts and therefore are no longer due money. They may have a point in that but this is the point: athletic deals work differently than Wall Street deals. You only have a limited playing pool and if you alienate a few of your pool you've tainted the whole group. Players are now also being represented by the US Rugby Players Association.
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A little while after the season it became clear that not everything was going well. The biggest sign was Steve Lewis leaving the organization. Lewis was the glue man that recruited the players and did a lot of the leg work with the American rugby community. When he left and wasn't replaced it wasn't a good sign.
The next big domino to fall was the folding of the San Francisco Rush. The team was always the most tenuous of the inaugural five. Boxer Stadium has a nice view but it was a terrible venue. Additionally, the training facilities for the team were spread out over the Bay Area. Throw in a number of part-time players and it made for an untenable situation.
Throughout the last few months Doug Schoninger has been trying to buy the Southern Kings. One of the ideas behind the purchase was to not only potentially expose American players to a higher level but also expand the playing pool with a lot of South Africans. The thought went that they were great players and would probably play in America for cheap. Now it seems that planned has stalled. According to reporting from South Africa the SARU isn't keen on the idea because U.S.A. Rugby doesn't support it. With the Kings deal stalled that now leaves PRO without another option.
In the end the situation came to a head a few weeks back when Schoninger met with Dan Payne and Alex Magleby. We only know bits and pieces of what was talked about but it doesn't take a genius to figure out it didn't go well at least from PRO Rugby's point of view. It seems that the number of complaints lodged to U.S.A. Rugby forced them to withdraw their support. Given Pat Clifton's reporting that action seems justified.
It all comes down to sanctioning and this is where it gets tricky. It is still a little unclear what exactly is meant by a three year sanctioning agreement made between U.S.A. Rugby and PRO under Nigel Melville's tenure. However, we know it is for three years and almost certainly has something about if a league doesn't operate then there is no sanctioning. U.S.A. Rugby seems to be thinking, and it should be stressed this is a guess given the lack of substance regarding the issue for legal reasons, that without players and support from the community season two won't happen.
From PRO's perspective it's been clear from interviews that they haven't been happy that U.S.A. Rugby has flirted with the Pro12. They also seems uncomfortable with competitions like the MRC and PRP. Relationships with some member clubs of that organization haven't been great after a pretty good start.
That is where PRO Rugby finds itself at now. It should be stressed that PRO Rugby plans on having a season in 2017. In reality that seems very unlikely. Given the fact that most players no longer trust the organization, a winter of bad PR, and a governing body less than enthusiastic PRO Rugby is going to find it difficult to find support going forward. PRO Rugby may exist but without support its hard to see it staying that way for long.