Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
The year is done and dusted, so it’s time to take a look at what USA Rugby set aside as priorities and how they fared on their goals. (Note: All information was pulled from the USA Rugby website) The set of goals were pretty standard for a developing rugby nation such as ours. I would expect to see 5 or 6 of the goals to end up on the list for 2009 as well.
It’s fair to say that 2008 was another tough year for USA Rugby. Their bread and butter (aka… the Eagles) struggled mightily and by year’s end the financial crisis had USA rugby sending warning signals to everyone regarding 2009 and what to expect. Let’s look and see how USAR fared on their priorities for 2008.
Here were USA Rugby’s Top 7 Priorities for 2008
1. Achieve Budget. We won’t know for certain until financials are released (don’t hold your breath), but it looks like they have accomplished this goal. Mostly due to the IRB’s help. We’re already being set up for a dismal 2009 as far as finances go. Programs are already getting the squeeze, yet none of the talk involves cutting funding to the Eagles 15’s squad. Priority met as far as we know.
2. Have all National teams progress. Only the men’s 7’s program has shown any significant progress. The 7’s squad became a core member of the IRB 7’s Series for the 2008/2009 season, which was a significant jump considering just a few years ago they were mired in a massive hole. The work Al Caravelli has done with the squad is nothing short of remarkable. As for 15’s, the Eagles went 1-7 in 2008 which was one more win than in 2007. They finished the year ranked #19 in the IRB rankings, which actually seemed fitting. The women’s teams (both 15’s & 7’s) are doing the best they can on what little they are given. They should be commended for their work, much of which is being done on their own dime. It’ a shame, because the Women have the potential to be an International force, but they lack the funding. The age grade teams also had very disappointing years. The U20 boys team were winless at the IRB Junior World Championship and were demoted to the Junior World Trophy for 2009. Priority not met.
3. Deliver increased value/benefits to sponsors/members. I don’t feel like any increased value was provided to either group. Certainly the members. I did get a member card in the mail that has some discounts on it, but I would hardly consider that much of an increased benefit. The National Guard program was beneficial to collegiate and high school sides. I know a couple high school programs that were able to get off the ground because of the package from the National Guard. That has been the only true increase in value, but it is limited. A positive step, it is a specific program targeted at college and high school. The rest of the membership saw little in the way of increased value. As for sponsors, we didn’t see too many new ones in 2008. Canterbury replaced Kooga as the Eagles kit sponsor, but that was about it. No big announcements from the Board and nothing from our globetrotting Chairman. The fact that USA Rugby failed at priority #2 has alot to do with the lack of value added for sponsors. The economy also had it’s hand in things, but in the end, sponsors aren’t going to sink money into losing programs with little commercial viability. Priority not met.
4. Drive progress at Youth and High School. There has been some improvement on this front from USA Rugby, but at the end of the day the load still lies in the hands of the men and women at the grassroots level. The State Based Organizations are a solid step in the right direction, but we only have 14 of them so far. Alot of work needs done to get all of the states online. The existing SBO’s are all operating fairly independently when they should be operating uniformly. This is an area capable of massive progress. The groundwork has been started. USA Rugby’s launch of the Rugby for All program made little noise and seemed a bit redundant. The Rookie Rugby program was a nice launch, but left me wondering why USA Rugby didn’t just take established youth programs (such as American flag Rugby or Play Rugby USA) and back them. I like the Rookie Rugby program, but time and money could have been saved if USA Rugby had just put their stamp on one of the other programs. Priority met.
5. Create a vibrant domestic competition structure. I’m not sure anything was done on this front. The restructuring of the playoffs hardly counts as the creation of a vibrant competitive structure. The long awaited competitions review was finally released, but it was underwhelming to say the least. The Super League contracted two clubs, but could have stood to make more drastic evaluation. Our domestic game needs revamped at all levels. From the RSL all the way down to D3 and social rugby. The playing season is all over the place, the playoff structure is still muddled and confusing, and the High Performance Regions still have not been set up. Priority not met.
6. Make progress in USA Rugby’s efforts to hold a seat on the IRB Council. Much effort has been put into this front. Most of it behind the scenes and out of the media. At first glance, the seat may not mean a whole heck of alot, but it has it’s advantages. As of now, we still do not have a seat so this priority will remain ongoing. For now though… Priority met.
7. Bring the Memorandum of Understanding with New Zealand to life. This is an agreement signed by New Zealand and the USA that proposes collaborative work in areas ranging from community rugby to commercial developement. I read this one as New Zealand’s way of trying to break into the USA sporting market. Hopefully the fruits of this relationship will bear in the coming years. Regardless of what it has gotten us so far, USA Rugby set it as a priority and accomplished their goal. Priority met.
So, that’s it for USAR’s Top 7 Priorities for 2008. How did they do? They met four of their priorities and missed on three. It’s better than missing on more than they made, but to set seven specific priorities and to barely accomplish half of them would get most of us in trouble at our jobs. Of the core priorities (#1-5), USAR only met 2 of the 5.
It’s not all gloom and doom though. Even with shots fired regarding finances in 2009, progress can be made. Developing the game domestically can be accomplished without a huge investment. So, there’s no reason substantial progress shouldn’t be made in regards to Youth/High School rugby in 2009. If USAR added ten SBO’s a year, they’ll have the entire country covered by 2011.
Another bright spot is the fact that more and more Americans are playing rugby. Each year sees the addition of new clubs, youth programs, and high school teams. It’s easy to get lost in the gloom, but the reality is that our numbers are growing. In the end, isn’t that what it is all about? Spreading the game and sharing it with as many people as possible?
The same can’t be said of the National teams. Progress on that front will need funding, so the improvement of the National teams in 2009 could fare difficult. The big question will be if USAR decides to share alike with the programs or will the Eagles 15’s get the bulk and the left of the programs be left to the scraps. In a World Cup qualifying year, my bet is that the Eagles will not get the squeeze. However, they have to produce results this year. They’ll likely play Canada three times in 2009. The entire year will ride on those results. Everything else is secondary.
We can only hope that 2009 will be a banner year for rugby in America. Only a few days into the year, hope is still alive and well.
Aside from USAR’s Top 7 Priorities they also listed goals in four different categories: Game Developement, Competitions/Events, High Performance, and Governance & Finance. We’ll have reviews of each one of the categories in the coming weeks.