USA Rugby Overhaul: The Real Skinny

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NEW YORK, NY – As first reported in previous Rugby Wrap Up articles, the financial mismanagement and chronic organizational shortcomings of USA Rugby have finally taken their toll; an embattled Stephen Lewis, Rugby_Wrap_UpBoard has agreed to a drastic re-organization plan at their December board meeting. Contrary to the Board statement that this re-organization was all part of their plan, it was in reality a widespread community backlash and a frank financial assessment by USA Rugby Partners Chair and Golden Eagles Coordinator Jon Bobbett, that forced the hand of the Board.

Having exhibited a complete lack of oversight when revealing a $1.2 million 3rd quarter deficit comprised of unexpected legal fees and an incredulous $825,000 overspend in High Performance (predominantly the Men’s 15’s program), CEO Ross Young, CFO Eric Gleason and VP Operations Kurt Weaver then did nothing as an [allegedly] illegal program of misappropriation of membership funds to place. They [allegedly] used said funds to pay for their prior management mistakes. Despite this, they have apparently persuaded the Board they are not accountable and seem to have survived, at least temporarily, an overwhelming tide of member frustration and anger which no amount of obfuscation, partial explanations and vague reassurances have assuaged.

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In attempted mitigation, USA Rugby has begun to repay its members their missing monies by yet again turning to World Rugby and borrowing more money to stay afloat. These member funds have still not been repaid in full and prior allegations of incorrect, and incomplete [under] reporting of members have now been validated. This further confirms the growing absence of membership trust in the failed administrative brand that is USA Rugby.

Moving forward, it was agreed by the Board that a “Restructuring Committee” should be assembled by December 31st, 2019 with a 30-day remit to deliver their proposals to the Board. Contrary to what was understood by many, the Board then announced this Committee would be comprised of Bobbett and Board member Jim Brown, to be joined by one legal and one financial advisor (both yet to be named), as well as National Office representatives Young & Gleason, the very individuals responsible for the current mess. Many in American rugby are aghast at their inclusion and feel their presence on the Restructuring Committee may well tarnish any positive proposals emanating from it.

A further Advisory Panel will assist. This panel is to be populated by one representative each from the College, Club and High School groups, joined by a HP representative, an International Athlete and a referee representative. As with the Restructuring Committee, the composition of the Advisory Panel has drawn criticism, most notably from members of the Congress who deem it unrepresentative of the wider rugby community and insufficiently independent. With limited powers and its own members less than stellar track record of participation and effectiveness, few have much faith in Congress either. However, it is important to note that whatever is proposed by the Restructuring Committee and then approved by the Board, must be codified in the bylaws and therefore subject to a Congress vote.

So what changes are contemplated? There are two main tracks, A) the separation of High Performance (national teams) from the community game, and B) the decentralization of power from a bloated national office back to the main constituent groups, Club, College and Youth/High Schools.

The former is common sense, treating the national teams as separate business units, responsible for their own revenue and expenditure, and reflecting the divergence of the professional and amateur games the world over. Major League Rugby, the privately-owned professional league is unaffected by this turmoil as it prepares to start its third season.

The latter will include a slimmed-down National Office that will no longer have any responsibility for membership dues and data, as these, as well as strategic decisions, will be restored to local unions, college conferences and youth organizations. This process had already begun, with the major college conferences and some of the larger Geographic Unions who were unhappy with USA Rugby’s current value proposition now sailing full steam ahead with prior plans to decentralize and take back control of their own affairs.

With regard to those interested spectators on the sidelines, it is understood the other significant stakeholders such as World Rugby, and current commercial partners, have already been consulted and provisionally approved this turn of events. The blessing of the US Olympic Committee will also be required.

For those who previously favored the “nuclear option” or burning the whole house down, the financial and legal costs and consequences are prohibitive, thus the need for a comprehensive re-organization rather than a total reset.

Hope springs eternal in American rugby and there have been false dawns aplenty, but perhaps this time, victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat.


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About Steve Lewis 8 Articles
Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Steve is one of the top coaches in America, a 2-time USA Rugby Coach of the Year. He is also well-versed in all things rugby, having played for West of Scotland and Glasgow, as well as founding the elite Northeast Academy 7's program. He currently coaches the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American 7's, West Point Women and national championship winners Bulldog Rugby, as well as appearing regularly as a commentator in broadcasts and as a pundit/personality on Rugby Wrap Up.