I know everybody is busy and rushed in the summer, but, let's face it: it's too darn hot. We need to slow down, relax, take a load off! Why don't you take a minute (or several for those who need to re-read it) and listen to my most recent nonsensical rambling rant.
Each year, about this time, after the Eagles plod their way through another test match season, the US Rugby community instinctively starts ranting and raving about our rugby wheel that seems to be missing several spokes. As the seasonal dissection takes place, some offer massive country-wide changes. Some call for the beheading of the coach or some even resign and take up softball. Well, guess what? It's MY turn now. Before I get started, I will say that I read an article by Alex Goff the other day and he mentioned the idea of getting a major airline to be the official sponsor of USA Rugby. What a fantastic idea! And, just so you know where your CIPP money is going, this is something I've discussed at length with Clint Henderson in the National Office. Along those same lines Mr. Goff also reported on USARFU's efforts to create the city-based professional league. Slowly but surely, we tiptoe forward, closer and closer (sounds like a Bugs Bunny cartoon).
I will say this, USARFU has more detailed plans for professional rugby than I thought they did. I am in full agreement that we need to have a level in US rugby that is 100% professional. Players need to be paid. They need to be able to train several times a week. How often do you hear about a current Eagle having to leave a tour because he has work commitments? Playing on the Eagles needs to be that player's job. Think about the athletes we could get into rugby if they had the opportunity to get paid.
Proponents of this plan would say that there is not enough money to go pro. I think that it is just a bull-pucky excuse. We may be a third world rugby nation, but we are a first world sponsorship nation. I was talking to a business partner the other day and we both agreed that sponsorship money is drying up. He said that companies that give money are not seeing a large enough return for their money. In many cases they are probably right. So the key is finding the right sponsors.
Going back to what Goff said; a major airline is going to fill a whole bunch of seats with their sponsorship, so they should see a return. For the city-based league I would hire a firm that does nothing but fundraising. The money they bring in would be used to run the league. If deals like this could happen on a national level, then the Super-League teams could have their own fundraisers to raise money for the day-to-day operations for the club. On an even more local level DI and DII clubs could hire a full-time club manager, whose job it is to run the club from top to bottom. You pay him a base salary and after that whatever money he makes, over his set goals, is his to keep.
Of course, the next big hurdle would be separating professional rugby from the amateur rugby that the majority of us call our own. Like it or not, there is one organ of rugby life that cannot be spilt: public perception. I know that this is a broken record here, but most Americans perceive rugby as a "Hooligans game played by Hooligans." Let's be honest: with most of our public actions, we really do not help that perception very much. From major punch-ups on the field, to drunken debauchery off the field, we have passed our negative image to the sports playing and buying public. Admittedly, I can recognize rugby within 1/10 of a second, when I see rugby being used in advertising on TV, so that marketable image is there. Can you imagine what it would be like if a majority of the population in the US embraced rugby? I would love to have my Mom chasing me down a rugby pitch telling me that I forgot to eat my Campbell's Chunky soup - as I'm sure most of you would, too.
I hate to say this because I know it may open up a firestorm of comments, but we - as amateur rugby players - need to tone down the post match beer swilling antics. Maybe tone down is too strong. I think it needs to just go a little under ground. If we can eliminate the urinating in public or the arrests for public intoxication while wearing our game jerseys, it would be a good start at changing public perception of rugby and its players. I'm the last one to want the social aspects and traditions of rugby to disappear, but I would love to be taken seriously as athletes first. I have seen people compare adult rugby players in the US to softball - guys using athletics for an excuse to drink beer. While there certainly is a place for that in rugby, the serious teams and players get tagged with the same label making it even more evident that a split between professional and amateur levels needs to be made.
As always, my friends, my arguments likely have a million holes in them or they just lead on a road to nowhere, however the job I've created for myself is that of an idea man. I've been lucky enough to be given a forum that allows my feeble little mind to spill forth onto your computer screen. What you choose to do with these musings is up to you.
Hooker Rugby Supply