Austin and Major League Rugby are Headed for War

Since the Austin Gilgronis were disqualified from playoff participation on Friday, details have been scant. The reason for the muddy waters is becoming clear.

According to The Rugby Network’s Alexander Diegel:

The speculation from the beginning has surrounded salary cap infringements. If the alleged infringements did occur, they would have to be severe to have this level of discipline. The other reality is that any serious infringement would have to be intentional. Since players are centrally contracted by the league, Major League Rugby knows the formal details of every player’s salary. If the rumored allegations are true, jobs are sure to be lost.

For Adam Gilchrist, this will be about far more than a playoff spot. The Gilgronis have been up for sale for months with a deal expected over the off-season. This move by the league causes significant reputational and financial damage to the team at a time when Gilchrist wants to maximize its value. Three years after snatching a distressed asset nearing collapse and investing heavily in its growth, Austin rugby suddenly appears closer to the former than the later.

A legal fight between the league and Austin won’t end quickly. Austin and Gilchrist gain little by settling. The league has put its foot down where other rugby competitions have refused to do the same. For them, settling would concede some of that authority.

The prospect of legal action explains the lack of transparency by Major League Rugby. As of writing, the league has yet to even post the announcement on its website. It’s likely that the league knew legal action was imminent well before announcing the decision and has been operating as if action has already been filed. Anything the league says now opens the door to further action by Gilchrist and Austin.

However, the MLR’s lack of a public narrative could be cause for panic. If the league has strong and compelling evidence that the accusations are true, they would want to use them to scare Austin into backing down. The fact they aren’t doing so indicates that one of the following is at play:

  • The league does not feel completely and totally confident in its position
  • The league believes Gilchrist and Austin will pursue legal action at any cost, making a public telling of events by the league an opportunity for the team to start sowing doubt
  • The league sees the allegations as so incredibly ugly that releasing them would do significant reputational damage to the league itself

The fifth edition of Major League Rugby has had plenty of drama. None of it will compare to what comes next.

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