As the American rugby community reels continues to process Austin and LA’s disqualification from the MLR Championship Series, sympathy has been poured onto the affected players. That particular sentiment is premature at best.
Several respected sources have reported that Austin’s disqualification stems from severe salary cap infringements. Reporting from The Guardian indicates that LA fell to the same issues, though rumors abound that more could be at play for the defending champions. That particular infraction makes sympathy for disqualified players a bit hollow.
As we’ve previously mentioned, MLR players are centrally contracted by the league on behalf of participating teams. Every contract is approved by the league. For a team to circumvent the salary cap, cash would have to flow from management or another entity via alternative means. At this time, we don’t know the exact method by which the alleged payments occurred. (It’s unlikely that Adam Gilchrist just passed around a sheet for everyone to write their Venmo information on.)
All of that shifts partial blame onto the players. Any player receiving the alleged payments would have or should have known that something was wrong. If your boss was sending you extra money from their personal checking account, would you or any other reasonable person not have questions? Not only were payments allegedly issued. They would have to have been accepted by the player as well.
That hits on another flaw with Major League Rugby’s lack of transparency. (We’ve covered potential reasons for the secrecy elsewhere.) It’s entirely possible that payments were made to some, but not all, players. Unless names are revealed, all the players take the fall publicly. How would players react if they learned who in the room was making extra under the table? For players with the lowest salaries, resentment could seep in. Did the locker room manage to keep quiet who was or wasn’t receiving the alleged payments? And how will those relationships change?
Anyone that wasn’t receiving payments may decide they’d prefer playing where clinching a playoff spot means getting a chance at the Shield.