Major Decisions Coming for MLR this Weekend

Major League Rugby continues to improve the product on the field. In terms of off-field drama, its already a top tier competition.

Americas Rugby News dropped extensive reporting on the state of affairs in MLR. According to ARN, league owners are meeting this weekend to resolve which teams will participate in 2023. Both LA and Austin are current teams that could be on the outs, while a Chicago expansion side is also on the table. A strong Saint Louis proposal, which we’ve reported on extensively, has been shelved for 2023.

With that, we’ll take a look at each team’s prospects for 2023 inclusion.

Austin Gilgronis

If one of the current teams is dropped, its likely Austin. The team has been for sale since last season, and a move is not off the table. However, during league diligence as part of the sale, likely salary cap infringements were discovered. It seems incredibly unlikely that the team remains in the competition without a change in ownership.

If Austin can survive, they’ll have a lot of work to do in little time. ARN also reports that team staff have significant outstanding wage bills, while the team shipped out players and draft picks over the course of the season. If they can find a way to stick around, expect a very different Austin team filling the orange jerseys next year.

LA Giltinis

A sale of LA is also on the table with interested parties circling. Various outlets out of the UK have reported a British backed consortium could look to take over the club. (The fact such is the case as the Premiership collapses is certainly not a reason for joy across the pond.)

Such a takeover faces similar issues to an Austin sale. The team has yet to announce any signings publicly. This squad was a bit more likely to face roster turnover due to retirements, but that doesn’t change the large amount of work that needs to be done.

Chicago

A Chicago expansion (believed to be known as the Chicago Bison) would be a surprise inclusion in MLR 2023. While the Saint Louis bid left a significant paper trail, the Chicago bid managed to be much more quiet, possibly to its detriment. The league would certainly like to tap Chicago, and the broader Midwestern market, sooner rather than later, but the team would face a massive uphill battle. As we understand, there’s no fire coach/Director of Rugby in place. There’s no roster to speak of. There’s no detailed scouting. They didn’t participate in the draft. While the crafting of the first 15 would be enough of a challenge, there’s no way they could build adequate depth to compete consistently throughout the season. Frankly, they could face a Dallas-style challenge that no one wants to repeat.

One situation to watch out for: Chicago joining and at least one of Austin or LA departing. The league would likely conduct a dispersal draft similar to what occurred after the Raptors departed and Dallas postponed their 2021 season. While its unclear who remains under contract with Gilchrist’s two franchises, it would involve real rugby talent being available at this time of the year.

There’s another means by which Chicago could pull together a fairly competitive team. We’ll explore that option more deeply pending this weekend’s news.

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