After almost seven months, Major League Rugby returns tonight. If things feel a bit different, its understandable.
Since the end of last season, both LA and Austin were announced as out for 2023 after sales of the franchises couldn’t be completed in time to guarantee they’d be viable for 2023. Chicago was expedited into the league. Players, especially those from LA and Austin, became disenfranchised after the league’s botched PR around the dispersal/expansion draft. Existing fans in Atlanta felt blindsided by a
moronic misguided rebranding attempt. The league has further trimmed its shoulder content with the excellent MLR Kickoff taking the axe most recently. Commissioner Killebrew is essentially gone despite a replacement yet to be named.
All of this comes against the backdrop of a national setup struggling to even maintain its place in the world order. The men’s Eagles were unable to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023, while the women’s Eagles had a good but not great run in Rugby World Cup 2021. Both the men’s and women’s games are improving globally. Professionalization continues to grow. The quality is up. Meanwhile, deep talent pools on both sides are being squandered by USA Rugby as investment either cannot or is not being dedicated to test matches.
So, if you feel a bit down about the game in America, pull up a chair. The entire rugby environment feels a bit stained and rudderless. If you want me to put icing over a burnt cake and try to convince you its delicious, you’re clearly new here.
If you do happen to be new, welcome. I suppose.
The mission of RFT has always been to provide analysis of rugby in America with an emphasis on Major League Rugby since its the highest level of the professional game at this time. Occasionally, that mission has involved calling out leadership. The mission hasn’t changed. The message has:
Leadership of rugby in America, where are you? The armada has few captained ships. Until that changes, the risk of drifting into an iceberg is greatly enhanced.
If any of this hits home, there is still a bit of good news. As the new MLR season begins, remember that the game is not owned by a national body or a professional league that looks adrift. It belongs to each and every one of us that loves this stupid game. You don’t have to support a national body, league, or team to support rugby itself.
And we’ll be here all year doing just that: loving the game of rugby.