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Two at-large seats to the USA Rugby board need to be filled, with Bob Kimmitt vacating his and Rob King terming out. The vacancies were announced at the end of February with a call for nominations, and the submission window closes Sunday.

Submissions go to the nominating committee, which is chaired by congress representative Marni Vath. It matches up the candidates to a matrix provided by a congressional committee formed by Congress to review the nominations process. Candidates who meet the minimum requirements, such as having a bachelor’s degree, get interviews.

Depending on the amount of submissions, Vath says the committee will divvy up the candidates for initial interviews, with most receiving a second meeting. The nominating committee will eventually decide on one candidate per board seat to put forward to congress for ratification. Congress’ only choice is to vote the nominee onto the board or reject them, forcing the nominations committee to produce another.

This year, submissions are low. Single digits low, which is significant because two seats are open. Last year, there were 47 candidates. The worry that hours before the close of submissions there are so few applicants for two spots is compounded by the current financial and political turmoil within USA Rugby.

There realistically could be two more seats vacated soon, depending on what happens with chairman Will Chang and Chad Keck, the latter of whom has already been removed from the RIM board and had the majority of congress vote to take his USA Rugby seat, too. The CEOs of both USA Rugby and RIM have announced their resignations, and the latter is facing almost certain financial ruin.

Bubbling beneath the surface has been an ongoing row between congress and the Golden Eagles, a group of heavy-hitting donors who’ve raised and given huge sums of money to USA Rugby over years, primarily to the men’s 7s team. They say when USA Rugby runs short of money for its senior and age-grade national teams, they keep getting hit up for additional donations, and they’ve grown tired of it. The rub with congress is the result of the donors trying to nudge the representative body into holding the board to account and changing the process by which the board is seated.

Near the end of January the Golden Eagles penned a letter to USA Rugby requesting several things. Among them were minimum requirements for board candidates – a strong preference for those with an extensive rugby background, willingness to raise or donate $100,000 annually to USA Rugby during their term, and a minimum attendance requirement for meetings, among others. They also lobbied for a $10 increase in membership dues, with the added revenue going straight to the national teams.

As well, the Golden Eagles wanted to make drastic changes to the process of seating the board. Currently, as detailed above, the board process isn’t democratic. There aren’t multiple options. The Golden Eagles demanded a minimum of three candidates be selected by a private search firm for congress, donors, coaches, referees and administrators to vote on.

This letter and its demands intersect directly with the nominations process, and Congress discussed the it in depth at its February meeting. Much of the discussion surrounded the proposed board requirement of a financial donation.

Some argued USA Rugby’s board should remain a management one and not a fundraising body because there was already a fundraising branch in the USA Rugby Trust and influence shouldn’t be for purchase. Others argued that at a time when there is little light at the end of USA Rugby’s financial tunnel, the organization should take an all-hands-on-deck approach to fundraising from the top down, as is the case with most non-profits.  

However, most of the Golden Eagles suggestions have not been adopted. There is no donation or fundraising commitment required from board members, and there haven’t been any bylaw changes to turn the lone-candidate, closed door nomination process into an election.

The Golden Eagles didn’t explicitly threaten to pull their financial support, which is expected to total well north of $500,000 this year, in the letter, but it’s implied there might be consequences for ignoring their concerns. In a time when some within USA Rugby have publicly stated concern over the possibility of RIM not being able to make its fourth-quarter payment of its licensing agreement with the national governing body, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income, the last thing it needs is to be at odds with donors.

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