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The dog days of summer for rugby freaks are upon us. The 7s season is over for all but 32 teams headed to the Big Apple for a couple of trophies this weekend, and 15s season is probably still a couple of weeks off for even the earliest of worms.
Nonetheless, last weekend presented a rugby day for me in the form of the Mid-America Geographic Union’s annual general meeting. Most every men’s and women’s senior club and several college teams from a seven-state radius were in attendance.
Like most AGMs, this marathon four-hour meeting was filled with snooze-inducing agenda items. I’ve sat through plenty of these in my day. Back in the dark ages when USA Rugby was split into seven territorial unions (TUs) and 30-odd local area unions (LAUs), I spent a couple of years as an administrator at the LAU level. Unlike then, this meeting wasn’t held at a bar.
Even when it was, my focus was usually on just getting through the thing as quickly as possible. One men’s club used to make a party of the AGM every year, driving in the day before to have a night out on the town, followed by pregaming the next morning for the afternoon meeting with a few hairs of the dog, and rounding out the festivities with a pit stop at a gentlemen’s club on the way home.
When these guys took issue with something, even though it made the meeting drag on, at least it was entertaining to listen to, I figured. Post-RIM Pat would kick pre-RIM Pat in the teeth for such apathy.
These meetings are important, I thought Sunday, as discussion kicked up and it became evident the average age of people willing and interested in taking part was far greater than the average age of people in the room. It must have been 2-to-1 college kids and 20-somethings to anyone with even a single grey hair.
That’s when I realized I had become the old guy in the classroom. Everyone had one or two a class in college, the non-traditional students going back to school as full-fledged adults. As the lecture wound down, everyone shoved their stuff in their bags and started leaning toward the door in anticipation of being set free a few minutes early.
That’s enough time to grab a slice on the way to the next class, hit the head, or more likely, get to the next building in time to close your eyes and sleep off a few minutes of that midweek hangover before your next instructor starts in.
But one of the old people would always raise their hand for a question. Then another. And another. Now you’d be lucky to get out at the arranged time. For this reason, everyone resented the old people, or at least they did those final minutes of class every day.
Sunday, in this meeting, I was one of the old guys. I could feel death stares burning holes in my head every time myself or someone else who remembers the 90s first-hand piped up.
My arm didn’t get active until we approached some budgetary items. I had a few words to say about how we spend, or better yet don’t spend, money on referee development and recruitment. Had a couple of things to say about the size of our cash reserve, as $93,000 seems like a lot for a five-year-old organization whose sole revenue stream consists of membership dues and fees.
I stayed quiet during the part where we have all of these reports. Like, here’s the D2 women’s college report, and someone stands up and tells us who went how far in the playoffs and so on. My ears perked up when it was time for the USA Rugby report, to be delivered by one of two USA Rugby Congress members in attendance. It’s been a tumultuous year, so this is going to be interesting, I thought.
It was, but for the wrong reason. There was no mention of RIM’s financial collapse. Nothing of the millions of dollars of investment money it had squandered, putting the financial health of our national governing body at risk. Nothing of the nature of the premature departures of Will Chang, Chad Keck, Rob King, Bob Kimmitt, David Sternberg or Dan Payne. Just, ‘there were some resignations, and some others termed out,’ is all.
There was some mention of SRi’s organizational review and a potential restructure, but the fact that the SRi review was the first in what is likely to be many strings attached to new creditor World Rugby was left out. Talk of the membership organization being sued by Doug Schoninger? Nope.
Exactly once a year the two Congress members in attendance have the arrested attention, or at least presence, of their constituency. If you count the old LAU annuals, I’ve been something like 10 of these meetings by now. These same two Congress members have been at all of them, usually giving the same feckless reports year after year with a few positive adjectives slipped in here and there to shield USA Rugby’s members from any useful or complete information about the goings on of the national office and its leadership.
Instead of talking about the Congressional ballots to recall Keck or Kimmitt and the reasoning behind the votes they cast on behalf of their constituents, these Congress members chose to further perpetuate the culture of blissful ignorance that landed us into the flammable dumpster to begin with.
USA Rugby’s membership at large doesn’t attend Congress meetings or calls. No board meetings. No competitive region gatherings. There’s the National Development Summit, but that’s expensive and doesn’t include membership-based information – it’s for professional development.
So for members nationwide, the closest they come to a town hall, state of the union or alderman meeting is at these once-a-year GU gatherings. This the only time they sit in a conference room face-to-face with the people tasked with representing them, and all the important parts were glossed over or left out entirely.
What’s more, toward the end of the meeting, we had several elections. One was for the role of Congress alternate – if the president of our rep couldn’t make a congress meeting, this person was to attend in their place, or at least that’s what we were told. In describing the role of Congress to the masses, the current Congress member poopooed it away as basically just voting on dues increases and the like.
When you wonder how the board can let Nigel Melville do as he pleases for a decade, when you wonder how the board can get Congress to basically neuter itself by limiting its own role in the board nomination process, when you wonder why it took RIM crashing at the sea floor for Congress to wake up and realize it had even sprung a minor leak, when you wonder why USA Rugby’s executives are allowed to make self-serving deals, this is it.
I don’t blame the college kids, because no one told them anything. I didn’t mention the names of the Congress members at the meeting I attended, because there’s no point, as I reckon there were similar scenes at the other 12 GU meetings across the country. Not only do most of our leaders have their heads buried in the sand, they’ve got a shovel for you, too.