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Pro Rugby North America is the name of the newest entity promising to bring the United States its first professional league. A Facebook page has emerged and an official announcement of some kind is supposed to be made Monday.
The man behind the effort is Doug Schoninger, who comes to rugby from the trading world. He has tabbed Stephen Lewis, coach of American Rugby Premiership club Old Blue, to help run the operation.
Sanctioning from USA Rugby and World Rugby has been acquired, and the league plans to embark on its first season in the spring, likely sometime in April or May, with six teams. They’d all be centrally owned by the league itself, with the San Francisco Bay Area expected to have two teams, along with one each in Denver, Philadelphia, New York, and a market yet to be determined.
Vancouver was originally a part of the plans, but Rugby Canada decided not to back the new venture. USA Rugby is apparently involved only as a sanctioning body, and not in an ownership, partnership or management capacity, though the Boulder office will likely help place players in the league.
The schedule would consist of a double round-robin – 10 regular season games, a semifinal and final – with a break for the June test window, wrapping up before the Olympics.
The league is looking at a cap on international players and hopes to fill its six 30-man rosters mostly from the player pools for both the American and Canadian national teams, with domestic club players probably plugging the holes.
“After more than a year of research and planning, we at PRO Rugby will be announcing our plans for Professional 15-a-side Rugby Union in North America on Monday, November 9th. This last year has been an exciting time for me and I am looking forward to sharing our vision with the rugby community,” Schoninger posted on his company’s Facebook page Friday.
“Our announcement on Monday will be a framework of how PRO Rugby will develop, and is only the first step in what we believe will be an exciting journey. We intend to be collaborative, and will include you, the rugby community, right from the start. As we all know, rugby is unique in sports, and particularly in American sports. We appreciate both the game, and its core values, and are mindful of our custodial responsibility in growing our game together.”
American rugby fans are ready for professional rugby, evidenced by Pro Rugby North America’s Facebook page already having over 3,400 likes, more than a thousand greater than Seattle Saracens, arguably the country’s most prominent club. Many in the game consider pro rugby in the States an inevitability, and it would be a welcomed shot in the arm. That all goes without saying, but there is some cause for caution.
For starters, Rugby Canada did not give its blessing for a Canadian team. If the top rugby executives in Canada have pored over Pro Rugby North America’s plans and decided not to get involved, there’s likely a reason.
The timeline is also alarming. Just five or six months from kickoff there isn’t a single coach hired, not a player signed, stadium deals are still undone, no marketing or ticket sales are underway, and one team is apparently still homeless.
The two more flashy examples of American pro rugby being promised and not delivered, the NRFL (in the case of the Independence Cup) and Grand Prix, at least had stadiums locked down, teams bought in and even tickets sold this far out from their events, both one offs, and nothing ever came of it. But Pro Rugby North America is going to create an entire professional league from whole cloth in six months?
Everyone wants professional rugby in America. Whether Pro Rugby North America the entity to deliver it, or just the next one to make an unfulfilled promise, will only be proven over time.