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RUGBYMag.com has discussed the issue with some of the players, and some not involved, and drawn our own conclusions about what the episode means, and what we can learn from it.
Up into March there was a club called the Utah Warriors, which was billed as a professional club with real dependable financial backing. The Warriors were accepted into the Rugby Super League sight unseen, and played the 2011 season.
But repeated problems on the organizational side caused the Warriors to be kicked out of the Super League for the 2012 season. They hadn’t registered their players, and owner Sean Whalen had apparently not delivered on financial commitments.
That in itself was a sad development, and more so because it meant that all the players expecting to play in the 2012 season had no team to play for.
Tim Lewis, an Arkansas native who has spent most of his coaching career working with clubs in New Zealand, contacted the players in Utah to help them pursue the idea of forming a new club, the Utah Brothers, which would play DI. The Brothers had very little time – five days – to register their club and players as legal entities in order to be eligible for the playoffs.
They did this – just barely. Some players were registered late, but enough were registered to make the team legal.
Now all they needed was a league season. Utah expected to play Provo twice to determine a Utah champion, but in discussions with representatives of the Pacific Coast Rugby Football Union, the plan entered a whirlpool of confusion.
Pacific Coast RFU Vice President John Coppinger told the Provo club on Feb
29 that a six-game schedule that included DI or Super League teams from
outside the territory could be considered an acceptable “Competitive
(To quote the email: "Any RSL or D1 club any where in a real 80 minute game.")
Provo told Utah that information. That information turned out to be wrong – or at least, wasn’t considered correct upon further review. Coppinger retracted the statement, but by then both Provo and Utah had put together a schedule.
Accepted practice has it that a team must play six league games to be eligible for the playoffs. This rule, while followed in practice, was not found in any public document. This is the key issue in this case – USA Rugby’s has not updated the definition of a “Competition.” Volunteer administrators on the TU level, at least in the Pacific Coast, had nothing they could point to that defined a league season – and this is an organization that includes lawyers and other professionals who should probably know better.
The Pacific Coast RFU, which has had challenges in previous years in figuring out how to integrate Utah, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest into various leagues. And yet they still had an unclear and un-supportable plan for handling the Utah Brothers situation.
What the PCRFU could have done was say "I gave you wrong information and you made the decision based on that, OK, let's see what we can do."
Almost everyone involved said unprofessional things that, if I were not as nice a person as I am, I could use to embarrass people who supposedly should be held in high esteem in the game. That’s enormously disappointing. At least Tim Lewis had a legitimate reason to be a jerk – he was caching a team that wanted to play and he wanted something to happen that would allow his team to be in the playoffs. Some of the other people … well their motives seem more to be about not wanting to be bothered to think too much about it.
Then delegate somebody to arbitrate.
I started this article attempting to clarify things, and feel now I have
not. But there is a lesson here:
1. USA Rugby (perhaps a member of the Board could help out here, earn his title) should establish a clear, short, and workable definition of a Club League Competition.
1a. That definition should take into account the fact that club rugby is still amateur, and clubs disappear, leagues retract, and often a competitive solution has to be found at the last minute.
2. Even though Territorial Unions, Geographical Unions, Local-Area Unions,
and other organizations are often staffed by volunteers, that’s no excuse
not to have a workable document that explains how the season is going to
3. Update your rules, and make them available. And then … even if you are the boss of all bosses … follow them. The PCRFU administrators didn’t update their rules, didn’t follow them, or, if they followed them, did so by memory and got them wrong. That, in the end, made them look bad. Don’t look bad – document your rules.