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USA Rugby announced the appointment of Emilie Bydwell as the general manager of women's high performance Wednesday, making her the first such administrator of the women’s national teams in America. Bydwell is a known commodity in the rugby community, having played 7s and 15s for the USA and spent the last several years coaching and managing across many levels.

There’s little doubt she’s qualified for the position, having played and managed internationally and served as an assistant coach for the High School All Americans, a program she co-founded with the backing of Atavus and the generosity of Julie and Chris Prentice.

USA Rugby’s partnership with Atavus has been strong in recent years, as the national governing body leans on the independent company to provide and facilitate identification and development programming at a greater level than it could itself. This is another positive step toward strengthening that connection.

Moreover, though, it’s a stride in the right direction for the women’s game in general.

"This is an important step forward as we look to provide support and structure to drive Women's rugby forward in the United States." said USA Rugby CEO, Dan Payne, "Emilie's impressive history in rugby - both as a player and as a coach -  will provide the organization a wealth of expertise. More importantly, her dedication to player development, meticulous attention to detail and alignment of her goals with USA Rugby's, is going to help set a strong foundation for our Women's High-Performance program."

"The creation of this role represents a huge advancement for Rugby in the US, it is an honor for me to be first General Manager of Women's High Performance" added Bydwell, "I began to mentor and coach age-grade athletes while I was playing, since then I've dedicated my career to developing players and pathways. 

"There have been significant improvements the last few years in growing the talent pool and infrastructure around the women's game. I intend to support and further that progression by providing vision, collaboration, planning and ultimately the execution needed to build a World Class pathway and program the US deserves. " 

Stakeholders have been rightfully vocal about the inequity between the men’s and women’s games at the national level. While the men’s 15s team was paying John Mitchell north of $250,000 a year, they didn’t employ a full-time women’s 15s head coach. In the most recent tax documents made available by USA Rugby, from 2015, then-women’s 7s head coach Ric Suggitt made just over $115,000 a year, while men’s 7s assistant Chris Brown made more than $127,000. (Men’s head coach Mike Friday is contract, not full-time, so his pay doesn’t appear on the tax documents.)

The inequity runs much deeper, though it’s not an easy subject to parse without USA Rugby opening its books entirely, as most of the money USA Rugby uses for high performance comes from outside sources which dictate how it must be spent. Don’t take my word for it, though. Here’s an explanation attributed to USA Rugby’s high performance director, Alex Magleby, in minutes from a Congress meeting in February:  

“Where we get our money: (For 7s) Two types of grants: USOC, direct athlete support is $300k per team (player expenses), the other grant goes to the team. In 2017, $400K went to Women and $500K to Men. The USOC determines where our money goes. This is the only revenue Women’s sevens has. Men have multiple sources of funding. On the 15s side, 90% of WR money is earmarked for Men’s 15s. They give us a grant, which for the last 5 years had not increased, until 2016. Women’s 15s don’t have a direct revenue source.”

Prior to Magleby taking on the role of HP director, there was no real management over the top of the national teams’ head coaches. Former CEO Nigel Melville was supposed to perform that role, though many would consider his influence inadequate. Then came Magleby, and under him were the coaches themselves. Next was the addition of Dave Hodges, the men’s senior 15s full-time general manager. And now there’s Bydwell, who will look after both 7s and 15s for the women.

Two days after announcing the hire of Bydwell, USA Rugby trumpeted the hire of Scott Novack as the operations manager for the men’s 7s team. Novack, who possesses a wealth of experience with Olympic national governing bodies, having worked with Taekwondo, Bobsled and Modern Pentathlon, as well as with USA Rugby in a revious stint, will report back to Magleby, too. He replaces longtime USA Rugby yeoman Sarah Sall and is supposed to take more of an administrative role within the program.

Part of the reason for these administrative additions is cost control. Bot the men's 7s and women's 15s programs, at the time of the last Congress meeting, were already over budget.

So there are now two relatively new managers over the top of the men’s 15s and 7s teams, and just one, Bydwell, over both codes for the women. USA Rugby’s explanation for why is volume – the men’s 15s Eagles average about twice as many tests every non-World Cup year, and the men’s 7s series spans 10 tournaments and the women’s just 10. There is also traditionally more crossover between player pools on the women’s side.

Agree or disagree, that’s the explanation.

USA Rugby is supposed to be hiring a full-time women’s 15s coach – CEO Dan Payne has said the job would be posted in the final quarter of the year, though it hasn’t been yet. That would be an upgrade. The existence of Bydwell’s position is an upgrade.

It’s clear USA Rugby knows it has a gender inequity problem and is working to fix it, evidenced by the recent creation of a Women’s Committee and the undertaking of a women’s audit by Life head coach Rosalind Chou. These steps are not a job done, but they are movement in the right direction. And Bydwell is a proven winner, who will undoubtedly have a positive impact on both the women’s 15s and 7s programs.