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USA Rugby’s congress debated and voted on a petition to recall USA Rugby board member Chad Keck Wednesday, with 24 votes being cast to remove Keck, 14 to keep him on the board, and eight congress members not participating. The 24 yes votes did not constitute the requisite two-thirds majority necessary to recall Keck, leaving him on the board.

The vote comes less than two weeks after Keck was removed from the board of Rugby International Marketing, USA Rugby’s for-profit subsidiary. RIM is under fire for its lack of performance, most notably the $4.2 million in losses accrued by its only year-round property, The Rugby Channel. The decision to stage an international friendly between Wales and South Africa the same weekend as the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship and USA Rugby’s club 15s championships has also drawn sharp criticism, as well as the lackluster marketing efforts around home Eagle test matches.

Congress signaled its displeasure at its assembly last month, penning and approving a resolution in which it expressed, “grave concerns about the operations of RIM and its future viability”. With growing concern that RIM may not be able to make its 2018 fourth quarter payment to USA Rugby, per their licensing agreement, Congress also set deadlines for USA Rugby’s board to provide a risk analysis and business plan.  

The recall petition was initiated by Steve Lewis, the college representative from the Northeast. Lewis currently serves as a coach for Army’s women and as the head coach of the collegiate All-American 7s program. He collected the requisite amount of signatures to call Wednesday's vote. 

“There need to be changes on the board. This is evidenced by the failure now of RIM, the complete failure of The Rugby Channel, which was a flawed concept in my opinion. And now you have this impending, catastrophic failure of RIM,” Lewis told RugbyToday.

“Congress is responsible for board oversight. The board member charged with oversight of RIM was Chad Keck, and therefore the buck stops at Chad, who’s been asleep at the wheel.

“I and most people have issues with [RIM CEO David] Sternberg. He’s the one who’s operationally at fault on a day-to-day basis, but Chad Keck was the USA Rugby board member specifically assigned to supervise RIM, and that’s why he was the chairman of that board until recently, so it’s a failure of oversight by Chad, which is a failure of oversight by the USA Rugby board, and that was the basis of my petition.”

Though the recall effort ultimately failed, Lewis is encouraged by the majority vote. At the February assembly a year ago, USA Rugby board chairman Will Chang called for a vote of confidence in the board from congress. Lewis was the lone dissenter, citing concerns over RIM, USA Rugby’s sanctioning of the now-defunct PRO Rugby, and an $800,000 overspend by the high-performance department.

“The overspend’s been kind of swept under the carpet – no audit. The PRO thing is still sort of over us, and the RIM thing has gone from bad to worse,” said Lewis.  

“We’ve come a long way. Congress is actually sort of, I think, maturing a bit, in the sense that they’re starting to recognize what its limited roles are, which is oversight and accountability and actually starting to do them, rather than just listen to the dog-and-pony show every six months."

One group within congress which has come full circle in its criticism of the board is the panel of 10 international athletes, which includes Jamie Burke, Zach Fenoglio, Jenny Lui, Nathalie Marchino, Andrew Suniula, Alev Kelter, Victoria Folayan, Kevin Swiryn, Zack Test and Peter Tiberio. They voted unanimously to recall Keck. 

“In some ways I see it as promising, because this activity on congress has forced changes on RIM and is definitely getting attention of the board," said Lewis. "It would have been a better message if we’d been able to recall Keck, but I still think he should fall on his sword and resign if he’s got any dignity.”