No American rugby legend is more beguiling than the tale of the white knight arriving to underwrite a pro league.
In May, London's Guardian gave it new life by reporting the NFL's interest in an 'East Coast league of about six teams from Boston to Miami that would begin as early as next year'.
Turns out a Minnesota group planned to use the NFL Network for televising a one-off game that would attract investors to the idea, according to people familiar with the matter. Not for the first time in the history of US rugby, the game has been postponed, ostensibly until 2014. As to the NFL, promoters said the newspaper had taken 'liberties'.
Meanwhile, United World Sports last week introduced its third nationally televised property, the Varsity Cup. Since purchasing the USA 7s in 2005, the White Plains, New York, company has adeptly shaped rugby for established commercial interests, helping NBC Sports assemble a very credible portfolio to support Olympic 7s.
Looking past the work of UWS and NBC is a case of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. The duo have connected the school environment (i.e., established brands) with the Summer Games, two segments with a superabundance of fans willing to try something different.
Pro rugby requires an audience that already understands the game, a much smaller niche, because the franchises will be new. That worked for Super Rugby teams in the strongholds of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In the case of the North America 4, it failed dismally.
And, though it is an article of faith that a domestic league will supercharge American rugby's competitive development, real-world evidence is not so clear. Major League Soccer is the world's ninth-largest competition, but the US national team is ranked 28th.
At a press conference to announce the Varsity Cup-UWS-NBC tie-up, Navy coach Mike Flanagan related his athletic director was thrilled the championship had brought Notre Dame to the Annapolis, Maryland, campus for the first time. Though the two schools have a long football rivalry, the Fighting Irish had never visited the Midshipmen.
Such conversations are not so exciting as talk of pro leagues cut from the whole cloth, but signal increasing institutional interest. There are more and more reports of such talks across college campuses, including those not (yet) part of the Varsity Cup or the Collegiate Rugby Championship.
Then there is the matter of the Varsity Cup final, between BYU and Cal in out-of-the-way Provo, Utah, outdrawing the Pacific Nations match between the US and Tonga in Los Angeles.
International rugby is certainly saleable, as the USA 7s as well as the recent Italy and Ireland tests have shown. But the supply is constrained by the International Rugby Board. Pro rugby is achievable, provided one has an enormous amount of time and capital.
American rugby's most direct way forward is to work with what it's got.