Senior clubs and elite-level enterprises are meeting with Pro Rugby and USARFU this weekend in San Francisco, hoping to play catchup.
USARFU chief executive Nigel Melville and high performance director Alex Magleby will be at the center of the talks, as Pro Rugby is a for-profit entity outside the governing body's membership, and so lacks a formal relationship with American Rugby Premiership and Pacific Rugby Premiership teams.
'We all agree that this is what USA Rugby needs, [a] pro league, but [it] just feels like there's not enough information given to the clubs and players who will be their "product" at the end', one club representative observed in an email.
Boulder has a lot riding on the competition's successful debut. Full-time training, similar to the 7s environments at the Olympic Training Center and the so-called Olympic development academies, is a leading element in its approach to to arresting the national team's 10-year decline against its closest rivals. The union also encouraged splashy overseas coverage of Pro Rugby's debut, even lining up World Rugby's imprimatur.
Twelve weeks ahead of Pro Rugby's planned April 17 launch, core features are undeclared, including four of six franchises. The clubs, channeling the athletes themselves, are most concerned to understand the basics: scheduling, player contracts, eligibility, etc.
At least one club, San Francisco Golden Gate, believes the New York-based league's uncoordinated recruiting of players and coaches amounts to poaching that's disrupted off-field operations. However modest the scale, SFGG and others typically subsidize key individuals; attendance and sponsorship revenue depend on the win-loss record.
A Pro Rugby executive dismissed claims of unannounced recruiting as 'incorrect'.
USARFU may struggle to play the honest broker. In the past dozen years, it has sued Rugby Super League, the ARP and PRP precedessor, to block its 2004 playoffs; introduced the North American 4 without consultation in 2006; and hounded RSL from existence in 2012.
Commercial bodies like the Los Angeles-based Tiger Rugby or Seattle's Atavus
Northeast Rugby could be more immediately aligned with Pro Rugby. Tiger has already conducted a pair of West coast scouting combines for Pro Rugby. Additionally, as the academies charge training fees of their client-athletes, they will naturally point to Pro Rugby as a next step.
But efficient Pro Rugby franchises could come to operate their own development programs. Like the clubs, the accelerators see themselves as lacking details needed to draw conclusions.
Rugby Utah, which operates a development academy, is the only governing body in the mix besides USARFU, according to a draft agenda. The preponderance of clubs and commercial actors is indicative of USARFU's distance from the Southern hemisphere model, wherein the professional Super Rugby franchises are situated in an competitive hiearchy -- and financial relationship -- between the national union and the semi-professional provinces or senior clubs.
In America, competition is largely divorced from governance, complicating grounds for discussion. Each organization brings a unique perspective, each conversation begins anew. This is not Pro Rugby's doing, but it is contractually tied to the responsible body.
Moreover, as Pro Rugby is an independent startup and USARFU's balance sheet has shown a negative balance of funds for the past decade, the clubs and the accelerators can hardly expect to see any distribution of dividends.
Forward Danny Barrett returns to the 7s Eagles after recovering from injury sustained at the 15s World Cup, as the US has drawn England, France, and Samoa at the 7s World Series next stop in Wellington.