It's no wonder the rugby community's opinions are strong. The question is what to do about them?
For nearly all of us, pursuing our chosen sport is a voluntary activity. Experience and achievement therefore must coexist with passion, or else adherents quit in favor of competing interests.
Americans have a genius for voluntary associations, as Alexis de Tocqueville first noted in his classic Democracy in America. Equally important, we regard such organizations very differently than the English or the French:
Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.
I met with several kinds of associations in America of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.
I have since traveled over England, from which the Americans have taken some of their laws and many of their customs; and it seemed to me that the principle of association was by no means so constantly or adroitly used in that country...
The most democratic country on the face of the earth is that in which men have, in our time, carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires and have applied this new science to the greatest number of purposes.
Like civic government, associations require three elements to succeed: functional leadership, rule of law (i.e., the same standards for everyone), and accountability. When properly balanced, these reflect and enhance the various interests of the association's members.
'But what people regard as self-interest, and how they are willing to collaborate with others, depends critically on ideas that legitimate certain forms of political order. Self-interest and legitimacy thus form the cornerstones of political order', the Stanford scholar Frank Fukuyama observes in The Origins of Political Order.
When founded in 1975, USARFU provided for its members' interests via simple geographic representation, which easily channeled the national championships that soon followed. Later, in the 1990s, the national body followed regional unions in adding delegates from various constitutencies, such as schools, women, or military. Under this system, it was possible for competent volunteers to quickly become national contributors.
The increase of USARFU's annual turnover and full-time staff, as well as the rise of Olympic rugby, necessitated refinement. Since the current system began in 2006, however, USARFU's seven non-athlete directors have been selected by an unelected committee of three. The present congress includes representatives of defunct territories while excluding any schools representatives -- the constituents that now comprise the majority of American players. Additionally, the national championships have been divorced from the organizational structure.
The current system thus violates American democracy, tradition, and common sense. It more efficiently collects taxes. But no individual or group can plausibly claim to represent a vision or program uniting different regions and segments, because there is no give-and-take discussion of such ideas, no system of representation, and no voting.
Politics is the name given to the processes of dialogue and transparent decision making to resolve difficult issues and allocate scarce resources. In voluntary association as in government, we hold it is more effective than any other approach.
American rugby needs more, not less, politics.