There has been lots of excitement and intrigue with the launch of ProRugby in the States. So far most of the reporting I have seen around I has been about the setting up of the league and also looking at it from a fans point of view. So I got in touch with a player who’s playing in the top-tier of domestic rugby in North America to get a players perspective on things. As he is planning on trying out for ProRugby he asked for his name to be not included. When you read the sacrifices that these players have made you’ll understand why he doesn’t want to jeopardise his chances in anyway.
I have only taken an interest in domestic American rugby over the last couple of months when I first heard rumors about ProRugby. So we started by talking about what it’s like playing top-tier rugby in the states. A quick wikipedia search meant that I knew there are 3 regional competitions in the States and a couple in Canada that form that top-level. What I found out though is that all the players are not paid, a few players are sponsored by a company and so along with a job will get their club fees paid but no one is a full-time professional. So not only are most players not paid either a salary or even match fees but they have to pay club fees to be allowed to play. In places like the UK and New Zealand you would have to go down several levels for that to be the case. Whilst these club fees cover most things such as pitch time, referees, registration, basic travel, etc… it only covers the two team training sessions each week. That means all strength and conditioning training has to be paid for out of the players pocket. It was at this point that I started to get an inkling into the sacrifices these players are making.
We talked about his background and how he had got to where he is today on the fringes of the national team. After college he had moved across country to where he believed he had his best shot at progressing. There he was spotted by another coach who after several conversations convinced him to move yet again across country to another club. Each of these moves had to be self funded but also it means quitting a job and finding a new one, along with all the other things that go along with settling into a new city.
Having a full-time job and trying to make it as an international player means getting up a 5am to fit in a training session before work. Doing the 9-5 which never finishes at 5 anymore and then having the Tuesday and Thursday team trainings. On top of this there are game reviews, video breakdowns and playbook to analyze in their own time as well. One of the factors that is going to be an issue for the ProRugby teams and players is travel. Some of the trips that he described meant leaving at 4am the morning of a game to make kickoff and included sometimes chipping in some extra cash to afford a team coach rather than traveling individually. This season some of the players, that can afford it, are traveling the night before and paying for their own hotel bills so that they are better rested for the games. As you can see going full-time and having these basic expenses covered will be life changing for these guys.
You’d expect these guys to be over the moon about the opportunity to play in ProRugby but unfortunately they skeptical. You only have to look at recent history to see why. There as a national league but that collapsed in 2013 after running in various forms for more than a decade. Also the National Rugby Football League (NRFL) tried to get a professional league off the ground, but didn’t get its self sanctioned by USA Rugby. They ran combines or tryouts and scheduled several games with overseas (mainly English) sides but all of them got cancelled. After these failures you can see why players will be cautious especially as it might mean moving across the country to play.
ProRugby though does have more credibility as it has been sanctioned by USA Rugby and World Rugby. Also they are in talks with Rugby Canada so clearly they are looking to work with the existing authorities. So there is short term excitement married with longer term concerns. He is intending to travel to a combine along with several of his team mates and said it would be a dream come true to get a contract. He never expected to be able play professionally in the USA and thought he would have to go overseas. The problems though are in the details as they often are with these things. When we had the chat the only teams that had been announced were in California. So if he gets an offer it will probably mean moving across country again. Will there be any relocation allowance? With rumored salaries for non-internationals of only $20-25K that’s not enough to live off all-year round so will he be able to find another job in the new city and if so get time off to play in the league?
One of the points that has been made is that the real impact of this league may be on the next generation of players. The high school students and college students who can see that there is a future if they fully commit to their rugby. The player I chatted to said it wouldn’t have changed his approach or commitment as his dream has always been to play for the USA. He did see though that this was probably more exciting for the next generation as it will provide a clearer pathway to getting noticed and progressing up the ranks.
Clearly these guys have made big sacrifices to get to the level they are already. They are wanting to commit their lives to making the national team. Their aim isn’t to earn millions but just to be able to concentrate on rugby year round. The experiences and gaining a rugby family make it worth it already.
I look forward to chatting with him again after the combine and hopefully once he has a contract, to see what the experiences have been like from a player’s point of view.