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How The NCR-USA Rugby Division Comes Down To A Few Dollars

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How The NCR-USA Rugby Division Comes Down To A Few Dollars

USA Rugby and NCR aren't together at the moment.

One of the unanswered questions in American rugby right now is how USA Rugby and National Collegiate Rugby will work together.

The short answer is that they are not working together. Both sides say privately that they feel they’ve been amenable to discussing how to work together, and both sides have also said the other side doesn’t feel the same way. (Interestingly, one somewhat disinterested party addressed this topic when we brought it up — why do you care? — asked the person. Well, in the end we'd like to see everyone get along.)

Basically, all the posturing and behind-the-back complaining comes down to this:

  • USA Rugby insists that to be sanctioned to play outside the USA, you need to be a member of USA Rugby.
  • USA Rugby also stated that to play USA Rugby members a team also has to be a USA Rugby member—this stance was later changed to say they had to have USA Rugby’s liability insurance.
  • NCR leaders have said that those USA Rugby stances are actually threats which essentially say “if you don’t sign on with USA Rugby, then USA Rugby will do these things to hinder you playing.”
  • NCR insists that the Ted Stevens Act says that domestic teams, including college teams, have to be treated equally, and so you can’t hinder them from touring or playing whomever they want.
  • NCR has said it offers an option to donate to USA Rugby in its membership platform, thereby showing its support for USA Rugby.
  • NCR said its insurance covers everyone in a game, and is mutable enough so that any insurance issues can be sorted out.

That’s all got us at a bit of an impasse. 

We’ll put aside the discussion of the donation option—donating to an organization doesn’t make you a member. But there are some options to discuss. 

Touring

The Ted Stevens Act clearly has a high bar for preventing a team from touring. It basically says you have to have a really, really good reason not to say a team can tour (or host a tourist). But the Ted Stevens Act also says that it’s OK for an NGB to require a touring fee if you’re not a member. The fee should be reasonable. So what’s reasonable?

We’ve asked NCR officers that question and they have not provided a specific number they think is reasonable. USA Rugby hasn’t, either, although they have proposed a $250/match fee for games between NCR and USA Rugby.

Would it be unreasonable to charge ... $500? That was the number that popped into our head.

Insurance

As stated above, USA Rugby offered a membership plan in which NCR teams buy the USA Rugby liability insurance, but get their own accident insurance. This was called an affiliate membership plan and would cost $21 per member, which would be the $17.98 membership all college players pay before insurance, and $3.02 for the liability insurance.

Membership

USA Rugby has not made much of a case as to what NCR teams get as USA Rugby members. But their pitch to NCR called for a $30-$32 per member dues (depending on some small buy-ups). That would cover all insurance (NCR has insurance already) and full membership.

What do you get for full membership? This is what USA Rugby’s presentation said:

Membership

  • Management and Support of Membership Database 
  • Management and issuance of Certificates of Insurance, International Tour Clearances, International Player Clearances 
  • Input of coach and referee certification data 

(NCR wouldn’t need any of this other than tour clearances and possibly international player clearances.)

Training and Education 

  • Management and Support of online Learning Management System (LMS) 
  • Creation/Digitization of content for online Learning Management System 
  • Management of World Rugby coach and referee certification 
  • Referee development and management 

(NCR doesn’t currently tout much in the way of coaching certification, but it is running a virtual coaching education program this fall for its members.)

Community

  • Work with community councils and associated organizations to meet community needs 
  • Work with community councils and associated organizations on governance and implementation of World Rugby and USOPC guidelines. 
  • Work with Training and Education on content scheduling and development based on community need 
  • Management of Discipline and Grievance processes 
  • Work with Rules and Laws on implementation of World Rugby [laws]

(NCR handles its own discipline and grievance processes, and does some of the other stuff, but not all)

Business

  • Finance oversees all revenue and expenditures, required USOPC and World Rugby financial reporting, works with Audit & Risk, handles insurance and USOPC required annual audits. 
  • Human resources oversees all staff, handles all SafeSport compliance and complaints, and oversees USOPC compliance and governance audits 
  • IT oversees all internal technology, office IT infrastructure and the operations of USA Rugby digital assets 
  • Communications manages communication of all union matters to members (email, website and social channels) and amplifies select Youth & High School, College and Senior Club communications developed by councils. 

(NCR handles all of this on its own).

Op-Ed: The Ted Stevens Act Gives Amateur Competitions Freedom

So you can see how NCR might want to negotiate that per-member number down. USA Rugby said NCR had suggested $5 per member. NCR’s legal filing pointed to a memo sent in January by Jon Bobbett, who was overseeing part of the reorganization at the time, where he said the target was $10 per member; this implies that NCR would be OK with $10 per member, maybe. (Using that memo is somewhat disingenuous by NCR because Bobett's memo spoke of an "anticipated" $10-$20 range "depending on what services the NGB will end up providing, with $10 being the target. USA Rugby's college dues before insurance (which is the big variable) it $17.98 per member.

We can probably agree that both parties want as many college students playing rugby as possible; that no one wants to lose too much dues income, and their don't want to provide services and not be paid for them, or pay for services they don't need.

What we need is a resolution to the touring question and the cross-organization playing question

Coming To Terms

USA Rugby may need to come to terms with the fact that they might go to court over this dues/touring/cross-divisional-play issue. And the NGB might have to hold its nose and allow NCR teams to do certain things without paying as much as USA Rugby wants. USA Rugby’s rhetoric is already addressing some of this, with CEO Ross Young saying in no uncertain terms that NCR has every right to operate on its own and play rugby on its own. But, he added, that also means they’re not a full member of USA Rugby and so can’t receive all the benefits of membership.

Oh, and remember, NSCRO (before it became NCR) was owed dues money by USA Rugby, dues money with USA Rugby instead diverted to pay for other things as it spiraled into bankruptcy.

What NCR members may have to come to terms with is that if a player is called up to a USA national team camp, he or she will need to pay for a full USA Rugby membership (NIRA players already do this). In addition, when NCR teams or players play in tournaments run by non-NCR groups, they will likely have to pay for full USA Rugby memberships. That would include events like the Tropical 7s, LA Invitational, and New York 7s.

NCR in general will have to figure out the finances around it all. Our estimates are that NCR may boast as many as 15,000 members when everything comes back to normal. Further, we estimate the membership dues to total about $800,000. If NCR paid USA Rugby $10 per player, the organization would be out $150,000, or 17.5% of its income. If it paid $21 per player, that would cut NCR’s income by 40%. But if teams end up having to pay that “reasonable fee” for the right to tour, or pay for USA Rugby membership because they want to play in a tournament, will that extra expense fall on the teams themselves, or NCR?

The Numbers Aren't So Far Apart

If you look at those numbers, you might see that the two organizations aren’t all that far apart.

Say NCR teams are willing to pay $10 per member to USA Rugby as per that notorious memo. Accept also that, as per the Ted Stevens Act, a reasonable fee could be assessed for touring as hosting. 

We’re going to estimate 50 teams (out of over 500) might need to pay for that permission, and we're picking a fee of $500.

Additional full membership costs for players being called up to national team assemblies (maybe 30 players), and fees for teams wanting to play 7s tournaments outside NCR, which is not the same as the touring permission—maybe another 50.

Total cost for all of that (assuming the cross-border fee is $500): About $240,000, or about $16 per player if you spread it out around the membership. Suddenly, compared to the $21 (without accident insurance) USA Rugby proposed, these two organizations don’t seem so far apart after all.

But don't expect anyone else to say that.