Goff Rugby Twitter     Goff Rugby Facebook

The MLR Draft Returns: Player Beware

irish rugby tours

The MLR Draft Returns: Player Beware

These were the top three draftees from 2020.

The Major League Rugby Draft is coming back, and will be held Thursday, August 19.

The Draft received a great deal of attention last year as it was instituted, but its execution was iffy and usefulness debatable.

In the end, the Draft was only two rounds, and with the Dallas Jackals opting not to compete this season, their four draft picks ended up being dispersed elsewhere. The #1 pick, Connor Mooneyham, ended up in Austin where he has played well and now has a USA look. So things worked out for him. Many other players found that while being drafted carries a certain amount of prestige, it can often be a better thing to go through the Draft without being picked. Then you're a free agent and you can choose which team makes sense for you.

This year's Draft has made a few changes.

Canadian college athletes are now part of the draft. This makes sense as the college pathway in Canada is not much dissimilar from the US pathway, and it seems unreasonable to exclude the Toronto Arrows from the college draft, and yet also present them with almost a monopoly on Canadian college players. Once Canada opens its border, there should be little trouble in integrating the draft this way 

The date has changed. The Draft has been moved until after the season, in August. This works for the MLR teams, but is a huge problem for many college players, as it essentially expects players to wait in limbo from graduation through the summer before finding out if even a team wants them.

The Draft has been expanded to three rounds. Adding a round basically enhances the power of the Draft over just letting a player go unpicked and nabbing him as a free agent. 

Teams will use a draft-and-follow approach. This is basically a procedure in which a team selects a player, and has a certain amount of time during which the team has sole rights to that player. Many longtime sports fans will remember the NBA team the Boston Celtics drafting Larry Bird after Bird's junior year in 1978. The Celtics didn't sign Bird for the entire next season, but he eventually signed with Boston in 1979, 17 days before the 1979 draft. The MLR's draft-and-follow period won't be a full year, but will instead be up to the midpoint of the following Major League Rugby season. So a team has about six or seven months to sign a player, and during that time the player could opt to do something else.

There's a COVID rules change that means you can be eligible for the draft even if you didn't register to play this past school year. You still had to have gone to college in the 2020-2021 academic year, but if your team didn't play so it wasn't worth registering, or if you were remote and thus didn't play, you can still be drafted.

What the MLR Draft doesn't do is address the issue of salaries and work prospects. Sure, in this COVID and post-COVID times employers now realize that more of their employees can work remotely. That can mean that a rugby player with aspirations can perhaps get a job where he works remotely, and then moves for rugby. But not everyone can do that, and the money MLR teams are paying draftees isn't enough to cover moving across the country to a hoped-for rugby job. 

So what happens is a back-room negotiation. Teams have to find out if a guy will move, or if he wants to stay in a particular area. One top player might only be interested in playing for Utah, and as such everyone else would be nuts to draft him. Even so, MLR is telling players in the Draft that by entering the Draft they are agreeing to relocate to the team that drafts them. That's somewhat unenforceable, seeing as a player can just wait someone out.

The next part of the equation is eligibility. Last year's eligibility rules were poorly communicated, and we ended up with a pretty inexcusable rumor being floated that Cam Dodson was not eligible to be drafted. He was eligible, and some members of the MLR press were complicit in muddying the waters. Dodson, of course, landed on his feet, but still it was a mess. MLR is trying to be clear and has a details FAQ about the draft. But the main thing is this: 

a) You must have completed three years of college

b) You have to have been in college this past academic year (and can prove it)

c) A college player HAS to go through the draft process in order to sign with a team. If you are still eligible for the Draft next year, you still have to go through the draft process. You can't be signed if you can still be drafted.

d) Non-American and non-Canadian student-athletes are eligible for the draft as long as they go to college in the USA or Canada.

e) You can still lose your college eligibility if you negotiate or sign a contract, and possibly if you declare for the draft (that depends on your governing organization)

Major League Rugby asking for transcripts will help them filter out non-eligible players from their list of Draft declarers. Last year's list was a mishmash of those eligible and those not, which made everything more complicated than it needed to be.

If you as a coach or student-athlete has questions, email draft@mlr.com.

To see the Draft eligibility rules, go here: www.majorleague.rugby/draft

To declare for the Draft (deadline to declare is August 6), go here>>

But before you do, check with your coach, your conference, and your oversight body on what it means for your eligibility.