The journey towards professional American rugby has been a fascinating one. Rugby has been called the fastest growing sport in America for at least the past decade, and it seems logical that a nation obsessed with football could find a place for its sophisticated older brother. But for whatever reason, those with the money to make it happen have had no interest and those interested have let the opportunity slip away. Pro rugby has always been a few years away, contingent on any one group getting their house in order before they start. Every time a proposed league fell through, “a few years away” became a few years more. It was only a short time ago that the country was mired in a recession that not only made any attempt to start a professional competition unviable but likely led to the demise of the country’s top amateur competition, the Rugby Super League. There has been some progress since, including the foundation of two “premiership” level amateur leagues that have raised the top level of the domestic game, but it was still jolting when PRO Rugby announced just a few months ago that they planned to kick off this April.
And it is with that background established that I would like to introduce The Captain’s Run, a blog that will chronicle “a few years away” now that it is finally here. I settled on the name The Captain’s Run because it felt like the most appropriate term to describe the current state of American rugby as we enter the professional era. The years of rumors and failed attempts seem to be behind us now that kickoff is a little over a month away, but this inaugural PRO Rugby season has the feel of a test run. The teams have no names, the stadiums are tiny, and the domestic players taking part appear to be “some of the best” in the country rather than a more definitive “the best”. The league clearly will not bite off more than it can chew in this first season. What isn’t clear is whether their appetite will catch up with America’s ambitions for first tier rugby quickly enough, but that is certainly a secondary concern at the moment.
By labeling this period of American rugby as “the captain’s run”, I’m attempting to put this into perspective for both those who are bearish and those who are bullish on this league. Simply having a professional competition of any quality is a huge step forward. I think everyone can agree that there is too much potential for this to be the final product, but there’s no expectation from anyone involved that this is a final product. So my plan is to critique the league for what it is – a warm-up for the days of world class rugby that hopefully lie ahead.
One last note before shifting the focus to the news of this very busy week: this blog will be concentrated on professional rugby in general, not just the Professional Rugby Organization. This means that I will also touch on the National Rugby Football League, the Super 7s Rugby League, and any other legitimate attempt to start a professional league stateside. There is plenty to discuss in that realm, but those topics will be on the back burner for now as PRO Rugby takes the spotlight in these exciting times.