More on USA Rugby’s Stategic Plan, Mabry Offers Confidence

More from Goff. A piece on what the Stategic Plan includes that I missed over the weekend and then former Board member Paul Mabry’s take on the weekend’s events. See here for today’s earlier post on this. Subscription required, so in full below for both.

Board to Vote on Strategic Plan
By Alex Goff
March 2, 2006 – The USA rugby Board of Directors convenes tomorrow and Saturday to consider possible sweeping changes in how they, and USA Rugby, operate.

It’s a consensus among members of the Board, even those who disagree vehemently on how we got here, that significant change is required, and that one note of agreement may end up making this a fairly painless meeting.

However it will all come down to whether the strategic plan drafted by consultants ASMT and based on suggestions from all corners of the country, and a few outside of it, raises any hackles.

GoffonRugby has obtained a copy of a recent draft of the Plan. Titled Rugby – The Best Experience in American Sports, the plan first uses its own title to create a brand for the game. Rugby may not be the biggest or the richest game in town, but it can be the most fulfilling.

The plan attempts to point to specifics without getting bogged down in them. It’s a still a general document after all. However talk of Game Development and developing the youth game still seems very general. The plan appears to map out a general marketing strategy for getting more young people to play rugby, but that’s not the whole picture. Mentions in the plan was the loud cry from the USA Rugby membership that youth rugby needs more coaches and more referees. In other news it appears that work on specific projects to get that underway may be in the works.

What will prick ears among the high school set, however, is a call to standardizing the season and moving to state-based, single-school league structures with the state championships at the heart of it all. This is a source of significant disagreement in U19 rugby.

Changes could be afoot in other domestic competition, as well. At the heart of the new plan for American rugby is a standardization of the domestic club season, much like the women’s season has moved to fall-only for league championships.

“We need to standardize the rugby season,” says the report.

Further competitive change is afoot, as the current TU and LAU structure, often question as relevant or workable, could well be changed under the new plan. The plan uses the word “reform” which could mean change, or could mean re-form, that is, form into something new.

On the national level the High Performance Plan and its associated North American Series and Churchill Cup, all recipients of IRB grants are deemed a start, but not the end game. To truly make the High Performance plan work, more money is needed. Effective fundraising is a topic that comes up again and again.

So does competition. Competition at a national level, from national high school championships to the Super League are to be audited, or “made stronger.”

Of course how this all gets done comes down to the final pages. Many generalities here (“deliver excellence in marketing and communications.”) But it all comes down to the new structure, which requires a new constitution which then calls for: establishment of a General Congress which meets annually and meets with key people, authorizes the Board, and debates strategic direction of the sport. It also reviews the performance of the Board.

The Board will change to nine members, and they will be people selected for their skills and governing ability. And then realignment of regional, state, administration and competition structures.

What this ultimately means is that this will not just be babbling in Boulder that has little effect to anyone in the sport. From this will flow changes in how everything is done – what LAU you are a member of, whether you have an LAU, what championships you play for, or don’t, and even, in the case of the youth game, where you get your players.

Revenue drives so much of this. The plan clearly states there isn’t enough money coming in to do all that is needed. And it also states that USA Rugby’s location may be a problem, too.

It maps out a need for performance review using key performance indicators, a repeated need for better communications and marketing, something USA Rugby has been historically bad at, and modernization of services.

So what will happen? Much of the meeting will be in executive session chiefly, many believe, so that concerns can be hashed out in all their glory before the Board presents a united front.

And there will be hashing. Little details here and there are going to be debated to the letter and it’s hard to see that two days will be sufficient. It’s the old problem of such plans; generalities make people nervous, and specifics make them really nervous.

Just about everyone believes there needs to be significant change in how USA Rugby is run and how American rugby, the game at every level, is run. This plan incorporates much of what people want to see happen. Whether the final product will have any changes remains to be seen.

I think the title, and the supposed branding of our sport, is good. Rugby is an experience. We all agree it’s a lifestyle that we love and enjoy sharing. I also found it interesting that the office location is considered a problem. I agree. Despite the ease of travel in our country, Colorado is not located anywhere near the nation’s rugby hotbeds of the East Coast or the Midwest. Granted, the West Coast has building #s, as does the South, but not as much as the first two. Plus, most people will now cite development of women’s college rugby and youth rugby as major steps in the right direction. Well, the NCAA is based in Indiana. It will be interesting to see what happens with this.

And here’s Mabry’s letter to the editor …

Letters – Paul Mabry Weighs in on the Latest BOD Meeting
The Board of Directors did, indeed, act boldly in voting themselves out of existence at the meeting this past weekend in Boulder. I appreciate your reporting of this fact, but I am distressed that the temptation to cast the pall of conspiracy could not be resisted. Sometimes, things are what they seem, nothing more.

For starters, it was merely a recommendation of the consultants engaged by USARFU that the new members’ congress (or whatever it is ultimately called) be composed of three representatives from each current geographic territory. There was a real sense, however, that the congress will, ultimately, probably be quite a bit larger, bringing a wider range of grass roots input to the body to which the Board will answer. I hope this will also be an opportunity to bring back the voices of special interest representatives, such as youth, women, collegiate, etc.

I publicly stated at the meeting that I would be extremely disappointed if the congress looked just like the current Board, but that is very unlikely in any case. Take for instance the three positions from the West: I will not be a candidate for the Congress … it’s time to pass the baton after some very heavy lifting; Bob Latham, our outstanding new Chairman, will chair the congress as well and will thus be relinquishing his West seat; Bill Sexton has also announced he is entering his last year of service as West president. And I am personally aware of quite a few other voluntary leavings once the reorganization is complete.

Your suggestion that the current Board members will simply be changing titles also ignores the reality (and the democratic principle) that they were elected by their constituents. If the Midwest members, for instance, want to send the same faces to the congress, that’s their decision. Personally, I would counsel any TU to make sure their president is one of their reps to the congress, but that new faces should fill the other two seats. We need fresh ideas and voices.

Please keep in mind that we still must approve a complete new set of by-laws at our next meeting this summer to bring about these changes. Speculation as to the motivation for change is, I suppose, irresistible; but suggestions of a vast conspiracy by the current Board to doggedly and pathetically “hang on” unfairly maligns the selfless ethic the Board — acting in near unanimity — has exhibited this year.

Also, you may be interested to know that there was robust discussion on whether the congress should elect three or four members to the new nine-person Board. We ultimately settled on only three, in part so that we would have real change by not having nearly half of the new Board being populated by — most likely — current members. We also felt electing four members from the congress would politicize the new Board to an unacceptable degree. Finally, Board members will not be allowed to also serve in the congress.

I want to congratulate my Board colleagues for their willingness to vote themselves out of existence and take our organization into a new era. We have remained steadfast in the face of some pretty aggressive reporting questioning our motives, but we leave knowing our beloved USARFU is moving forward. Much of the credit for this belongs to our longest-serving CEO, Doug Arnot, who has doggedly led us to change in the face of criticism from those with their own narrow agendas.

Please allow me the opportunity to also publicly thank Neal Brendel for his visionary leadership the past four years. This man — a former Eagle, accomplished attorney and family man — is as passionate about our game as anyone, and he has honored us with his dignified service in the face of specious personal attacks. I did not vote for Neal on the first ballot when he ran for our highest office four years ago. I was wrong.

Paul Mabry, member
USA Rugby Board of Directors
Houston

A big vote of confidence from a man personally involved with first-hand knowledge. It speaks pretty highly, I think. We’ll see if anyone else writes in to gripe.

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