Welcome to the Major League Rugby Grab Bag where I highlight some of the best things I’ve seen from around the league every week.
Well, the final week of Major League Rugby’s 2022 regular season was something, wasn’t it?
We all were heading into the weekend with the assumption that the 2022 playoff teams were locked up. We were just waiting to see how the teams were going to be seeded in each conference.
What was supposed to be a relatively quiet final week of the regular season turned into one of the biggest weekends in the competition’s history, and that’s not good.
Major League Rugby dropped a bombshell of an announcement on everyone’s heads while we were eating breakfast on Friday morning.
League Update: Due to a violation of league rules, the Austin Gilgronis have been disqualified from 2022 postseason play. Championship Series fixtures will be announced as they are determined. pic.twitter.com/YxJELWPhYk
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) June 3, 2022
The long-term ramifications of this announcement remain to be seen, but the decision has an immediate impact on the conclusion of the 2022 season.
To refresh your memory, the Austin Gilgronis were heading to Houston to take on the SaberCats on Friday night. If they were to win and the LA Giltinis lost, Austin would claim the top spot in the West and secure a first-round bye, the right to host the Western Conference Final, and potentially the Major League Rugby Final if they had more table points than their Eastern Conference opponent.
The bad news for the league is that is exactly how Round 18 played out. Austin beat Houston and the Seattle Seawolves beat LA. Instead of the road to the MLR Final going through Austin, it was supposed to go through LA and the Seawolves – who had already made their vacation plans – are back in the playoffs. They were set to travel to Houston for a first-round matchup against the SaberCats who really should’ve been heading to LA had Austin not gotten disqualified.
Did you get all of that? Well, it doesn’t matter if you did. That was just the first revision to the Western Conference Playoff schedule because on Tuesday morning (just as I was getting ready to publish this piece) the league dropped ANOTHER bombshell on everyone’s head when they announced that the Giltinis – the league’s reigning champions – were also disqualified from the 2022 postseason.
League Update: Due to a violation of league rules, the LA Giltinis have been disqualified from the 2022 Major League Rugby competition. pic.twitter.com/QWopH5NUzm
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) June 7, 2022
Now, Houston is the top seed in the West and will enjoy a first-round bye before hosting the Western Conference Final. San Diego slides into the third playoff spot and will travel to Seattle for the clash with the Seawolves.
Now, did you get all of that?
There is a good chance that all of the information in this piece will be outdated by the time you read it.
Now let’s get into the Grab Bag!
Transparency is the word that Major League Rugby fans have been throwing around all weekend when it comes to the Austin Gilgronis and Los Angeles Giltinis situation.
Transparency is important because it builds trust. For a league in only its fifth year – the fourth year if you take into account the fact that COVID canceled the 2020 season – trust is everything.
Right or wrong, it’s apparent that this decision has broken the trust that a lot of people have had in the league. But I would argue that the trust that fans have had wasn’t built on transparency, because the league has never really been transparent about things up until very recently.
The league has kept most of the information about itself close to the vest from the beginning. Everything from information on stats, viewership, attendance, and salary information has never been easy to track down. When the Colorado Raptors withdrew from the competition in April 2020, the league never acknowledged the departure of one of its founding members. I’m not asking the league to show its hand. They can do whatever they please with that all of that information, but that’s not transparency.
Fans are rightly angry that they are in the dark about the reasons behind the disqualifications of Austin and LA, but I don’t expect this incident to be the moment that MLR clues people into what’s going on behind the scenes especially when the possibility of a lawsuit exists.
Major League Rugby has certainly taken steps to improve transparency by implementing the disciplinary and trade wires as well as making stats more readily available on the league’s website. The trade wire does a great job breaking down the international player limit since trades have made that number fluid for every team.
MLR could be totally justified in its decision to disqualify Austin and LA. LA and Austin could be getting screwed. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know. We don’t know what league rule the teams could have violated because we don’t even know the league rules. Putting out vague statements – and in Austin and LA’s case no statements – allow imaginations to run wild.
The league has every right to do what they want with the information they have. It’s fine if they don’t want to share – or can’t share – the reasoning behind one of the biggest decisions in the history of the competition. But the reaction from the fans is completely warranted too because it has proven that people want to know what’s going on behind the scenes.
It will be an interesting summer as we wait for more details to emerge.
The New Playoff Picture
The interesting piece of this whole situation is that the West is now relatively wide open. That’s what happens when the top two seeds get shown the door.
Houston gets the benefit of some rest, but they’ve never been in this position before. The SaberCats caught a fired-up Austin team in Round 18 and can definitely use the extra week to prepare for a shot at their first MLR Championship appearance.
Seattle has been there before, but the Seawolves are banged up. They also beat LA in Round 18 to punch their ticket to the postseason, so they’ve got the momentum on their side.
San Diego is a wild card in my opinion. They were a few minutes away from winning the 2019 Major League Rugby Championship, and have several members of that team still on their roster. But they’ve also been off for two weeks. Their playoff chances were dead and buried until Tuesday morning. While I’m sure the Legion was given a heads up, the ability to flip the switch from vacation mode back to playing meaningful, competitive rugby has to be something they are concerned about.
Try of the Week
We could all use a palate cleanser after the drama that sandwiched Round 18, couldn’t we?
Check out this try that helped Old Glory D.C. end their tough season with a victory.
Blue hair = Sensational Skills ??@OldGloryDC @usmlr #MLR2022 pic.twitter.com/y3Hq7ZcCbC
— The Rugby Network (@therugbynetwork) June 5, 2022
Bonus points for the celebration as well.
Did I miss anything? Let me know on Twitter @DNVR Rugby.