by Jason Graves
You’ve probably all heard about the Austin Huns but did you know there was another team in Texas with their sites on establishing a professional club in the Dallas area? Let me introduce you to the Griffins (@GriffinsRugby). As part of my Rugby Nation USA Profile series I was given the opportunity to interview, via email, the Griffins co-owner and Managing Director Phil Camm.
When asked about the Major Rugby Championship he echoed many of the reports I’m seeing in the media. “Regarding “major rugby” it has been promoted as something far more formal than it ever was,” Mr. Camm wrote, “we elected not to commit to any specific games just yet until we weigh up the landscape and cross a few bridges.”
I think many of us who follow rugby closely knew this was not intended to be an official competition but rather a series of Friendlies, however, if this competition of Elite clubs is successful in terms of exposure, club operating cost, and fan response I truly believe the Major Rugby Championship will be a stable professional competition within the next 5 years. The eyes of the rugby world continue to watch the US landscape and the vast many number of opportunities it provides.
I then wondered if this landscape might include foreign investment like Racing 92’s involvement with the Huns. I posed the question of foreign investment to Mr. Camm and found his response rather interesting. “Foreign investment like any investment, can be positive or negative. Where investment comes from is secondary to what strings are attached but we need more funds in rugby to be able to achieve all that we want to see.” My assessment of his comment lends me to believe he is weary of foreign involvement from the standpoint of directing the pathway for rugby in the US. One criticism in the media has been the seemingly over involvement from the English Rugby Union in USA Rugby’s for profit operations. That being said, rugby does need to find funding somewhere but not at the expense of our independence.
I was curious what it was that drew him to rugby in football heavy Dallas and was surprised by his passionate response, “Rugby in Dallas. People need to stop comparing football and rugby. Different sports. Just because you like one, doesn’t mean you will or will not like the other. Dallas/Ft. Worth has more than 7 million people, more than enough to support any well-organized sport.”
Well-organized, that’s the key I took from his response and I believe that’s the vision Mr. Camm has for the Griffins. He mentioned projects in the works and stated that “…a lot will change for us in the next 6 months.” I believe the Griffins have taken the right approach to rugby professionalism in the US. They recognize where they’re ready and where they are not, the slow approach, the steady approach, leading to a stable professional future of their own design formed from a rugby community around them, not carved out and forced.
“I don’t measure our success by annual accomplishments,” he stated. “We set benchmarks and try to hit them. If we set ourselves ten objectives and only hit seven, then we continue to work on the three we missed as long as they’re attainable. 2017 will be an interesting year for US rugby and I don’t think many people know how to define success yet. If we all stay positive and work hard for our sport, we’ll enjoy finding out together what 2017 has in store.”
When asked who his unsung heroes are within the Griffins organization he replied, “Unsung heroes, these people are often unsung because they choose to be and I’d not want to risk forgetting somebody by trying to list the many many people who have made sacrifices to get the organization to where it is now.”
With all that support and hard work I asked about ideal and realistic goals for the Griffins. “Ideal versus realistic future for rugby is all about perspective. There is no way to please everybody and no matter how hard people work. The criticism is nearly always louder than the praise because everybody has their own opinion, educated or not. The ultimate is to have a respectable professional domestic competition that feeds up to a top tier national team and a solid platform underneath for all levels of amateur and youth rugby. Strong programs for 7s and 15’s, men and women and even coed, social flag rugby. Mistakes will be made along the way (2015 World Cup I think is an example of a setback) but the US is ready to break out from the second tier and start reaching its potential. We all have our passion and expertise in different areas of the sport and as long as we’re all pulling in the same direction, all can be successful.
I couldn’t see eye to eye more with Mr. Camm if I were standing inches away instead of corresponding via email. The landscape of rugby in the US is vast, the talent pool is impressively deep, and if you were to ask any other rugby playing nation what they thought of us they would likely, in private, admit to being terrified of our potential.
Potential. That’s a word I keep reading and hearing a lot and I’m tired of it. It’s time to start working together with one common goal, a singularity a purpose, to dominate the rugby world. Mr. Camm’s words “pulling in the same direction” really hit home with me as I feel it is our multiple agendas that are holding us back as a rugby nation.
“We aim to contribute to our sport in the best way we can,” he wrote in closing; I think Phil Camm has a vision set for long term stability and the Griffins on the right track.