Update: The situation around the drafts shifted considerable over the course of the last few days. There are reports that format was altered significantly due to concerns from owners and that one team pulled out of the process entirely. The draft was held, but it was behind closed doors, so unless and until players are signed by their new teams, we will not know the results. I'm leaving the article unchanged as it represents correct reporting for the time when it was published.

Update 2: According to reporting by Rugby Wrap Up and Americas Rugby News, Old Glory opted out of the drafts. They did not select any players and also did not make any players available to Chicago.

Due to the loss of the teams in LA and Austin, there are two rosters worth of players who need to find new places to play. Some have already retired or signed with new teams, but many remain unemployed. In order to divide them up fairly, the MLR will hold a dispersal draft tomorrow, November 10, to give all teams a chance to add these players to their rosters. According to reports, the MLR plans on requiring that each player has their salary from last year matched, and these players will not count against the salary cap as most teams have very little cap space left at this time of the year.

At the same time, the league will be holding an expansion draft similar to the ones they held before the 2019 season for Toronto and New York, 2020 season for Old Glory, Atlanta, and New England, and the 2021 season for Dallas and LA. According to reliable source John Wholey, teams will have to make five players available for Chicago to draft, with at least one being on a standard contract (as opposed to hourly contract). No more than three players can be selected per team, and no more than two from any one position on any team.

The format

According to Wholey, the two drafts will occur at the same time, with the first two rounds of the dispersal draft taking place, followed by the expansion draft, and finally the last two rounds of the dispersal draft. All of the existing teams will get one pick in each round of the dispersal draft, with the order snaking between rounds based on last season's standings. That gives each existing team four picks.

Chicago, meanwhile, will get the first two picks, the last two picks, and a pick in the middle of each dispersal round, for 20 total picks in the dispersal draft. In the expansion draft, they will get 10 picks from the total pool of 55 players.

The order will look like this:

3DallasNew YorkChicagoDallasNew York
4Old GlorySeattleChicagoOld GlorySeattle
5NOLANew EnglandChicagoNOLANew England
9San DiegoSan DiegoChicagoSan DiegoSan Diego
12New EnglandNOLANew EnglandNOLA
13SeattleOld GlorySeattleOld Glory
14New YorkDallasNew YorkDallas

The controversy

This draft plan is not without controversy. Drafts are inherently anti-competitive, because they limit the opportunities for players to negotiate with multiple teams for higher pay or better deals. The US Rugby Players Association, who represent players for the USA national teams, have been very vocal in their criticism of this draft in particular, pointing out that players with family or employment ties to particular areas might want to move there, instead of just where they get drafted. They also point out that while players may be guaranteed their old salary, they are not guaranteed to have the same benefits in terms of housing, transportation, or coaching roles. These benefits make up a significant portion of each player's total compensation.

As for the expansion draft, the USRPA has criticized that players closely connected to the area they currently play in could be forced to move to Chicago, although that doesn't actually appear to be the case. According to Wholey, players who are drafted in the expansion draft can still return to their old team if they don't come to an agreement with the new Chicago franchise. Teams are also likely to put up players who want to move, whether for family/employment reasons or simply for more playing time.

While all of these concerns are valid in a theoretical sense, it's not clear whether they will actually end up being problems. MLR teams routinely offer housing and other benefits, and it's very unlikely that any drafted players would be excluded from those benefits. Those benefits are also very region and role specific, so matching benefits from one team to another doesn't necessarily make sense anyway. As for having ties to one location or another, we've seen teams be mindful and respectful of this in the past, such as New York respecting D'Montae Noble's desire to play in DC for family reasons. While the current structures of MLR drafts provide the opportunity for abuse, there isn't much public evidence of teams taking that opportunity.

Drafts are a convoluted solution to the unfortunate problems of maintaining competitive teams in a changing league. Dallas's disastrous inaugural season provided clear proof that expansion drafts are necessary for new teams to be competitive on the pitch, but that also doesn't excuse ignoring the rights of players to play where they want. Ideally, the league would have consulted with the players before deciding on a structure for the drafts.

Recent articles