Major League Rugby recently announced it will operate with 12 teams next season, down from 13 with the withdrawal of Los Angeles and Austin, but with the addition of an expansion team, possibly based in Chicago. The League announced its Austin and Los Angeles clubs had their operations suspended and cited the uncertainties surrounding the Austin Gilgronis and the Los Angeles Giltinis’ ownership for the decision.
The Gilgronis and Giltinis were both owned by Adam Gilchrist, the cofounder of fitness center company F45 training, with their names being a reference to cocktails. Late in the 2022 season, the two teams were disqualified due to the “violation of league rules” and unspecified conduct. Sources have said that the misconduct was “related to breaches of salary cap regulations.
While the common ownership of the two teams, in itself, may give rise to inherent conflict of interest issues, the decision to drop the two teams from the League dates back to the summer of 2022, when both teams were disqualified from competing in the 2022 playoffs. In July of 2022, the League announced that due to a violation of league rules, the LA Giltinis were disqualified from the 2022 Major League Rugby Competition. This news came just days after the Austin Gilgronis were also disqualified for a violation of league rules. The expulsion of the two teams was a major blow to the League, as Austin and Los Angeles were both thought to be major hubs in growing Major League Rugby. However, it was determined the removal was necessary to ensure the long-term integrity and success of the League.
In response to all of the looming criticism, Major League Rugby Commissioner George Killebrew stated, “[w]hile we understand that this news is disappointing for the fans, players, and stakeholders of these two teams, this decision was made after much deliberation and counsel, and with the best interests of the league in mind. Our league is invested in long-term success. It is vital for us to give our teams and loyal fanbases the best chance of succeeding both on and off the field in 2023.”
While at the time the League was silent on what caused this matter, multiple sources around the League mentioned salary cap breaches, although just as many sources have been as quick to point out that the teams in question were not the only ones throwing money around at all star players. However, the removal of the two teams from the League may suggest that the issue is more serious than what has been leaked to sources. Another theory some have is that once Gilchrist learned of Austin’s exclusion, he actively withdraw the Los Angeles team and that the Major League Rugby’s disqualification announcement was a face-saver.
The players that were rostered on the Austin and Los Angeles teams will still be able to play in the League. The League will be holding a dispersal draft and the teams will announce player moves as they are confirmed. In addition, the League will be releasing news regarding the newest expansion team in the coming weeks.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Major League Rugby as more information is released regarding what actually happened with the teams in Austin and Los Angeles. Is this just a problem of salary cap circumvention, or is this a bigger issue of having common ownership of two teams in the same league? Will this scandal and the removal of two teams have any lasting consequences on the success of a smaller league that is in the process of trying to build popularity in the United States?