The column is based on the current situation in New Zealand and recent reports of Otago Rugby Union going belly-up.
Three cheers for sorry old Otago rugby. In a perverse sort of way the financial collapse of the ineptly managed union could end up saving the provincial game in New Zealand.
And I guess if something positive does come out of Monday’s self-inflicted implosion of one of New Zealand’s oldest, and proudest, rugby unions, then maybe all this pain might just have been worth it.
Sure, that will be slim consolation for Otago rugby folk who are wondering right now what on earth has been going on under their noses. Various chief executives have clearly been fiddling while the union burned.
And Dunedinites in general will be more than a little concerned over where this whole sorry affair now leaves their flash new indoor stadium that looks like it could be without a major tenant for the back end of the year.
The term “White Elephant’ is already being bandied about regarding a stadium that, predictably, has ended up costing more than was projected, and at some stage will need to be paid off.
But back to the parlous state of the Otago union who are about to declare bankruptcy unless a white knight rides in to save the day. Right now there is no such person on the horizon.
I sincerely believe the whole sorry affair could, paradoxically, be just the low point that New Zealand provincial rugby needed.
Surely now the rest of the country has been put on notice. And if it takes one union crashing and burning to save the other 13, then maybe that’s a fair price to pay.
One thing is for certain: Otago may have been the most financially vulnerable of New Zealand’s 14 major unions, but they are far from a lone ranger in terms of battling to keep their head above water.
Otago is the most extreme example of the problem, but there are a lot of other unions out there spending more than they’re earning, and in effect behaving with fiscal irresponsibility.
That’s why, ultimately, we may look back upon Monday’s decision by Otago to declare itself insolvent as the catalyst for the change that the provincial game needed.
For too long now provincial rugby has tried to operate as the third professional level of the game. It’s now exceedingly obvious that’s been a misguided quest.
The All Blacks pay for themselves – many times over. Super Rugby, on the other hand, barely breaks even as a necessary, but expensive, professional competition that provides fodder for broadcasters and high-level footy for fans on a week-to-week basis.
Provincial rugby, sadly, is just not in the professional equation.
But that hasn’t stopped unions trying to operate like Super Rugby franchises, putting a long list of players on payrolls they can’t afford to meet whilst dreaming of crowds and sponsors that are never going to materialise.
So unions have to come to a simple conclusion based on Otago’s crumbled model.
You can’t dish out what you don’t have. It’s stupid to attempt otherwise.
The upshot of all this is that provincial level rugby players – the guys not quite good enough for Super Rugby contracts – are going to have to accept lesser money to play a game that at best is now semi-professional.
I’m told Otago had a number of players on deals around the $60,000-70,000 mark. These are journeymen at best, some who have been trying for years to make the breakthrough to Super Rugby level. They simply aren’t worth that outlay based on money available.
Our provincial unions can no longer afford to prop up this third tier of rugby player, even if it means we end up losing them to overseas clubs. That’s just how it is now.
The provincial season goes for around three months. Players are going to have to accept that if that’s their main income stream, they are going to have to find another job.
Maybe $30,000 for a quarter of a year’s work has to be accepted as the going rate.
I can just see the players’ union jumping up and down over such an outrage, but the fact is the players are doing themselves a disservice if they bankrupt the game.
As they say in life: it is what it is. And right now New Zealand’s provincial game has to work out a way to pay for itself.