Houston sports fans, the SaberCats return in 2021 and will select early in this June’s inaugural MLR draft. Read on for more.
A development in Houston Sports — Major League Rugby decided to cancel the remainder of the 2020 season. However, off the field, substantial moves are solidifying the league’s staying power which positively affect the Houston SaberCats‘ future.
The league plans on returning in 2021 and will implement a draft for U.S. collegiate players to join its ranks. The establishment of this annual, multiple-round draft should help to grow and strengthen the sport of rugby union in the United States as college players will receive enhanced domestic scouting opportunities for a chance to compete at the professional level.
Nowadays, with high video quality and readily available cell phone access, it remains possible for players to be scouted even without team employees personally attending matches. Through this move, MLR affirms a commitment to evaluating amateur rugby within the U.S.—a commitment that will prove mutually beneficial for U.S.-based amateur rugby programs.
In effect, MLR’s draft initiative should ultimately elevate the quality of American youth and college games, as an opportunity to be selected incentivizes for student-athletes to eat, sleep, and breathe being the best rugby player possible in hopes of getting picked up by a professional team located within the United States or Canada.
MLR’s draft coming to fruition also represents a reality never experienced beforehand for student-athletes who play rugby on American soil. Since the league’s inception, U.S. college players could tryout for MLR teams, but now a system exists for MLR to come to them.
The inaugural draft, set to occur in the middle of June, offers another positive side effect for Houston sports fans: it remains within all MLR teams’ interest to evaluate the American college programs and their players thoroughly so that draft choices provide the greatest return on investment. This represents a huge win-win connecting both professional and amateur rugby within the U.S., ultimately enhancing the growth of both games.
The Houston SaberCats finished one-and-four on their young season. Although five total outings do not equate to even one-third of their cancelled 16-match schedule, the SaberCats’ roster showed promise and never lost a contest by more than nine points. Nevertheless, Houston will benefit as one of the first teams to pick in the upcoming draft, which is in part based on the 2020 winning percentage.
The selection process is set to last for at least four rounds and features a contingency plan to add
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extra rounds if deemed necessary. Additionally of note, MLR inserted a stipulation that players younger than 21 must have completed at least three years of college—thereby prohibiting one-and-done opportunities for 18- to 20-year-olds that occur in some other professional leagues.
In addition to the newly announced draft, the league plans to expand to 13 teams for the 2021 season. Los Angeles will field a squad, and Texas will receive additional league presence with a side representing Dallas.
Expansion to these markets bodes well for league solvency as Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth respectively represent the second and fourth-largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The presence of these markets expands the league’s footprint, ultimately translating to increased public awareness, fan engagement, and revenue generation.
Nonetheless, danger lurks for some team’s fan bases. Even now, it remains possible that before the 2021 season commences, a current team could announce plans to relocate. Moreover, the Colorado Raptors have chosen to leave the league.
However, Houston sports fans should have nothing to fear. AVEVA Stadium represents one of the only rugby-specific professional sporting venues in the U.S., and the SaberCats seem content to call the nation’s fifth-largest metropolitan area home.