Left Behind

Men’s Rugby Player Breaches Concordia’s Exclusivity Contract

When the men’s rugby team stepped onto the field for the Quebec Student Sports Federation final this past weekend it did so without its former captain and dominant forward player, Ted McGregor.

McGregor wasn’t hurt or sick; he was kicked off the team in mid-October for breaking Concordia University’s exclusivity contract.

The contract is roughly 20 pages long, detailing how players are expected to conduct themselves on and off the field, according to head coach Clive Gibson. The section that McGregor ran afoul of concerned playing rugby at an organized level for the Montreal Wanderers during ConU’s three-month season.

“[McGregor] is not on the team because he broke the player contract,” said Gibson.

The Wanderers were facing the province’s top team in a semi-final match. Since the club season starts in April and ends in October, the long season of attrition saw the Wanderers missing key players. That’s when McGregor got a call from a club member.

“Your family needs you,” was the message McGregor said he received.

In rugby, the club is a grassroots organization that provides players not only with the opportunity to play the game at a high level, but also provides a community long after one’s playing days are over. McGregor has been playing for his club for nearly four years and serves on its executive committee. When he got the call from his club asking for his help, he said he felt he was in a bind.

“I had my club side and my university side,” said McGregor. “In the end, I would be letting one side down. It was a very, very difficult decision.”

When he chose to play for his club in the provincial semifinal, photos of him playing were posted on a popular website.

Gibson recognized McGregor and promptly threw him off the team.

“[McGregor] chose to take the leadership opportunity [we had given him] to go behind people’s backs and play for his club,” said Gibson. “It shows a certain degree of dishonesty.”

Gibson said he lobbied for exclusive player contracts after seeing too many injuries from athletes playing for multiple teams. He also said that the rule allowed for exceptional circumstances.

In McGregor’s case he said no exception was made, despite a petition from the Wanderers a week in advance and despite McGregor being a healthy scratch in the ConU game versus Sherbrooke.

As no other school in the province has this policy, Concordia’s Athletic Director Katie Sheahan explained the university’s perspective.

“We are looking to protect [our] investment to the best of our ability,” she said. “Competing for two teams at the same time brings unwanted injuries.”

According to Gibson, the money garnered from the investment goes to scholarships, player equipment and athletic therapy—something he said isn’t available to student-athletes at other schools in Quebec.

On the question of origin of policy, Sheahan stated clearly that it was Gibson’s idea to include the exclusive player contract as a requirement to play on the team.

“The head coach put a framework together and asked for my support,” she said, noting that she has too many responsibilities to see any one team at “eye level.”

For McGregor, the justification of exclusive player contracts not only doesn’t add up, but it is a false promise.
“Rugby scholarships at ConU are a flake,” he said.

McGregor said that while he was promised money if he signed the contract, he wasn’t offered a scholarship once he started playing. He also said he was offered a scholarship by Bishop’s University, although for less money.

A request to find out how many ConU players are on scholarship and scholarship amounts garnered no response from the athletics department.

McGill fielded the strongest team in the province for years, despite allowing its players to play key games for its clubs when necessary.

“University rugby doesn’t allow for the kind of gains available in club rugby,” said McGill coach Craig Beemer. “All [of] our starters play club [rugby].”

Players are free to play for clubs, especially during playoffs, although they must attend McGill practices in order to start for McGill.

“It’s been questionable why we have even bothered to play the games, because McGill was that much stronger than everyone else in the league,” said Gibson.

The head coach said his philosophy is not always about winning but providing athletes with a learning experience.

“I never go out to lose. But I don’t see winning a championship as one of my primary goals,” he said.
Sheahan articulated a similar position.

“This isn’t pro-sports—it’s student athletics,” she said.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 14, published November 16, 2010.