In any sport, promotion and relegation creates an exciting finale to the season, but in terms of top flight rugby in England, how beneficial is this concept?
The threat of relegation must give nightmares to the majority of club chairman and owners, who know that the drop into the Championship could be an incredibly damaging one. Not only damaging financially, but a crushing blow to the whole infrastructure of a club.
So is it time to do away with relegation and ring-fence the Aviva Premiership?
I believe that it is. The introduction of a system that mimics the Celtic and Super rugby leagues would provide clubs with a safety net, allowing them to develop all areas of their set-up. Clubs would be able to develop home-grown talent and therefore rely less on expensive foreign imports. Younger players could then be given time to settle into elite level rugby, allowing coaches to start a rebuilding process if necessary, without the threat of sliding into freefall. By relying less on imports (that can often set a club back large sums of money), clubs would also benefit financially. If a squad is made up of players that have climbed their way through the academy set up, it isn’t only the club that is benefiting; it is English rugby in general. Added to this the fact that the academies are fully funded by the RFU, it is most certainly a win-win situation.
But this isn’t the only way that English rugby would benefit. If relegation was eliminated, this would deplete the importance of ‘winning at all costs.’ I’m not saying clubs would be completely unbothered by losing, but it would generate a freedom in the way the game is played. At the moment, teams are happy to settle with winning penalty shoot-outs, so to put it. By reducing the emphasis of winning in order to survive, which is the case for clubs like Leeds, Newcastle etc, you would be encouraging sides to play more expansive, attacking rugby. This would make the game far more exciting, thus attracting more supporters, thus bringing in more money.
Some would argue that this would take away the ambition and motivation of clubs in the Championship, but in truth, only a small handful of these clubs have the correct facilities and foundations to allow them entry into the top league anyway.
In order for us not to disadvantage the clubs that do have the necessary requirements, I propose a fifteen team Premiership. The Championship promotion spot is regularly competed for by the same teams, year in, year out. By removing the stronger sides from the league, you are also making the Championship more competitive.
If fifteen teams makes the fixture list too busy, then why not only play each side once; arranging the fixtures around international games. This would then level out the playing field for sides with a high number of international players, who are evidently deprived when the Six Nations is on.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this proposal, which certainly isn’t a new one and has been discussed for a while now.