Major Changes to the Championship

The plot/future thickens! there is no doubt in my mind that at some stage in the near future there will be a change to the league structure in Rugby Union in England.

My personal thoughts are that it will be a Moratorium on promotion and relegation rather than a complete ceaseation. It may also see an amalgamation of the Welsh and English clubs into a Super Competition of two Leagues of 8 clubs in each “area” league. That would be 16 clubs  fully financed and supported with no relegation or promotion between. Play your area Home & Away and the other area just once, alternating Home & Away biannually giving you 22 games.

Here are some more thoughts from the Independent

MAJOR changes to the Championship, including a hugely controversial moratorium on promotion and relegation, look to be on the cards after it was revealed that consultants hired by the RFU to review all aspects of the struggling competition are set to report their findings.

At the most recent RFU Council meeting on February 9, Nigel Melville, the Union’s professional rugby director, is minuted as saying: ‘Consultants EY have met with all Championship stakeholders and will complete their report, which will include recommendations, shortly.

‘The report will cover subjects including wage to income ratios; the effectiveness of the Championship as a development tool; the increasing gap between the Premiership and Championship; ring-fencing and promotion/relegation amongst other areas.’

When I spoke to Melville last week, I asked him about the Championship and whether ring-fencing was on the cards?

He replied: “There’ll be promotion and relegation this year – one-up, one-down – but we need to set in stone by the end of this season what’s happening next year.

“What we don’t want to do, though, is cut the Championship off so there’s no chance of a team coming through like an Exeter.

“It’s always got to be aspirational in some way and there are mechanisms we can put in place to ensure that if a club has the means and facilities to play in the Premiership, they could make their way up there.”

Whichever way you look at this, you do not need to be a soothsayer to work out that, reading between the lines, a moratorium on promotion and relegation is imminent.

In many ways that is sad but at the current time, with so few Championship clubs possessing the facilities or inclination to push for the top flight, it is somewhat inevitable.

Having been starved of proper funding for so long, many second-tier clubs have fallen by the wayside – Plymouth, Moseley and Rotherham being prime examples – and many of the others can loosely be described as being on life-support pending some kind of rescue attempt.

I’d probably put the Cornish Pirates into that category because without the Stadium for Cornwall it’s hard to see how they could survive as a professional outfit.

In which case, given the outpost nature of their location, a slide back into the regional leagues would seem inevitable.

That’s why, in the Pirates’ case, Cornwall Council need to get behind their plans and help find the money to build the stadium.

Yes, I hear the howls from the vocal minority about taxpayers’ money and all that, but this is about the future of professional sport in Cornwall.

If, as seems likely, a door is left ajar for clubs to force their way into the Premiership by meeting set criteria by a certain date in future – say 2021 or 2022 – the stadium needs putting in place within the next two years to prevent the Duchy becoming a sporting backwater.

Another reason why a moratorium on promotion and relegation looks sensible at this time is the amount of money Premiership clubs are losing, which based on the financial results I’ve seen so far could hit around £25m for the year ending 2016-17 – a huge amount!

Aside from Exeter Chiefs, who are defying the national trend by declaring regular profits, the other 11 clubs are losing money and I was astonished recently when Harlequins, who boast one of the league’s biggest turnovers at over £20m, declared a loss of £4.8m.

That’s staggering really, but they are not alone and you’ll find most Premiership clubs now are losing between £1m and £5m, depending on their wage bills and income.

It’s no surprise to discover that player wages, caused by some ridiculous recent rises in the salary cap, account for good portions of the shortfall, but regardless of the cause, what must be acknowledged is that top-flight rugby in its current form is unsustainable.

Promotion and relegation, with its draining effects on resources and staff turnover, is one of the root causes of the problem, which is why until enough Championship clubs are in a position to make a real go of top-flight rugby rather than tinkering at it, things must change.

Binning promotion and relegation for a while will not suit the purists, but even Pirates fans must admit their club needs to be in a far better position before it can go up.

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