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Premiership Academy Draft System proposed

By now many will have seen the news of Ed Griffiths’ proposal for the restructuring of the Greene King IPA Championship that has been put forward to the RFU.

The former Saracens Chief Executive’s proposal has many strings to it but the most interesting and exciting from a schools rugby perspective is the proposal for a draft system.

The proposal is that the 13 Premiership Academies would be replaced by six regional centres at locations across the country controlled by the RFU. Rather than being linked to Premiership clubs, each regional academy centre would be linked to two Championship clubs in a remodelled Championship of 12 teams, split North and South.

Each Championship club would be limited to a 35-man squad with a minimum wage pot of £600,000 to be split among 35 of those 23 players, the remaining 12 would be exempt as they would be from the regional academy centres. Only 10 players in each squad could be over 24, and all players would be contracted to the league rather than to individual clubs, who would just be a third party.

Players would join the regional academies each year, straight from school, and would play in the rebranded English Championship. The proposal is that under a deal with Premiership Rugby, no player would be able to join the Premiership straight from school, instead having to spend at least one year in the Academy.

Each December 60 players from the regional academies would be put in an American style draft, with the Premiership clubs asked to commit to drafting a minimum of 48 players each year. As in the USA, the worst performing Premiership club would have first pick, second worst second pick, and so on and so forth.

Players would be drafted in four bands, a first pick would be given £90,000 a year for three years, and fourth band pick £50,000 a year for three years, and the draft would be the only way in which Premiership clubs could contract a young player.

Will it happen? Well, maybe. In rugby at the moment anything seems possible and everything somehow also seems nearly impossible simultaneously. Certainly, it has huge upside for the Championship, it has potentially huge upside for the players and for English rugby and the development of their young talent, and for the Premiership as a whole in terms of ensuring the competitiveness of the league and draft night itself would generate huge interest. Not to mention the sort of media storylines we see in the US speculating about draft picks. 

The people that may not like it so much are the Premiership clubs individually, they would lose out on those years of developing players, on that intellectual property on players too, and on the long-term planning of what their future looks like. In short, they would lose a bit of control, and nobody ever likes that.

Yet there are positives too. Currently Premiership Academies only have access to young players that are within their catchment area, they have to wait for a player either not to be offered a senior academy contract by another club, wait for that contract to expire, or actually make a formal transfer, if they wish to sign a young English player from outside of their catchment area.

Under the new proposal any player in the country would be available to them, unless someone with a higher pick signed them, and they would also be able to be incredibly targeted about their signings, seeing the potential gap in their squad at, say, tighthead, and targeting a tighthead in the draft.

Does the proposed academy system have weaknesses? Of course. In the available information there appears to be little about what would happen at Junior Academy level, 14-18, and the guaranteed wage structure, while good for the players, may simply not be possible/practical for the clubs. 

For the Championship and the Premiership as a whole though, it looks and exciting and, crucially, sellable idea. Yes, individual Premiership clubs may lose out recruitment wise, but all are shareholders in Premiership Rugby Limited and would therefore benefit by what would surely be an increase in league value as a result of the greater competitiveness of the league, not to mention the extra buzz that a draft and the inevitable draft speculation that it would create.

For the players it seems like a fantastic idea, game time in year one as a pro followed by entry into a draft that would mean a significant investment in you by a club, meaning that you would know they want you, they rate you, and they want you to play. There would be pressure, with that knowledge comes expectation, and having a wage-tag publicly hanging over your head adds pressure, not to mention the nerves of will I/won’t I be drafted.

On balance it seems like an idea with a huge amount of merit. Some questions to be asked, no doubt, but one worth exploring, surely.

What do you think?

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