It looks as though the Gallagher Premiership will soon be ‘temporarily’ ringfenced, indeed had Premiership Rugby not asked the RFU Council to delay their vote while they clarified their position with stakeholders, it probably already would be.
The arguments against are clear, headlined by the twin arguments of ambition and jeopardy. The lack of jeopardy in no relegation apparently being a key sticking point for the broadcasters, BT Sport. Generally speaking, I tend to lean that way too. The idea of no relegation just does not sit well.
However, rather than moan about it, it seems sensible to accept that it is going to happen, at least in the short term, and to actually think seriously about how it could work and how to introduce, if not jeopardy, then a league that ought to remain competitive and therefore commercially of value to broadcasters and of interest to fans.
So here’s an idea, let me know in the comments below or on social media what you think.
A fourteen team league, split into two conferences of seven (East/West rather than the normally assumed North/South), with the top four in each conference progressing to the play-offs.
I’ll try to explain why, if we must scrap relegation, this is the way to go:
- It has to be 14 teams rather than 13 teams in order to make it work. Simply put, even numbers work better.
- Keeping a league structure as before would mean 26 games (pre play-offs) in a 14 team league, 24 in a 13 team league. If the RFU and Premiership Rugby are serious about player welfare then increasing the number of games is utterly unpalatable.
- In this conference setup, each side would play the other 6 in their conference twice and each side from the other conference once, that would be 19 games plus a potential 3 play off games. 22 games in total, the same as the regular season now, and two fewer than for a team reaching the final under the current structure.
- Having the top 4 in each conferences reach the play-offs means the race for a play-off spot should last (only 3 teams in each conference wouldn’t make it), that is good for broadcasters.
- As seen in American sports, a long play-off season is hugely popular.
- By splitting East/West rather than North/South more in-conference rivalries can be retained. Assuming Ealing Trailfinders were the 14th team, a North/South split would always see one side playing in an illogical conference.
- It would see Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Harlequins, Ealing Trailfinders, London Irish, and Saracens in the Eastern Conference and Sale Sharks, Wasps, Worcester Warriors, Gloucester, Bristol Bears, Bath, and Exeter Chiefs in the Western Conference.
A negative would be that some sides only play each other once (at least until the play-offs) and teams would lose either one or two home games alternatively year on year, and therefore that ticket money, however more teams would get that more lucrative play-off money.
If the RFU and Premiership rugby were serious about no relegation being only temporary then that too could be introduced, perhaps via a play off system between the bottom club in each conference and the top 2 from the Championship – thus ensuring that any club being promoted would be very much worthy of their place, but also still without asking players to play any more games than they are currently asked too (this would also keep the bottom end of the table jeopardy and storylines that the broadcasters want).
It’s not a perfect idea, but it doesn’t seem too crazy. It does, however, require rugby in England to do something that it has never appeared to be too comfortable doing – thinking differently.
What do you think?