To begin, let me declare an interest – when it comes to English club rugby union, I always have been, and will remain, a support of league promotion and relegation.
You could call me old-fashioned and a traditionalist for holding this view and I wouldn’t care. There’s both logic and romance in the notion that every club in the land should have the inalienable right – in theory at least – to rise from humble origins all the way to the very top.
When world rugby went professional in 1995, there were two ways the game could go in England: either the RFU or the leading clubs would contract the players and thereby be in ultimate control of player development. De facto, this was no contest. The RFU – then, and to some extent still now – was structurally prevented from acting with either vision or dynamism by the overwhelming amateur/volunteer background of its elected club representatives and committees. Thus the clubs – through their owners – took charge and, two decades later, we are where we are.
Enough said on that subject. There’s little to be gained from revisiting history, revelling in hindsight or – if that’s your standpoint – crying over spilt milk.
Nevertheless, without fail, every Premiership season, the old chestnut about the benefits or the drawbacks of relegation and promotion gets an airing.
Before addressing the issue in detail, it should be pointed out that Premiership rugby differs from its soccer counterpart in one vital respect – there just isn’t the amount of money sloshing about in club rugby to justify more than a limited number of fully-professional teams.
I concede that ring-fencing might make some sense if it was region-based around the country and rigidly controlled from the centre, perhaps even with an NFL-like drafting system to ensure that all club franchises had the opportunity to acquire the best up and coming players, rather than them going every time to those owners with the deepest pockets.
However, the top Premiership clubs tend to base their argument against relegation and promotion simply upon the ‘uncertainty drag’ that it imposes upon all rational attempts to establish and develop a commercially-sound sports business model.
For me, that’s tantamount to nothing more than a plea to be allowed to pull the ladder up behind you once you have reached the top – yet not, of course, before.
The latest – and, to be fair, consistent – individual to pronounce publicly of dispensing with Premiership relegation is Scottish and British Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan.
Initially, I was following the gist of his thrust in favour of ring-fencing, i.e. his suggestion that the Premiership should be increased to fourteen clubs from twelve, based geographically upon the fourteen English regions, before promotion relegation are formally scrapped.
Then came the rub, the ‘reveal’.
Sir Ian argued that Leeds (the team he is currently associated with) and Bristol should be lifted into the Premiership before his relegation scheme was implemented.
A sure-fire case of ‘pulling the ladder up after you’, as I mentioned above.
It’s the very reason I’m still against the proposition.
Here’s a link to Sir Ian’s article, on the website of the Daily/Sunday Telegraph today – RELEGATION SHOULD BE SCRAPPED