First published in League Express, Monday 5th Aug 2013
Talks continue apace over the proposed new structure of two leagues of 12 into three of eight.
But am I not missing something here? Are there not 37 professional clubs at present, not 24?
It’s something that has nagged away at me since the idea was first mooted. There has been plenty of talk – and rightly so – about a ‘whole game’ approach, but we can’t forget the clubs that fall outside of that top 24.
The vast majority of media reports, and even some RFL press releases, have refereed exclusively to the 24-club proposals.
But if, as expected, Toulouse are invited into the second tier, and Coventry also enter the professional ranks, that leaves 15 semi-professional clubs outside that 24.
It will also mean that five clubs need to be relegated from the Championship next season – over a third of the competition.
The RFL has made passing mention to what could happen to the clubs left in what is currently Championship One, with the idea of two regional leagues suggested.
But that has not been well supported by the clubs I’ve spoken to at that level, most of whom favour one large national league. In fact, 15 clubs could provide a very handy 28 fixtures each.
Regional divisions can be less straight forward, and, as there will be promotion and relegation between that bottom tier and the league above, they could become complicated.
We also need to consider what the Championship One clubs will be playing for next season ““ if anything. Will they have any prospect of making it into the bottom of the two 12s, or will those prospects be curtailed for the 2014 season?
Talks are ongoing between the clubs and the RFL, but I’d be a lot happier if more mention was made publicly of what is going to happen to those 15 clubs.
The fact that there will be promotion and relegation on offer for them (from 2015) is a huge bonus, however, and should hopefully ensure that they aren’t cast adrift.
Oldham Chairman Chris Hamilton expressed similar sentiments in the new issue of Rugby League World magazine.
“It’s understandable in a way that people have focused on those top 24, because people are looking at the divisions that will be directly affected by the number of clubs that are in Super League,” Hamilton told RLW.
“Everybody gets that and understands it – but we have to make sure that we realise that there are clubs outside of that 24 that haven’t been forgotten.
“They have to be very much part of the changes that have been proposed.
“It’s a concern, but it’s only a concern in that we have to make sure that the changes that come in encompass everybody in the professional game.
“We need to make sure that the re-branding that needs to be done on the back of these changes encompasses everybody.
“If we don’t, then the danger is that we could alienate a section of the professional game to a degree, and it will be very hard for people to understand how those clubs fit into what’s going on.
“It’s been made very clear that there will be promotion and relegation between the bottom tier and the second group of 12, so there is an inclusion there.
“But the fixture format for that bottom league is still to be decided, and that needs to be made clear.” One definite positive for Championship clubs was the news coming out, via the Halifax Chairman Michael Steele, that clubs at that level could be receiving significantly more central funding under the new structure.
That could mean clubs playing for six-figure prize money next season, and significantly more central funding from 2015 onwards.
I’ve always been a big supporter of promotion and relegation – but the system can only work if the second tier is funded properly, and to a much great extent than it is currently receiving.
If the RFL can get that right, then the new structures have a great chance of succeeding.
And, since news of the new structure emerged, Halifax and Featherstone are just two clubs that have announced significant increases in sponsorship, now that they have the prospect of progression again. That has to be another positive.
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