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John WP Fan

Reserve Grade, Academies, Minor League Farm Teams

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As a Toronto fan fairly new to rugby league and everything about the RFL (almost 2 seasons of immersion so far), I am still quite unclear about what English fans expect in terms of reserve grade teams and academies. I'm looking for help in understanding what they are and how they are supposed to work.

First let me explain what we in North America are used to. In most of our professional sports, there is a top-level major league (e.g. NHL, MLB, NBA) at the top of a pyramid, with a hierarchy of minor-leagues supporting them. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) have the Toronto Marlies (AHL) and below that the Newfoundland Growlers (ECHL). The AHL is a good level of fully-professional hockey, with a mix of young players on their way up, and older players who haven't quite made the top tier. The ECHL appears to be a bit more sketchy, with average player salaries of only about $550/week. In baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays have the Buffalo Bisons as their Triple A farm team (with frequent player transfers back and forth during the season), the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at the Double A level,  and the Dunedin Blue Jays at single A. Not all teams maintain teams at multiple levels; some share the operation of teams, while other just lend players to other teams. The minor league teams are generally embraced by smaller communities who could never dream of a major-league team; large cities sometimes also have a minor-league team (e.g. Toronto Marlies) as an alternative for families who cant afford tickets for the major-league team. The expectation is that, especially for the top-level minor league, each team is profitable on its own, and is not a financial burden to the parent club. I'm not sure if that is entirely true, and in some minor leagues teams move from city to city and fold with some frequency.

For younger players, depending on the sport, there is a mix of college/university competition and junior leagues. In hockey the CHL is a high-level competition for players aged 16-20, while many players opt to develop at an American university where the calibre of play is also pretty high.  There is also decent university hockey played in Canada, but because Canadian universities generally do not offer sports scholarships, the better players take the money offered in the US. In baseball, the US colleges are the main source of young players. US college sports are fully professional in almost every sense, though they deny it and do not explicitly pay the players.

I'm not clear on what academies are in England. Are they schools that also focus on the sports development? Do they grant degrees?

As for reserve teams, I'm confused about how they fit into the RFL hierarchy. If there was a complete reserve league with a team corresponding to every Super League team, (presumably eliminating dual registration), how would the level of competition compare to the Championship?

I'm not taking any position here in favour of or opposed to academies or reserve teams; I just want to understand what they are and how they work well enough to form an opinion! Thanks to whoever takes the time to educate me! I think there are others here in Canada who would also like to learn more about this.

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Hi. First of all it is wise not to think of the NA farm system. There is no tradition of that kind of thing here.

Each team, and not just in SL, used to run a reserve (or A team) as a matter of course. There was no distinction between the squads. You simply played for a club. If not selected for the first team, you played for the reserve team. Several teams still have this. They are finding it difficult to find opponents however. Think of this as a RU 1st XV and 2nd XV.

There were leagues. The reserves contained full time players returning from injury, those who lost form, those out of favour. Rounded out by promising kids in early 20's. They would often be part time. If you made it to your mid 20's not in the first team you would generally end up as a first team player in a lower league, as the money was better and there would always be a younger player along to take your reserve spot. So the Championship would always be a better standard than the A team.

The problem now is there is nothing between Academy (under 19), and first team. Players are being lost to the game. They have jobs. Particularly for forwards and half backs, who often don't reach their peak till their late 20's. there are few teenagers who can bridge the gap at that age.

Especially if you are not academically inclined, see below.

Edited by dixiedean
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With regard to Academies, it is important to remember that we do not have compulsory schooling past age 16. Many young people leave formal schooling then to get a job or an apprenticeship (on the job training, or cheap government subsidised labour depending on your political viewpoint). Academies are supposed to be apprenticeships. You are trained to be an RL player, whilst also learning other skills. They will be affiliated to a local Sixth Form (Grade 11 and 12 equivalent) college. Depending on how academically inclined the player is, the balance between study and sport can be "managed". Teams also have associations with local Universities for the more academic. Eg, Newcastle Thunder and Northumbria University RL team where you can study and still play.

Edited by dixiedean

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12 hours ago, dixiedean said:

With regard to Academies, it is important to remember that we do not have compulsory schooling past age 16. 

Not entirely true.  You must either be employed or in school from 16 - 18 in the UK.   

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I did not know about the younger age to leave school (here the law requires staying in school until graduation or 18, whichever comes first). Do many kids leave school and start working at 16?

Pretty much everything I know about the British education system I learned from Harry Potter books & movies.

The reserve leagues sound like they would not attract fans or generate revenue, with a lower calibre of talent than the Championship and no regular lineup to get to know. It makes more sense to me to affiliate with a lower-league team to develop players and call them up as needed. That's more like our farm team system, and would be like a broader form of dual-reg. It would also seriously undermine the promotion/relegation system. So I can see it would not fit with how things work there. The farm team system works here in part because it generates revenue on its own and is not an additional financial burden on the top-level team.

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The new school system (the 16-18 age requirements in The uk only started about 4 years ago) should be great for sports leagues, amature and professional.  From 16 you could (in theory) have apprentice athletes, who train nearly full time, but complete an accredited apprenticeship in a related field (sports nutrition, media and PR, even culinary).

Is it happening? No.  But it should!

Edited by TboneFromTO

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2 hours ago, John WP Fan said:

Pretty much everything I know about the British education system I learned from Harry Potter books & movies.

😂 That’s funny John. 

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Don't know the figures nationwide, but the majority of my eldest's year didn't stay at school post 16. Anecdote I know. But yes a fair few do.

Re reserves they never attracted big crowds, low hundreds even at the biggest clubs, and probably lost money, albeit the pay was never high. However, they have other benefits, as Fax have proved this year. Bigger squads, the capacity to allow players time to develop.

I would prefer under 21 or 22 with 3 over age players per game. And, I would make it compulsory for SL and Championship.

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