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The Hallucinating Goose

What are the origins of our league structure?

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I was just having a discussion with my brother. I asked him if he knew why sport in this country has historically used a tiered league system with promotion and relegation. We decided that we didn't actually know where the idea originally came from. 

One of the main reasons is obviously because as more and more teams joined the league it became far too big to accommodate a reasonably sized fixture list. So splitting a league of say 30 teams into two 15s makes sense but then that brings up the question of why structure it based on quality of the team which is what promotion of relegation ultimately creates, moving better teams into a more skilled competition, and vice versa? Splitting the teams by skill should make a league more competitive, and so in theory, more exciting. 

We then compared this with a North American conference system. Take the NFL, there are 32 teams split into conferences. This keeps all teams on the same level while not creating an enormous fixture list. There is a difference because they don't operate a home and away system but there's no reason why you couldn't really. Now you're not splitting teams based on skill but because all teams are kept on the same level from the start and rules are put in place to try to keep teams equal then they should all be competitive anyway. 

Let's apply this to rugby league. 1902-03 was the first season with two divisions (according to Wikipedia). There was 36 teams in total, split into two 18 team divisions with promotion and relegation. This could have been two conferences of 18, or maybe 3 of 12 on the same level with a play-off system similar to that used in the NFL now. 

So what I am wondering is what is the origins of the promotion and relegation system, in terms of where did the idea come from and why was that system always favoured over a conference system? 

Edited by The Hallucinating Goose
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Football was the first in this country, despite some people in Rugby advocating competitive leagues around the same time. I vaguely remember reading that the Calcutta Cup was originally suggested as a trophy for a structured club competition, but that idea was ditched. It ended up as the prize when England and Scotland play each other in the Six Nations.


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13 hours ago, The Hallucinating Goose said:

I was just having a discussion with my brother. I asked him if he knew why sport in this country has historically used a tiered league system with promotion and relegation. We decided that we didn't actually know where the idea originally came from. 

One of the main reasons is obviously because as more and more teams joined the league it became far too big to accommodate a reasonably sized fixture list. So splitting a league of say 30 teams into two 15s makes sense but then that brings up the question of why structure it based on quality of the team which is what promotion of relegation ultimately creates, moving better teams into a more skilled competition, and vice versa? Splitting the teams by skill should make a league more competitive, and so in theory, more exciting. 

We then compared this with a North American conference system. Take the NFL, there are 32 teams split into conferences. This keeps all teams on the same level while not creating an enormous fixture list. There is a difference because they don't operate a home and away system but there's no reason why you couldn't really. Now you're not splitting teams based on skill but because all teams are kept on the same level from the start and rules are put in place to try to keep teams equal then they should all be competitive anyway. 

Let's apply this to rugby league. 1902-03 was the first season with two divisions (according to Wikipedia). There was 36 teams in total, split into two 18 team divisions with promotion and relegation. This could have been two conferences of 18, or maybe 3 of 12 on the same level with a play-off system similar to that used in the NFL now. 

So what I am wondering is what is the origins of the promotion and relegation system, in terms of where did the idea come from and why was that system always favoured over a conference system? 

Lancashire and Yorkshire  both dabbled with having league structures prior to 1895. Lancashire tried it first (1889) and then Yorkshire, but when Yorkshire tried it the first division teams blocked promotion, this caused an almighty row, as the Yorkshire Union saw it as the senior clubs taking control.

Does all this sound familiar?

 

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Even if you don’t like football, and for all the problems it has, I think you have to appreciate the structure it’s managed to achieve. From the elite to local amateur sides there’s a clear pyramid with literally thousands of teams playing in the same system. I’d love Rugby League to be able to emulate it but realistically it’s not in a position to do it as well. I always find the conference style systems to get stale but I understand why they’re needed in America.

I don’t think there’s any particular reason why it’s that way other than European countries being much smaller geographically there’s no need for a conference system in professional sports.

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4 hours ago, fevtom said:

Even if you don’t like football, and for all the problems it has, I think you have to appreciate the structure it’s managed to achieve. From the elite to local amateur sides there’s a clear pyramid with literally thousands of teams playing in the same system. I’d love Rugby League to be able to emulate it but realistically it’s not in a position to do it as well. I always find the conference style systems to get stale but I understand why they’re needed in America.

I don’t think there’s any particular reason why it’s that way other than European countries being much smaller geographically there’s no need for a conference system in professional sports.

I don't think football has too many problems frankly.  Petulant players ,some gobby unpleasant fans, yes, but in a crowd of say 40000 you'll get more of those then in a crowd of 8000 say. But none of this has stopped the spread of soccer.  What countries do not have a professional soccer league? Not many, Pakistan,  Bangladesh,  Sri Lanka, etc as cricket is king, India does have a football version of IPL. I can't think.of anymore. 

RL would love to have footy's " problems " Or would it? Is it better to be global but driven by greed or small but true to its roots of decency and respect. 

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6 hours ago, Mr Plow said:

The NFL for example uses conferences because the country is so large. 

Not only for that reason, P & R has never been part of North American sports, not even back in the days when all the pro teams were in the east.

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I've been doing a bit of reading on this topic since I posted it. I might have found what I'm looking for. 

Essentially the reason football's pyramid exists is because it was a merger of a number of different leagues. The football league was considered the primary league in the country so when the football association and football alliance (which were two separate organisations) merged, the football alliance became the second division. This was done to try to win support from fans of football alliance clubs, a case of giving those clubs a chance to play in against the primary football league clubs but saying they have to prove they would be competitive enough, hence P&R. The third division was formed when the football league merged with the Southern league. 

An aspect of this seems similar in rugby league. I think it was the second season of our competition, the number of teams was increased by 8 and this is when the Lancashire and Yorkshire leagues were formed which is similar to conferences in a way, though there wasn't a playoff system to decide on a national champion. That brings up another question of why not? Anyway, the Northern Rugby football league was formed in 1901 when members of the county competitions resigned from those leagues arguing that they weren't competitive enough and together those clubs formed another league. It was intended that there would be a playoff between the champions of the county leagues to decide who would be promoted into this new league but the Yorkshire clubs boycotted the new league and so it was decided that only the Lancashire league champion would be promoted. After a lot of shouting from Yorkshire clubs the new league agreed to expand their competition to 15 teams and promote a Yorkshire side as well. With teams leaving the Lancashire league to join this new league tabled a counter proposal of forming a second division. 21 teams from across the two counties applied to join the league and all were admitted which essentially killed off the County leagues. The Lancashire league wound up completely and the Yorkshire league carried on as a junior competition. 

So what does all that say? As people have said a conference system is used in a large country and when we had a similar system with the county leagues it was not competitive enough so clubs nationwide formed a new competition. Clubs that were excluded from that formed a second division because their regional competitions were weakened even more from the top clubs buggering off. P&R was put in place so year after year the best clubs could play each other. If some teams declined and there was no P&R then you would have a league that again wasn't as competitive as it could be which makes a lot of sense. 

It seems that we did sort of try a conference style system but because of the vastly different size of some clubs, with some based in cities with much more money and support than village teams and with the free market transferring of players which obviously benefits the teams with more money regional competitions simply weren't competitive enough. Contrast that with the NFL which has a set number of teams which are placed in massive metropolises with multi-billionaire owners and stricter rules on transfers and what have you, you are manufacturing a league that is more competitive and so there is little need to keep shuffling teams around to ensure the most competitive are always playing each other. 

I can't be bothered to read back through all that. Take a breath goosey! 😁

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Apart from a few years in the early 1900s, and a two season experiment in the 1960s, rugby league used something closer to a conference system until the 1970s. There was a Lancashire League and Yorkshire League and clubs only played a handful of games against teams in the other league to make up the main league table. Before the formation of BARLA, the top tier of amateur rugby league tended to be things like the Warrington and District League, or the Halifax and Huddersfield League.

Even in football the non-league pyramid took a long time to form. There was little promotion and relegation between leagues, and until leagues started to merge in the 1960s there were a lot of local leagues below the Football League, with only the Southern League being at a particularly high standard, and none of them having promotion and relegation between them 

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22 hours ago, fevtom said:

Even if you don’t like football, and for all the problems it has, I think you have to appreciate the structure it’s managed to achieve. From the elite to local amateur sides there’s a clear pyramid with literally thousands of teams playing in the same system. I’d love Rugby League to be able to emulate it but realistically it’s not in a position to do it as well. I always find the conference style systems to get stale but I understand why they’re needed in America.

I don’t think there’s any particular reason why it’s that way other than European countries being much smaller geographically there’s no need for a conference system in professional sports.

Soccer only has so many divisions bc it has so many strong teams and they can't all fit in one league 

The structure reflects it's popularity not the other way around 

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Up until the early 1970's even though we notionally had a single league of 30 clubs it wasn't as simple as that. Clubs were allocated by geography to either the Yorkshire or Lancashire league (also known as Eastern and Western Divisions) with 15 teams in each. They played the other teams in their own division twice and some teams from the other division once, with all games counting towards an overall league table to make up the RL Championship. The top 4 in the overall table would then play off for the title.

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Correct.  I am surprised more people don't know or understand that. The history must be on Wiki and or the RL main page.

In short, the RL have never had promotion and relegation untill fairly recently. Thats why there have always been play offs.

We should abolish P&R, the issue is what the correct number of clubs should be  in the top tier and how and if it could be expanded. Irrespective of that, the number of fixtures should be 24.

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I think the licensing is a good idea in theory. 12-14 in SL  and 10/12 each in C1&2. Promotion is gained through having a sound business model and financial stability. No reason why we couldn’t have a 18-20 team SL. 

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Season one was a single 22 club league with each team playing home and away fixtures against all the other teams. Along with this there was a Lancashire and a Yorkshire Seniors competition each comprising of 11 teams. In the Lancashire competition Runcorn and Oldham finished on equal points and had a play-off to be champions, the first Rugby League Play-Off.

Season two split into Lancashire Senior League 14 teams and Yorkshire Senior League 16 teams with home and away fixtures. This format lasted 5 seasons.

In 1901/2 Season a breakaway league of 14 clubs was formed with the 7 leading Lancashire teams  and 7 top Yorkshire teams. They played each other home and away in the first Super League.

1902/3, 1903/4  and 1904/5 Saw the first attempt at two divisions, this caused problems for the less successful clubs as they lost lucrative fixtures against the bigger clubs. This saw the system voted out for 1905/6 . The return to one league caused fixture chaos and as a club could arrange their own fixtures (except you had to play each team in your own county at least once) you could in effect win the league by carefully selecting your fixtures to give yourself easier game,

To get around the fixture problem in 1906/7 the first, top four play-off was introduced to decide the champions.

Edited by Padge

Visit my photography site www.padge.smugmug.com

Radio 5 Live: Saturday 14 April 2007

Dave Whelan "In Wigan rugby will always be king"

 

This country's wealth was created by men in overalls, it was destroyed by men in suits.

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