Time to relegate relegation?
By Monkey1
July 4 2016

  As the stakes are raised a little higher each year, is the concept of relegation & promotion becoming untenable? It seems a good time to ask the question as London Irish take a dip into the Championship, not the wealthiest of top clubs by any means, but still a fish out of water for the coming season. Meanwhile Bristol finally make it out of the Championship, where they have played for years as a complete misfit in that league. Has it become a farce? Are the two leagues really interchangeable?  

Many rugby stalwarts will tell you that the very concept of promotion & relegation is essential to the well-being of rugby. Others will argue that it stifles investment & threatens security and should be scrapped. The arguments have been well discussed, with those in one camp saying it leads to greater competition, others saying it stifles competition as clubs fighting relegation play it safe, we have read it many times. Some people will point to other leagues around the world where there is no promotion & relegation & say it does those leagues no harm, but others will then argue that the circumstances are different, and so it goes on.

As this is posted up on a Premiership site, most readers will no doubt be reading it from a Premiership point of view, but stop for a moment to think of the Championship. The Championship is a competition in its own right, not just a means of producing the next promotion candidate. That competition is made partially meaningless however by the inclusion of at least one team that doesn’t quite fit with the rest. Next season it will be London Irish, sitting there like a big fat cuckoo in the nest, awash with cash compared to the other clubs and with only one objective – to get the hell out of the Championship.

The situation looks even more ridiculous when you read comments (on Premiership club message boards of course) that clubs such as Bedford who don’t want promotion are somehow spoiling it for others. Promotion should be automatic they say. Well I can assure you that Bedford wouldn’t thank you for suddenly being made to find a few million quid, assemble a fully competitive squad of professional players in just a few weeks, get turfed out of their own ground, then pretend to be competitive against a league of teams who have had the luxury of settling into the Premiership for years.

At least the stupid play-offs have finally been scrapped, but that just means that all the clubs except the one that is awash with Premiership cash have to play their own mini league, and the club with the unfair advantage is pretty much guaranteed to win. In other words, it just doesn’t work. It is a farce.

Keep all of that in your mind and then try to look at the situation from the point of view of the thirteen Premiership clubs who try to fit into twelve places each season. Does it make more sense from this side of the fence?

Erm, no.

To compete in the Premiership you need to think and invest in the long term. If you are one of the wealthy clubs with a rich sugar daddy pumping oodles of cash into the coffers, either directly, or via your own company or its suppliers, then long-term is easy. For everyone else, well they have to try to plan long-term, but in reality they can’t, because relegation could wipe out those plans. Yes there is the parachute payment that partly protects the relegated club financially, but attracting players to the club when there is a real prospect of them playing against Jersey the following season is not easy, tilting the balance even further in favour of the wealthy clubs. The truth is that time has moved on, it isn’t like the old days any longer, and the old arguments are no longer valid. Promotion & relegation actually makes the Premiership less competitive these days, not more. Those with lots of money do well, those without struggle. That isn’t genuine competition.

So looking at the bigger picture it seems that promotion & relegation only works if the thirteenth Premiership team spends a year in the Championship, then bounces back up, to be replaced by a different Premiership club the following season. That isn’t really promotion & relegation, it is pretend promotion & relegation. It is a closed league with one club each season in the sin bin. The scrapping of the play-offs makes that a certainty. Meanwhile, the inclusion of the relegated Premiership club into the Championship just screws up that league too.

If you think I am wrong, then ask yourself what would happen if that circus were to be disrupted. Imagine that London Irish finish second next season & Bedford win the Championship. If that happens London Irish will almost certainly go bust, because the level of income they rely on to keep going suddenly disappears, and you can’t magically scale down the club overnight. There are too many committed costs, and the bank account would simply empty within weeks. Similarly, you couldn’t force Bedford to accept the promotion, and no matter what they outwardly say, I don’t think any of the other contenders could do any better than London Welsh did either. Rotherham being promoted may be a nice idea, but I just can’t see it working. It wouldn’t do them any good, it certainly wouldn’t benefit the Premiership in any way, and if Rotherham or any of the other clubs were to be chewed up by the Premiership then spat out again, I can’t see how that would do the Championship any good either.

A long time ago when there wasn’t such a huge difference between the two leagues, promotion & relegation worked. As we face up to the 2016/17 season however, with Bristol promoted & the play-offs scrapped so that the return of London Irish is guaranteed, we are just kidding ourselves to pretend that promotion & relegation still really exists. It is dead & buried so we may as well admit it, and perhaps keeping up the pretence is now just damaging the less wealthy clubs, and is a luxury that we can no longer afford.