7 September 2017

Structuring the Future: a different way forward for Rugby League

Changes are coming in 2019 it seems. As ever, views are split and no-one agrees. But all the ideas I've seen are things that we've seen before already - a load of tried, tested, moaned about and moved on from structures.

Personally I'd stick as we are, with very minor tweaks, but if change is in the air my suggestion is one we haven't tried yet, but is hugely successful in America. Here it is!
Super League
  • Super League to be made up of two conferences of 8 each
  • Sides play within their conference home and away (14 games)
  • Sides play inter-conference opponents once - rotating the home/away game in alternating years (8 games)
  • Magic Weekend will see sides play the other conference side who ended the previous year in the same position, i.e. 1v1, 2v2 etc. (1 game)
  • Playoffs: 1v4 and 2v3 in each conference, winners playoff in conference finals, then winner of each conference play Grand Final.
  • Promotion & Relegation can be retained, if desired, by having the bottom side of each conference playoff. They would be replaced by the winner of a Championship Grand Final. (I wouldn't allow P&R in Year 1, to let things settle)
Here's an idea of how it might look, based on current league placings and ability to run as full time clubs in 2019. I'm not a marketing guy, so the conference names are just me spit-balling, but you get the idea.
One thing you'll notice from this structure is there's a lot less games than we currently play. Super League sides currently play 23 regular season games, 7 'Super 8s' games, then potentially a semi and a Grand Final. 30 to 32 games, plus up to 5 in the Cup. In my structure they play 23 league games, then potentially 3 finals games, as well as up to 5 Cup games.

That opens up the schedule for some extra games. Those games could be:
  • Additional 'On the Road' rounds, as part of the actual season of course - inter-conference games between say the top 4 from each and bottom 4 from each, other than your Magic opponent, so 3 more regular season games. They could be played as double headers in places like the Midlands, London, South West, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh etc.
  • An expanded World Club Series (although we might struggle to get NRL buy-in!)
  • International games, with France, New Zealand or Pacific Island nations all possibilities.
  • An Origin Series - Lancashire v Yorkshire, with Cumbria v the South or something as a curtain raiser.
  • You could also work in an 'All-Star' game, with players from each conference other than the Grand Final sides, as a Grand Final curtain raiser maybe, to further encourage fans of all sides to attend.

At the moment I'm not convinced we have the depth of quality below the full time clubs to have the same structure in the Championship as in the Super League.

I would suggest for the Championship:
  • A 12 team league, featuring based on current clubs and current standings:
    • Featherstone, Halifax, Batley, Sheffield, Dewsbury, Rochdale, Swinton, Oldham, Bradford, Barrow, Whitehaven, York
  • Top 4 playoff, 1v4 and 2v3, followed by promotion final at neutral venue - potentially as Super League Grand Final curtain raiser or part of some other 'event'.
  • Bottom side will go down to League 1.
  • Fixtures would be made up of:
    • Home & away v all (22 games)
    • 'Summer Bash' fixture against closest finishing opponent previous year (i.e. relegated side v final loser, losing semi finalists, 5v6, 7v8 etc.) (23 games)
  • I would strongly consider reinstating a cup competition for this level if clubs feel 11 home fixtures isn't enough to sustain required revenue levels to compete.
League 1

It's really tough to make a call on what to do with League 1 right now, with a some uncertainty surrounding the existing clubs like All Golds and Oxford.

If we assume no change for now, we're left with 12 teams: Doncaster, Keighley, Newcastle, Workington, London Skolars, Hunslet, North Wales, All Golds, Coventry, Oxford, Hemel and South Wales.

The obvious solution is to copy the Championship set up. That would work well in some ways, but with such low central funding - and crowds - at this level, I think it needs a unique solution given the distances travelled. 

I would have a north and a south division, with inter-division play, to help the Southern teams progress still. 
  • Sides would play their own division 3 times, with 7 home games, 7 away games and 1 to be decided - it could be neutral for example. (15 games)
  • Sides would play once against the other division - 3 home and 3 away, based on odd or even finishing position the year before. (6 games)
  • The playoffs would consist of 3 North sides, to reflect their generally stronger capability to compete if promoted, and 2 South sides. The top finishing North side gets a 1st round bye. In the 1st round QF1 sees South 1 hosts North 2, and QF2 sees South 2 hosts North 3. In the 2nd round, SF1 sees North 1 hosts winner of QF1, and SF2 sees loser QF1 hosts winner QF2. In the 3rd round, Loser SF1 hosts winner SF2 for the right to face winner SF1 in the Promotion Final. 
  • With Promotion & Relegation to/from the Championship, the make up of the divisions will have to be fluid.
It would look something like this:
Entry to the League

New entrants can enter in one of three ways. All have to be approved by a majority of member clubs.

  1. Application to join League 1 as a new part-time club. They join the most appropriate division and fixture scheduling is adjusted as appropriate. No club will be forced from the structure. 
  2. Application to join Championship as a full-time club. Their will be a requirement to financially compensate the club displaced into League 1. No club will be forced from the structure.
  3. Buy-out an existing club at any level, directly replacing that club in the structure.
I would say 1 & 2 type of entrants need to be ratified by kick off of the season before the one where entry would occur, to allow for confirmation on any structural adjustments. Type 3 entrants will need to be ratified by Super League Grand Final day of the season before the one where the entry/change will occur.

Anyway, that's my idea, if we have to change things. I actually think you could apply my Super League structure to the NRL too. Let me know your ideas too!