In defence of the drop

It’s around this time of year that the relegation argument always rears its head, as the Falcons and whoever our rivals at the bottom of the Premiership happen to be fight to retain their top-flight status.

I’m a staunch supporter of keeping relegation, so I thought since the Falcons don’t have a game this weekend I’d address some of the common arguments put forward in support of making the Premiership a closed shop.

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Removing relegation will make teams play more attractive rugby.

I do not agree with this at all. The Falcons or whoever is at the bottom of the league do not play attritional rugby because they are in danger of relegation, but because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that such a style of play represents their best chance of winning.

So let us say for a moment that if there were no relegation, the Falcons would play a more attractive game. Since we do not have the players or (previously) the coaching to pull it off, we would probably lose most games, and lose heavily. Do rugby fans in the North East want to watch a losing team just because they are playing attractive rugby? I have my doubts.

Removing relegation will make teams bring through young English players rather than buy in foreigners.

This is another I really do not understand. The Falcons did not sign Jimmy Gopperth over Jonny Wilkinson or Toby Flood – they signed him because Steve Bates believed Jimmy was the best fly-half available to us at the time. If there were a better English fly-half who would sign for us, we’d have him.

This also completely ignores the fact that the Falcons, Leeds, Worcester etc. DO bring through young English players. Not to mention that the top teams in the league such as Leicester and Harlequins also have plenty of foreigners. Heck, Saracens have built most of their success on foreigners, and made no secret of it!

Perhaps these clubs have their foreigners so they can win trophies – which is surely an ambition of all clubs.

If the Falcons couldn’t be relegated and played more young English players, they would logically be worse than the current foreigners we have. That would mean we would be more likely to lose games. Continuing the crowd issue from the previous argument, we would surely have lower attendances because the standard of play would be lower.

Not one that is mentioned that often but has been in the past: removing relegation will encourage clubs to invest in their facilities due to them having more long-term security.

You only have to look at Kingston Park and Sixways to know this argument is completely flawed.

Only two or three clubs in the Championship are capable of promotion.

Under the current system that is the case. But just because Bedford, Cornish Pirates, Doncaster etc. cannot currently be promoted, that is not to say that they will never meet the criteria.

Having an election system (like Super League) will encourage Championship teams to plan for the long-term.

Sandy Park and new stadiums for Plymouth Albion and (eventually) Cornish Pirates prove that teams will invest in their grounds under the current system if they want to and are able to.

Say we did have an election system, whereby every three years a new club was chosen to join the Premiership at the expense of a current incumbent over the past three years. Leaving aside the ethical argument of having a team’s status decided in a committee room rather than on the pitch, why would a team invest when there was only a chance of promotion every three years if they don’t when there is a chance of promotion every year?

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Improving the current system.

All of this is not to say that the current system does not need improvement. It is far too stacked, deliberately, in favour of the established Premiership clubs. I am in favour of a parachute payment for the team that is relegated to prevent mass redundancies and playing/coaching personnel changes, but every team in the Premiership should have the same central funding each season.

In fact, there is an argument for a promoted team getting more funding when they come up (perhaps replacing the parachute payment to the relegated team) to help them compete, but certainly it must receive equal money at least.

I would also increase promotion/relegation to two teams. Certainly one must be automatic but perhaps the second place could be through a playoff between the 2nd to 5th -placed teams in the Championship, or the 2nd to 4th along with the 11th-placed team in the Premiership.

Having more promotion and relegation would mean that teams have a greater chance of returning to the Premiership after relegation, therefore potentially lessening the fear of the drop, while as more teams get experience of the top division, it becomes more competitive instead of the current system whereby only 13 or 14 clubs can realistically run Premiership teams.

The ground regulations must also be scrapped. If a stadium is good enough for the Championship, why is it not good enough for the Premiership? It clearly has facilities for Sky and the press, and sufficient access for ambulances in case of players being seriously injured.

I hear toilets are an issue – I would guess not since Exeter has portaloos, indeed they are far better than the brick outhouses at Leicester!

If need be, allow a club to be promoted and then have three years to get their ground up to the required standard or move to a new one.

The issue of “primacy of tenure” is particularly ludicrous. How many Premiership matches have had to be moved because a football team was playing at a team’s home stadium? I believe there have only been two – both involving Saracens, and each time Sarries were able to find an alternate ground on the same weekend so the match was played.

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Finally, I want to cite the example of last Friday’s match against Harlequins at Kingston Park. The Falcons needed a win as they battle to avoid relegation, and so performed excellently. The importance of the game, plus the price promotion, helped us get over 7,000 people in the ground. The atmosphere was brilliant.

If the game had meant nothing to us because there was no consequence for finishing bottom of the league, then I believe there would probably have been 1,000-odd quiet people at KP, watching Harlequins easily thrash the Falcons by 30 points.

I cannot believe that the latter scenario serves English rugby better than the former.

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