Just to clarify at the outset, I am talking about rugby union’s particular problems with the gap between the Premiership and the Championship, though I am aware of the parallels with the round-ball game.
The other Saturday I passed a very pleasant afternoon watching London Scottish end their Championship season with a dismal defeat against Nottingham. I shared the experience with about 800 other souls, which represents a decent crowd for the Exiles.
But just what do people mean when they talk about the gap between the Championship and Premiership? I’d like to talk some about some of the less obvious issues that aren’t often talked about.
I’m a strong believer that to be successful on the pitch the club has to have its ducks in a row off the pitch first. So while most commentators will talk about the gap in player salary budget and lack of time to sign players as being handicaps for the championship sides I think it starts much earlier than that.
Sides in the championship don’t have the same budget and that does impact on the size and quality of the administration team. That cuts across marketing, accounting, etc…Even sides like Worcester Warriors and Exeter Chiefs, who are held up as shining examples of how to get into and survive in the Premiership, have had issues. Worcester had a LV= point deduction for an administrative error around player registration in 2012, and Exeter had 2 Aviva Premiership points deducted for a player entering England on his Australian not Fiji passport.
However signs that London Welsh weren’t prepared were much larger with their team manager Mike Scott banned for life from rugby for falsifying player registrations.Welsh were also fined and lost 5 points.
The Rugby Players Association covers all Premiership players. One of the things they do is set minimum standards around player contracts and mediates between players and clubs when issues arise. Nothing like this is set up for Championship clubs, and it is evident not all the clubs would want it to happen.
Players in the championship can be on very short-term rolling contracts. This means they can be an injury or concussion away from losing their jobs and ability to pay the mortgage/feed the family. Whilst Premiership players might be on a year-long contract they don’t have to worry about where their money is coming from week to week.
Championship clubs can lack the experienced administrators to follow the rules correctly and have players on very insecure contracts. Where there are these kind of uncertainties off the pitch, the coaches and players don’t have the base to fully concentrate on delivering on the pitch.