Cambridge Rugby Club Chairman Steve Bowller predicts that other National One clubs will stop paying their players, according to the BBC website (click to see the story).
Since RFU funding for this level has now gone other than a contribution towards travelling expenses, Level 3 clubs now have to rely on gate receipts, bar sales, corporate hospitality and sponsorship to make ends meet, and without a major benefactor it is hard to see how this can sustain budgets that exceed £½m in some cases.
Maybe the time is approaching when when clubs playing in the Premiership and Championship are ring-fenced.
Two fully professional 12-team leagues employing a total of around 700 contracted players, with the game at Level 3 and below fully amateur. No automatic relegation or promotion between Levels 2 and 3 but franchises awarded to Level 1 and 2 clubs that can be removed if criteria relating to English Qualified Players, Academy player development and minimum ground standards aren’t met.
Meanwhile, clubs below the Championship to be amateur where players that want to can play at the highest level they are capable of, and if they are really good enough they may be offered a contract by one of the 24 professional clubs.
The County Championship would be a shop window and would get a boost as a result, as would a parallel International Representative structure with England Counties, England Counties U20 and England U18 Clubs & Schools being reserved only for amateur players.
I recognise that this wouldn’t be a universally popular move as it removes the possibility for a club to be promoted as of right over time from the bottom of the league structure to the Premiership, something that many grass-roots rugby supporters see as sacrosanct.
But it is this very pathway that tempts those with the money to match their dreams (or their egos) to put cash into their local clubs. If it was to improve facilities or to develop their young players then that is well and good, but too often it is to buy promotion through paying players to come from other clubs, only for the money to dry up when the benefactor loses interest.
Perhaps this is just a pipe-dream, but if Steve Bowller’s prediction comes to fruition, then it may be the only way to protect both the professional and the amateur sectors of our game.
As ever, your thoughts, comments and counter-arguments are welcome.