Chopping and Changing

A lot has been made in recent days of the renewed proposal for restructuring the leagues in Scotland. The ‘Season Structure Working Party’, comprising of representatives from Premier 1 to the Regional Leagues, has put forward its proposal (pretty much identical to that tabled in 2010) and is hoping to implement changes as early as next season.

If applied after the SRU’s AGM then in 2011-12, there will be a greater regionalisation of the lower leagues into 4 ‘West’ divisions, 3 ‘East’ divisions, 1 ‘Caledonia’ division, and 4 ‘North & Midlands’  divisions. Premiers 1 to 3 and the National League will be exactly the same as they were this season.

However, for 2012-13 there will only be a single Premier League and a solitary National League, below that. There will be 2 ‘Championship’ leagues under this which will be regionally split east and west or north and south (keeping up with all the league names?!). Each of these divisions will drop to ten teams, with only 18 fixtures, and the ‘split’ will be abolished.

The regional leagues will remain regional but all North and Midlands leagues will be relabelled ‘Caledonia’ and broken up for ‘East’ and ‘West’.

Of course, before this structure comes to pass it must be agreed upon.

There has been a lot of coverage about how 6 men, all representing a division or faction, have proposed these changes for ‘the good of Scottish rugby’, while claiming the SRU used a smear campaign before the last AGM to stop others from voting for it. Guess what: it wasn’t voted in and the only changes were that Prems 1 and 2 ‘split’.

Presently the proposal has only changed to include more ‘political’ formalisation whereby council members could address issues in a set-out manor within the governance of the SRU, but this would mean less councillors.

In terms of restructuring, though, the proposal is a carbon copy of ‘Proposal Mark 1: the 2010 edition’. What is to stop those ‘convinced’ to vote against the proposal from doing so again? Of course the pressure of constant calls for change may have swayed the voters, but most likely it is the realisation that although club rugby is thought to have improved it is too expensive. The SRU has had to hugely increase its funding of all club rugby while sponsors and broadcasters have evaporated.

Is this a change that should have come in earlier? Some of it, yes.

The regionalisation of the lower leagues does make sense, financially, because it means that small clubs do not have the burden of travelling huge distances. Also, since the dawn of professionalism it would have made sense to cut down the number of club sides at the top, restructure everything underneath and accepted the system was extinct. Instead the then SRU President opted to create 4 regional ‘pro’ teams. (This is a different discussion for another day, I feel. I’m of the opinion you have to work with what you’ve got now!)

Those in the upper echelons of the SRU know that the gap is slowly, and only slightly, decreasing between the top club sides and Edinburgh and Glasgow. Just look at Ayr in the B&I Cup. Also they realise that as there is less and less money for these 2, so will have to recruit more readily from Prem 1. “Let’s make everything filter up to Prem 1!” Good idea…

Effectively, though, this restructuring proposal has missed a trick. This proposal would have been grand 12 years ago, but even now things have moved on. I like the regionalisation. Keep that. The one Premier League and National League?  Sure, that’s fine, too. For the love of the Lord, though, introduce play-offs rather than splits! It could work with 10 teams, perhaps, but play-offs are much more marketable than a Cup falling in popularity and an old-fashioned League structure. Get with the times and the fans, lads!

Anyway, such conjecture is pointless. The proposal is set in ink and is due for a date with the Scottish Rugby Council, the SRU Championship Committee and voting. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before this one becomes a reality.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.