No Longer BT Premiership but Super Six by 2019-20

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by David Barnes, theoffsideline.com

AFTER a week of feverish speculation, Mark Dodson finally gave a full and frank insight into his plan to transform the structure of, and the strategy for, club rugby in this country, when he addressed this morning’s annual general meeting at BT Murrayfield.

Scottish Rugby’s chief executive officer explained that the finer details of the scheme still need to be thrashed out but his comprehensive overview of what he has in mind makes it clear that this is much more than a half-cooked flight of fancy.

The working name for this plan is Agenda 3 and Dodson wasn’t asking clubs if they like what they are hearing – he was telling them that this is the way it is going to be.

He described it as “a blueprint for sustainable clubs” and insisted that “it will herald an overhaul of the sport in Scotland and offer solutions to problems that have undermined our game for nearly 30 years.”

“This plan is not radical – it is simply overdue. In the very unlikely event that we don’t receive sufficient bids, the SRU will look to create wholly the franchises to drive the recommendation through,” he stated.

The details of Agenda 3 are listed below –

  • The BT Premiership is to be dissolved and replaced with a six team franchise competition created from existing club structures, known as the ‘Super Six’.
  • The league will be part-time professional with players being paid for training and playing – i.e. not salaried.
  • Franchises are available to all clubs in Scotland so not just existing BT Premiership teams.

“One would imagine that the current Premiership clubs would be best placed to apply for these franchises, but there may be very powerful applications from National League clubs or imaginative solutions where clubs are prepared to come together to meet the ‘Super Six’ criteria.”

  • The league will be made up of at least one team from each traditional ‘district’ – East Scotland, West Scotland, Caledonia and the Borders – with two ‘floating’ franchises.
  • Franchise process document will be issued to the clubs in Autumn 2017. The bidding process will be closed by January 2018 and the decision on which teams will make up the ‘Super Six’ will be made by February 2018.
  • ‘Super Six’ teams will play each other three times each during the season (15 games), plus five cross-border matches – perhaps in the British and Irish Cup – to bring the total number of games per season to 20.
  • There will be no promotion to or relegation from the ‘Super Six’ for five years. In advance of that five-year cut-off, the SRU may review the franchises and choose to out some or all of them out to tender once more.
  • Each club will have 35 nominated players for a 20 match season, this number can be added to in the case of injuries but that will have to be agreed to by the Union.
  • Scottish Rugby will contribute £62.5k per franchise for player payments, which will be matched by the club. Club contribution can increase on a sustainable turnover to squad-cost ratio.
  • Payments will be broken down to playing and training fees – i.e. if players are not selected then they will only receive a training payment.
  • Scottish Rugby will also appoint and pay for backroom staff such as a head coach, physio, S&C coach and analyst up to a cost of £65k. These individuals will be selected by the governing body from their own performance programme.
  • Travel and accommodation costs of cross-border fixtures will be met by the SRU.
  • Three ‘Super Six’ clubs will be aligned to the Glasgow Warriors Academy and three will be aligned to the Edinburgh Rugby Academy.
  • The ‘management and operational responsibility’ for the ‘Super Six’ franchises will come from the high performance rugby arm of the Union and not the domestic rugby arm.
  • Full-time professionals will not play in the league. Fringe professional and Academy players will get game time for Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors ‘A’ teams, who will play five or six games each per year (probably against English Premiership ‘A’ squads and perhaps Welsh franchises). It is not yet clear whether stage three Academy players will play in ‘Super Six’.
  • Four fully amateur leagues of 12 will sit below the ‘Super Six’ – the Scottish Championship, National One, National Two and National Three.
  • The 2nd XV teams from franchised clubs will play in National One, but can be promoted into the Championship.

“It will allow players to cascade down the system to the most appropriate feeder club, creating a true player pathway for talent. And if we didn’t impose this you would find that all the ‘Super Six’ teams would fill all the top levels of the Championship through the warehousing of players. It would be impossible for us to manage that.”

  • Strict amateurism to be enforced.
  • Genuine expenses which fall under the HMRC rules can be remunerated by clubs in the National Leagues but player payments will be outlawed.
  • Failure to comply with the payment rules will invoke sanctions such as the reduction of league points, automatic relegation, fines and referral to HMRC.

“We have been consistently lobbied by the current National League clubs about the payment of players having to stop. They believe that this is distorting their finances and preventing long-term investment in community clubs through the constant poaching of talent. While we recognise that there is always going to be some movement for legitimate reasons, we will not subsidise an eternal market for Scottish rugby players.

“I want clubs to be able to play where they feel they can play – where they feel comfortable. We have had a situation where clubs would involve themselves in the payment of players simply because other clubs were. They don’t want to do it, they don’t feel it is the right thing, and they can’t afford to, either. But, because other clubs were doing it they felt compelled because otherwise they will loose players. What I am not going to do is create an internal market from Scottish Rugby funding.

“If you make a clear line down the middle and say: This is now under the high performance remit and this is now under the community rugby remit – then you have a clear blue line between who pays and who doesn’t.”

“I’m not going to run around with a group of accountants playing cops and robbers. What we’re going to have is a situation whereby if we believe a club is paying players, and there is found to be some evidence in that, then we will just talk to HMRC. They will be the people that enforce this, not us.”

“We have been asked by the stakeholders to put a stop to this and the way to put a stop to this is HMRC.”

  • Player-coach positions will be outlawed.
  • The union will invest £45k over the initial five-year period to each Championship club ‘to help with any off-field structure or medical provision’. National League One clubs will receive £25k, National League Two clubs will receive £17.5k, National League Three clubs will receive £10k.
  • Prize money to be awarded in all leagues –
    • Winners of Scottish Championship will get £10k
    • Winners of National One will get £7.5k
    • Winners of National Two will get £5k
    • Winners of National Three will get £4k
    • Winners of each of the ten Regional Leagues will get £3k each
  • The new structure will be in place for season 2019-20.
  • Scottish Rugby has vowed to invest £3.6million of new money into this programme over the next five years

“Every club in Scotland will benefit from the increased and sustained investment as the announcement today is for all of rugby as the announcement today is for all of rugby and not just those at the top of the pyramid.”

There was a fair amount of scepticism in the room when Dodson got up to speak, but he seemed to win the delegates over by providing some clarity to the long standing question of where the line between professionalism and strict amateurism should be drawn, and was granted a round of applause at the end of his slick 30-minute presentation. Whether this enthusiasm will dissipate or develop once clubs have had a chance to digest the details of the proposal remains to be seen.”