SL reduction fear for Championship clubs

Rumour has it that some of the big boys in Super League aren’t happy about the drop in money they’ve received since the league increased to 14.

We are in danger of becoming an elitist sport. There is already a massive wedge between Super League and the Championship, probably powered by the removal of promotion/relegation, but this could get even wider if the big clubs have their way and the league is reduced back to 12.

It won’t be the first time it’s happened of course – there were 14 teams in the league back in 1999, before the “mergers” of Huddersfield and Sheffield, and Hull and Gateshead.

But what does it mean for the Championship clubs who are desperately scrapping to put together a bid worthy of acceptance next year.

Will the drawbridge be pulled back up? The RFL have previously said that a Championship side is guaranteed a place in 2012, but will this change if the league is cut down to 12?

To allow a Championship side to join a league of 12, the RFL would have to cut 3 teams from their top flight.

It’s unlikely that London will be given up on after all these years, despite poor crowds, and Crusaders appear to have the backing of the RFL despite a total change of identity and location from the supposed excellent licence application merely a year previous.

The traditional big four of Super League, plus Hull, Warrington and Huddersfield are guaranteed survival, while Catalans have been an excellent addition to the top flight despite early concerns.

That leaves Wakefield, Salford, Castleford and Hull KR to fight for two spots. Rovers have taken huge strides forward in the past few years and it would be a shock to see them booted out the top flight, but reported financial problems might have a part to play. For the other three, new stadiums are key. It’s hard to see who is actually most advanced, mainly thanks to the PR machines that seem to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

If the league is to go 12, and one Championship side is to step up, all three could be culled.

The problem with decreasing the league now is that even more teams are going to be cast in to the wilderness. If the likes of Widnes, Barrow, Leigh and Halifax are denied again, what will happen to their clubs and their fan bases? Will fans continue to bother to show up, knowing they’ve probably got no chance again of playing with the big boys? Will directors and sponsors continue to flog money at a dead horse?

There’s only one option if the league goes back to 12 – and that’s to re-introduce promotion/relegation. If we want to protect promoted sides, either make them exempt from relegation in their debut season, or play the Northern Rail Cup at the season’s end, so that the promoted team know their fate in early August and thus have at least half a chance of competing the following season.

The goalposts have been moved before, it remains to be seen which way they’ll be moved this time.

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