You are here
With the second weekend of USA’s Major League Rugby now history, it may be premature to discuss what happens – if anything – years down the road when the League considers relegation of the bottom team. Relegation, the act of being sent down to a lower league, has been standard procedure for European professional soccer, and adopted when rugby union turned professional in England.
The English top division is called the Aviva Premiership, consisting of twelve teams that play a 22-game schedule each season. The league below is the Championship, also with twelve teams. Some recognizable marquee rugby clubs play in the latter like Bristol, Richmond, and London Scottish but also some lesser known clubs like Ealing Trailfinders, Jersey Reds, and Rotherham Titans.
The inherent problem with the Aviva is that there are 13 top flight clubs but only twelve spots, which means that at the end of every season, one of the 13 drops out of the Aviva, and must qualify the next year by winning the second tier Championship.
London Irish finished last this season in the Aviva and will go down next year, while Bristol will return to the top league. The drop will represent a significant loss of income to London Irish, limiting what it can pay new prospects. Attendance will also suffer as the team’s fans will be less interested in the Championship lineup of minor clubs.
In the past, the Aviva has cushioned the blow of relegation by offering a one-million-pound parachute payment to the club cut from the Premiership.
There has been talk of increasing the Aviva to fourteen clubs, thereby preserving the top thirteen each season.
The London Irish relegation once again eliminates any of the three London-based Home Country squads from playing top-class rugger. These are London Welsh, London Scottish, and London Irish. For many decades, these storied clubs drew upon ex-Pats working in London who wanted to play union for the home country. The national fifteens always included many players from these London organizations. Today, not as frequently.