RFU wants clubs to end academies in favour of regional hubs
Premiership Rugby clubs are to be asked to replace their academy system with a network of six “world-class regional hubs” as part of a radical plan to overhaul the development pathway in England,
can reveal. The move, hailed as “the most significant innovation since the move to professionalism”, is one of the foundation stones of a remodelling of the Championship, drawn up by Ed Griffiths, the former Saracens chief executive.
Details emerged last week of the proposal to restructure the Championship, with a recommendation that the 12-team division be split into a northern and southern conference, with promotion to the Premiership based on agreed criteria between the leagues, rather than a first-past-the-post format.
However, it is understood that the proposed new structure would also see the 13 Premiership academies replaced by six regional centres based at universities and linked to two clubs each in a remodelled Championship.
Premiership clubs would then be able to select the best young English talent each December, through an American-style draft, who would be given three-year contracts.
The 76-page proposal forecasts that Premiership clubs would save £600,000-£900,000 by closing their academies, with the Championship clubs meeting the costs of providing the coaching, strength and conditioning and medical staff at the six hubs.
Players would be guaranteed about 30 competitive games per season and after one year would be eligible for the draft system, in which each Premiership club would be given four picks from a pool of 60 players.
Griffiths, who has met with Bill Sweeney, the Rugby Football Union chief executive, and Conor O’Shea, professional rugby director, is to make a formal presentation to the Premiership clubs next month after a series of informal discussions.
He is also exploring interest from broadcasters, sponsors and universities with the aim of establishing the academies by the start of the 2021 season.
“This proposal tries to primarily find a purpose and a role for a sustainable Championship, but what it also tries to do is to harness all the resources available to the game into a more streamlined, integrated pathway for younger players,” Griffiths said.
“The plan for the new pathway, which would remain under RFU control, would harness universities’ facilities in a hub that would include other educational establishments and crucially Championship clubs, because Championship clubs can provide game time.
“Young players in this structure would get world-class coaching in six regional academies, they would get their parallel education and training from universities and associated educational institutions and they would get their game time with the Championship clubs.”
Player welfare is also central to the vision, which has the working title “TEC – The English Championship”. “At some point the game is going to have to get serious about protecting players,” Griffiths said. “This will go further on player welfare than any other league in the world at the moment.”
Griffiths, backed unanimously by the Championship clubs to explore a new arrangement, acknowledges, however, that persuading the clubs to give up their academies will not be an easy task. “We have not ploughed all this money into our academy to hand it over to the Championship,” one source said.
The estimated cost of running the new Championship model, including funding player salaries and the academies, is £15.6 million in the first year. “The challenge is to persuade people to change,” Griffiths said. “I genuinely think this is a win for everybody.”