Aviva Premiership considers scrapping relegation: What we know

Exeter rose through the divisions to win the Premiership, but many promoted teams have struggled to bridge the gap from the Championship. David Rogers/Getty Images

It seems almost inevitable that Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) are moving closer to scrapping relegation from England's top division.

Premiership clubs view World Rugby's new global calendar, that comes into play in 2020, as a chance to take a definitive step on an issue that has been debated since before the game turned professional 23 years ago.

How have we come to this point, and what needs to be done before the idea becomes reality? ESPN takes a closer look...


As part of the new global calendar, the mid-year Test window will be moved from June to July following the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

In a bid to prevent clashes between Premiership and international fixtures -- particularly during the Six Nations -- the clubs broached staging the club season between September and the end of June.

That idea was shot down by players amid concerns over welfare arising from the prospect of an 11-month season for those involved with their national teams in July.

It is now likely that the Premiership season will start later from 2020, in October. The clubs and RFU have also been unsuccessful in their attempts to condense the Six Nations and cut the length of British & Irish Lions tours.

All of which means there is now a real chance that promotion to and relegation from the top flight will be scrapped as the two parties look to maximise the potential of the Premiership.

How would the Premiership look post-2020 without relegation?

This is the biggest question facing the clubs as they attempt to ring-fence the Premiership.

In 2006, when the first professional game agreement was signed with the RFU, Premiership clubs turned down the offer of scrapping relegation, instead opting to give parachute payments to those teams who drop down into the Championship.

Under this system teams who competed in the top division were given a certain amount of shares in Premiership Rugby, the body that runs the league.

At present 13 clubs -- including Championship-topping Bristol -- have a stake in Premiership Rugby, making this anything but a straightforward decision.

The clubs are reticent to expand the league to 14 clubs given the problems it already faces in a crowded global calendar, so there would likely be a playoff between the team that finishes bottom of the Premiership and the one that tops the Championship.

Given the heads of agreement between the Championship clubs and RFU ends in 2020, it is likely that the playoff would take place at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Who stands to gain?

Primarily, and most substantially, the 12 clubs who end up in the ring-fenced division.

One theory goes that without the threat of relegation playing budgets would be focused, young players trusted and a more exciting brand of rugby would take hold in the Premiership.

The knock-on effect of that would be that English clubs could compete on a more level playing field with their rivals in Ireland, for example, in European competition. England would also benefit if that ideal-world scenario played out.

Although there would no longer be the hope of 'doing an Exeter', Championship clubs would also benefit if, as expected, their RFU funding increases as part of the new deal.

Who stands to lose?

The most obvious loser in all of this -- should the Premiership become a 12-team ring-fenced league -- would be the '13th' club that misses the boat.

With a 12-team top division, one of London Irish, Bristol, Worcester or another current Premiership club will be left stranded on the dock watching the Premiership super yacht disappearing over the horizon.

The financial implications of relegation at the end of the 2018-19 season, or losing a potential playoff the following year, would be catastrophic and clubs in the second tier would immediately become less attractive to prospective players.

Moreover, there are several clubs that currently harbour hopes of breaking into the elite in the next few years. Those include Ealing Trailfinders, Yorkshire Carnegie, Cornish Pirates, Doncaster Knights and Coventry.

Their dream would be extinguished should the plans to scrap relegation and promotion ever become reality.