Given the current furore over player welfare, an extended Premiership may seem like a totally ridiculous idea, but bare with me here. There are two potential benefits to adding four further teams to the league before ring-fencing it, one is that it will give more teams an opportunity to compete at the top level and share in the revenues of top flight rugby, and the other believe it or not is actually a reduction in the number of games, thereby improving player welfare.
The system I am proposing is instead of a straight 16 team league that would become a more brutal meat grinder than the Top14, instead we create a conference system. No, this isn’t as simple as two conferences of eight, instead it is four conferences of four that would then see teams play each opponent in their conference home and away, then the teams from every other conference just the once, either at home or away (alternating each season). This format would result in six conference games, plus a further 12 out-of conference games resulting in a total of 18 games per season rather than the current 22. This would then result in the winner of each conference going into a knockout format similar to the current play-offs.
This 16 team system then frees up four extra weekends per season meaning that there is little to no overlap with the current international games which is one key issue for many clubs. The format of having smaller condensed conferences would also help to stoke up local rivalries by ensuring that inter-conference games have that little bit more meaning. It also provides the ideal platform to bring a number of Championship sides into the fold such as Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie, thereby avoiding the constant yo-yoing some teams regularly experience, whilst also opening up the game to new regions of the country that are currently under-represented at the top level.
You only have to look to the boom the Pro14 is currently experiencing to see just how effective a conference model can be. Or if you want to see a truly successful example just look at the NFL where the conference system has served them well for years and ensures for an exciting competition every year.
What do you reckon to the idea of extending the Premiership and introducing a conference system?