Introducing a salary cap to National One would be the death knell for the community game, says Cinderford treasurer Barry Holmes, who also acts as National Clubs Association executive for the South West at level three.
Chairman of the Community Game Board, Malcolm Wharton, above, is due to meet the NCA executives on February 18 to ask their views on salary capping – a move Holmes argues would be disastrous.
“The writing is on the wall for massive change which is going to mess up rugby from level three down,” Holmes told The Rugby Paper.
“In addition to the already agreed changes in the adult game review by reducing the number of teams in the leagues and going from four regions to three in two years’ time, the next proposal is salary capping at level three down.
“It is only a proposal at the moment – but proposals like this aren’t just proposals, it’s more like ‘this is going to happen’.”
Holmes fears that due to Wharton’s background as the ex-chairman of the University and College rugby at the RFU and ex-principal of Hartpury College, he will be pushing strongly for salary capping.
He says: “Out of the 16 teams in National One, only two have a salary of nil – the two colleges. Top teams may spend about £1m.
“The salary cap would be above our budget at Cinderford so it wouldn’t affect us – but what about the teams with aspirations to go up to the Championship? What would it do to them?
“More worrying, what about the teams coming down from the Championship? They’d have a current playing budget between £1m and £1.5m with some players on two-year contracts.
“Faced with relegation they would lose their RFU funding of circa £400k, receive replacement travel and hotel support of say £25k, then have their home games reduced to 14 in the season, to be finished off with a salary cap well below what they are trying to cope with now.
“This has disaster written all over it and I know I am not on my own, there are serious nationwide concerns.
“National One is the link between the part-time game and elite rugby.
“The RFU are trying to flatten the pyramid of the Community Game and by bringing in a wage cap it will pave the way for colleges to become stronger while opposition crumbles away, clubs possibly going into administration because they can’t generate the income, due to results, to cover fixed costs and utilities alone.
“Universities and Colleges don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from if a floodlight fails for instance. In time colleges and universities will filter through the system into level three, and possibly the Championship as they see them as natural feeders for Premiership Academies.
“Clubs in National One have been the blooding ground for great players in recent years – internationals such as Freddie Burns and Joe Marler to name two.
“I am now asking the RFU to think carefully about what the consequences could be if they adopt these proposals.
“I feel the highest level rugby outside the Premiership will end up being based in the colleges and universities; the city-based clubs will prosper as ‘country’ clubs like Cinderford, Wharfedale, Tynedale etc suffer.
“We have little to offer other than ‘pay for play’ contracts. Salary capping is a threat to how we operate.
“Clubs such as Richmond can offer players connections in the City which means the level of reward for playing rugby is at a discounted rate due to these benefits. Those in the sticks don’t have that luxury. It’s tough.”
Phil Maynard, rugby director at Coventry, said: “The cap should be a non-starter. Clubs should be allowed to operate within their own budget model. It’s nonsense to think that teams who attract a few hundred fans will operate at the same level as teams who attract a few thousand.
“Clubs should be means-tested to determine their ability to function at this level and I believe there should be three professional leagues in this country brought into alignment.”
Doncaster boss Clive Griffiths, whose side are currently bottom of the Championship, said: “It sounds to me like an extreme idea by one individual with a bit of self-interest.”
An RFU spokesman told TRP: “The RFU can confirm that Malcolm Wharton has accepted an invitation to attend the meeting of the NCA Executive Committee on February 18.
“He will be very interested to hear the views of the NCA on a number of matters, including the subject of payment of players and the potential to introduce salary caps in the Community Game.”
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