Nottingham chairman Alistair Bow says he would welcome plans for a shorter, conference-based Championship season with the title decided by play-offs.
Whilst a full 22-match tier-two programme starting on 16 January remains the number one option, Championship clubs have voiced concerns over completing such a tightly packed schedule by mid-June, given the many variables associated with Covid-19.
The Rugby Paper understands alternative plans are being drawn up which would see the league split into two conferences of six playing each other home and away, with single cross-conference matches taking place to produce a shortened 16-game campaign.
Single-legged semi-finals hosted by the conference winners would be followed by a home and away final, meaning overwhelming favourites Saracens could face a nerve-jangling June showdown with Ealing Trailfinders in order to regain their top-flight status.
Championship clubs, along with those in the Premiership and community game, are still awaiting firm details of how £135m of promised government grants and loans will be distributed, but Bow believes tier-two clubs are united in their desire to start playing again.
Despite Nottingham being plunged into Tier 3 when the current lockdown ends this Wednesday, Bow told TRP: “It’s important to stay positive and we want to play. Clubs would like to get 22 games if possible but that’s going to be a challenge with all the variables.
“Some clubs have smaller squads than others so 22 games with no break would be very demanding on our players, so if a conference-based system was tabled I would be very interested because it reduces the number of games and would create a lot more interest.
“It also gives you breathing space in the event of any Covid-19 cancellations.”
While the £9m of government funding pledged to the Championship has been welcomed, clubs are concerned by suggestions that 75% of that figure will be loans.
Sport England will distribute the money but Bow said: “Loans aren’t something I’m particularly interested in because I’ve spent the last five years clearing our debt.
“I’ve got very little appetite to load the club with any more debt because it takes a long time to clear and, as custodians of the club, I don’t think it’s right to do that when in reality the situation that we’re in across all Championship clubs is not of our making.
“Being in Tier 3 makes things a lot more challenging and in January we’ll be playing with no crowds and no secondary income through hospitality. Rugby will cost us a serious amount of money and I’m hoping Sport England will take that into account.”
Coventry are also counting a heavy cost of unexpectedly being thrust into Tier 3 Covid restrictions.
Executive chairman Jon Sharp told TRP: “We had pre-Christmas dinners and events planned but that’s all gone now, which is really disappointing. However, Coventry want to get back playing in January, whether that’s for a full season or a shorter campaign.
“I want to keep the community aspect going. I want to get supporters back and keep people engaged, even if it means streaming our games in the meantime.”
Should a conference system be ratified, TRP understands it would be based on last season’s finishing positions, with relegated Saracens taking the place of Newcastle and Richmond being the 12th placed club having been promoted for Yorkshire Carnegie.
Teams would be allocated alternatively to produce the following Pools:
Pool A: Saracens, Cornish Pirates, Ampthill, Jersey, Doncaster and Hartpury
Pool B: Ealing, Coventry, Nottingham, Bedford, London Scottish, Richmond