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Saracens salary cap scandal contributed to mess we're in - Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen of Wasps cuts a dejected figure following the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Wasps at Ashton Gate on February 25, 2022 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

The RFU and PRL have finally publicly acknowledged the need for change but action is needed quickly to transform the governance of the English top flight.

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The Covid pandemic has exacerbated the situation and expedited the descent of certain clubs but the reality is that almost everybody in the league was overspending anyway and the authorities were powerless to or unable to do anything about it.

The current model basically involves the owners of all clubs having to thrash it out and agree to a course of action whenever anything significant is up for discussion, which means too often not a lot gets done, and some form of independent authority is sorely needed.

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Whether it be a commissioner, like they have in American sports, or a committee is open to debate but they have to possess the power to make tough decisions in the best interests of the whole league and, crucially, be able to monitor what the clubs are up to.

Wasps administration
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

In the wake of the Saracens salary cap scandal, greater transparency was promised and the powers of the salary cap manager were extended to keep closer tabs on what clubs were spending. This same approach is now required for the overall finances of clubs.

Projections for revenue and expenditure are obviously routine in business but clubs should have to submit them to be signed off and be aware that their financial activity can be monitored to ensure they’re on track.

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If that had been the case in recent years, there is no way the mismanagement at Worcester would have been allowed to go on for as long. It’s amazing they were allowed to start this season given some of the stories about not being able to buy tape and bailiffs turning up at the training ground during the last campaign.

Wasps aren’t as far down the line and could yet apply for their suspension to be lifted if progress is made but if and when they do enter administration, the administrator will be doing what’s best for the creditors.

That means somebody could buy the ground or the casino or parts of the business that are potentially profitable, leaving the rugby club in an even bleaker position.

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In the meantime, the players and staff are left in the middle and in limbo, as was the case with Worcester a couple of weeks ago. At least Wasps have fronted up and not sent the team down to Exeter, knowing that this was on the horizon anyway, but that will clearly feel like scant consolation at the moment.

Other clubs are reportedly readying themselves to make offers for the likes of Jack Willis and Joe Launchbury when the time comes and hopefully as many as possible will find new employment if the worst does come to pass.

Those new contracts may not be as lucrative as the ones they had before, though, and players’ wages have increased dramatically in recent times and revenues have not risen at anywhere near the same rate.

In that respect, there’s little doubt that the aforementioned Saracens salary cap scandal contributed to the troubled times we’re in today as other clubs sought to keep pace and had to spend bigger to do so.

Nigel Wray celebrates
Former Saracens owner Nigel Wray celebrates with the trophy following their 2019 Gallagher Premiership final win over Exeter (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Wasps and Worcester are suffering now but there are reportedly another couple of clubs close to finding themselves in a similar situation. That could take the number of clubs in the league down to nine, which not even Rob Baxter would want, and where do you draw the line?

A 13-team competition was always a bad idea, and the prospect of extending it to 14 sides was absolutely bonkers, but I actually think 12 teams worked quite well on the face of it and I don’t think just cutting the number to 10 solves all of the ills.

The governance of the league should be the number one priority and the sooner Premiership Rugby are able to act and bring about change on that front, the better.

Just appointing an independent commissioner or committee won’t change things overnight but giving them powers to effectively monitor, investigate and audit all the clubs is integral to creating a sustainable future for the league.

Inflation in players’ wages and clubs spending beyond their means, together with the effects of the pandemic, caused this situation and the RFU and PRL need to back up their words with prompt action if there is to be light at the end of the tunnel.

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