If the talk about the ECB looking to change the County Championship from two divisions to three conferences is correct, then it can only be a good thing. Many scoffed at the change from one division to two a couple of decades ago but it worked and was progression.
That’s what this would be. Personally, I’d be keen to just have three divisions where we can have two up and two down through the system. Promoting a third of teams and seeing a third of teams relegated might seem drastic, but it would mean every game is critical.
But nonetheless, this latest proposal is progression and I’d be all for it. Players, coaches and fans alike want to see meaningful games. We want every match to have something riding on it. When sixth play ninth in next year’s Division Two in September, it makes no difference what the result is – neither team will be better or worse off the following season.
There are still a number of questions that will need answering, though. How will the winner be decided? How will the decision be made as to which teams are in which conference? And will these conferences change year on year?
To take that first question, the thought that the conferences would be split later on in the season to have the best teams to that point then face each other would be the best way. The County Championship is a marathon, not a sprint.
We don’t want to see the winner decided on one final where a number of aspects could come in to play.
Even the splitting of conferences at some point of the season though could cause issues. It would need to be worked out as to what happens to the other sides; otherwise you would get a similar situation as to teams having nothing to play for.
One of the most entertaining County Championships in recent years came down to the final game when Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset were all in the running for the title in 2016.
Fortunately, two of those were playing each other in the final round of matches. With fewer teams in a conference, we are likely to see more games with teams so close to each other.
With the other issues, it would be vital to make sure you’re not playing the same teams year on year. The NFL
works with a conference system because they are on a rotation so, apart from the other teams in your conference; you play different sides each season.
If it was sorted into a North, Midlands and South section, then you would be forced to play the same sides. That’s no good for progression and doesn’t help any team grow. The new system is all about growth and improvement so it is vital that that is not an issue.
When the change was made from one division to two in 2000, I thought it was a brilliant move. The threat of relegation meant some didn’t like it but it made each game much more competitive. And we’ve seen in the long run how much it has improved the domestic game in this country and how much better our Test team is.
The reports suggest this new system won’t be in place for a couple of years, which gives the ECB the time to find any issues and, hopefully, iron them out.
Only time will tell but I, for one, am happy to see progression.