How your League is Constructed by Nigel Maltby
I was asked to write an article on how our league is constructed, but having mulled it over I think this is going to turn more into more of a plea for us to find solutions to various continuing problems we have in our League, especially at the top level. This season you will have perhaps noticed that there are only 8 teams in Division 1.
Division 1 has been problematic for several seasons now - fewer and fewer teams generally, an increasing gulf in class within Division 1, and certainly between division 1 and division 2, and hence an unwillingness (quite understandably) for some teams / players to make the step up from division 2 despite finishing in the top two places. I have highlighted these continuing difficulties for a number of seasons.
- so what can be done?
Push 4 teams up from Division 2 to “share the pain”? 80% of matches would be a foregone conclusion, even if at least the other 20% would be competitive. The difficulty then would be the knock-on effect, i.e. 4 teams (or more) would need to step up from division 3 to division 2, and so on, and so on.
Another solution you might say would be to have a “super league” i.e. the top six teams only, playing each
other 4 times. Problem: there are clubs with several teams in different divisions, sharing or alternating home nights at their own premises. So for this to work, all the divisions would have to be similarly structured. Plus one or two teams would need to be promoted to the super league each season, and they would probably finish bottom each year and go up again the next.
This season was another taxing one for getting our teams into a league structure and some of you may find it interesting how it is done. Trust me, it is far from throwing all the teams up into the air and letting them land in the division of their choice!
League Construction Process
First thing needed is for each Club Secretary to submit 'Form A' which is a complete list of the number of teams they wish to enter, their divisions of choice, home nights and team captain details. It is vitally important for these details to be provided by Club Secretaries by the given deadline each year as there is much to do and check from that point onward.
Then it’s a case of balancing the number of teams across the divisions as far as possible, while taking into account the wishes of each team as far as possible. With 50 teams entered you might think it would be a straight forward decision to have 10 teams in each division. Not quite so when you have only 8 teams wanting division 1 – promoting two others would have a knock on effect throughout the entire league, before you even look at the wants and wishes of the other divisions.
Then there is the always tricky subject of which teams wish to share a home night or alternate with another team(s). Just as an example Kingfisher ‘A’ in Division 1 play on a Tuesday and wish to share the same home night as Kingfisher ‘K’ in Division 4, Kingfisher ‘C’ also want to play on a Tuesday and share with Kingfisher ‘B’. As Kingfisher only have two tables available to play league matches all four teams cannot therefore play on the same Tuesday, therefore Kingfisher ‘A’ and ‘K’ play on alternate Tuesdays with Kingfisher ‘B’ and Kingfisher ‘C’.
Within the 12 team fixture grid, in order to share a home night teams must be given the same number within the grid, therefore both Kingfisher ‘A’ and ‘K’ are given position 4 for example and those with whom they are alternating with must therefore be given position 10 in the fixture grid. In our current 12 team fixture grid position 1 alternates with 7, 2 with 8, 3 with 9, 4 with 10, 5 with 11 and 6 with 12.
There were a total of 50 teams entered for the 2017/18 season, of which only 8 teams wanted Div 1. Two clubs / teams were no longer in existence (BBC & YMCA) and one less team had been entered by each of the
following clubs: SC&P, Tilehurst Methodists, Pangbourne and Reading FC. One additional club /team had entered calling themselves Saiyan Brothers, who would be playing at the ex-YMCA club venue.
In summary we have gone down from 55 teams to 50 this season.
Additional to that the previous OLOP ‘A’ side would not be in Division 1 and only one of the two promoted
teams from Division 2 had taken their place in Division 1 as the other team’s players now formed part of existing Division 1 teams. This left only 8 teams in Division 1.
Various options were discussed by the League Construction committee. These included:
1. Restructure the entire league into an 8-team fixture grid format, playing each other 3 times. There would be 8 teams in Division 1 and 7 teams in Divisions 2 – 7.
2. Run Division 1 in an 8-team fixture grid format, but retain other divisions in a 12-team fixture grid format. This was investigated but was quickly deemed unworkable as shared home nights and alternations would not work between the two differing fixture grids.
3. Promote 2 teams up from Division 2 and have 5 divisions of 10 teams. This would mean promoting 2 teams who do not wish to go up and also promoting 3 teams up from Div 3 and 1 team up from Div 4.
4. Only have 8 teams in Division 1, but compensate by running an additional cup competition i.e. the old Impact Shield.
5. Have a 14 team league structure – dismissed as the season would last until mid-May!
For the 2017/18 season we opted to have only 8 teams in division 1, but have an additional cup competition for those teams to boost match numbers.
Division 1 is a situation that has been building for a number of seasons and now needs some further thought & discussion ahead of next season on whether moving to 8, 10 or even 14 team places per division is possible. The main problem at the moment is that Division 1 has little prospect of gaining more than 10 teams in the foreseeable future.
What's the solution?
Thoughts at present include:
- Having divisions of 8 and playing each other 3 times - doesn't seem to be popular
- Having divisions of 6 and playing each other 4 times - may be similarly unpopular
- Keep divisions of 12 as we have now - presents us with the same problem year after year now in Div 1, with the only solution to promote more teams into Div 1 who don't want to be there.
- Having divisions of 14 as per the Bristol League (so we could promote more teams into Div 1 to "share the pain"). - the problem with that one was that their season lasted until mid-May!
I guess you can see from my ramblings just how complicated it can be. The big unknown is always how many teams will enter overall. Once you know that it ‘should’ be relatively straight forward but as you can see it doesn’t always work out that way. Constructing the league, planning, organising, attending meetings etc takes several man hours to complete but I find it is always a rewarding thing to do. In many ways it is like a suduko puzzle – there is always an answer – you just have to find it!
One of our main goals is always to give as many teams as possible the division of their choice. While this has not worked every time, we have come pretty close to it over the past few years.
The alarming thing is the continuing steady decline in team numbers. When I first started playing (40+ years ago) we had roughly 160 teams – now we are down to just 50. What can we do to arrest that slide?
The large majority of our playing membership is the wrong side of 40 years of age with not many juniors following through into the senior league. I worry where we will be in another 10-20 years.
If anyone has any suggestions on league structure and format you are free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org