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Year after year in recent decades, numerous rugby league coaches and administrators have had their names dragged through the mud and their lives turned upside-down by salary cap scandals in the NRL – and it makes me incredibly sad and angry.
Every time I see a Justin Pascoe or a Scott Seward have to clean out their desk, tell their families they are now known as cheats, I die a little inside. And I am sure I’m not alone in my silent misery.
I know there are many thousands of rugby league fans just like me who don’t understand the salary cap at all, and don’t believe it is creating anything like a level playing field in the NRL.
Unless you support one of three clubs who collectively hold a mortgage on NRL grand final spots over the past 20 years, I am sure you are nodding along intently at this point. Nod on.
To supporters of those not-to-be-named three clubs, you are free to stop reading right now and continue to believe that you will forever support the most professionally run club in the sport of rugby league. It’s clearly all about those astonishing accountants in your eyes.
For those of you still playing along. What if I could offer up a system that would truly create a level playing field – would you be interested to know what it looks like?
Today I am going to explain how any old sports administrator could achieve an evenness never before witnessed in elite sporting competitions.
The utopia for sports fans that I am describing would play out just like this:
The system is designed around awarding every eligible player a score out of 100 after the season and any rep games are complete, based on a pre-determined set of statistical criteria.
A player such as Cameron Smith, having captained his country and won the 2017 premiership while also dominating the game statistically in his position, would have started 2018 with a score near 100.
Meanwhile a player with a story like a Matt King – plucked from behind a leagues club bar having quit the game prematurely after being overlooked in the junior representative grades – when he was first picked up by the Melbourne in 2003, would start his rookie year with a score closer to 0.
Based on the pre-determined performance and statistical data, all eligible players would fall somewhere in between Cameron’s rating (say 99) and King’s rating (say 1.4).
Applying a well thought out points system, you would end up with an average player score of somewhere between 60-75 which would give you the basis of your points system.
Now the best part for the players. There is no cap on salary. Each club can pay a player whatever amount the market determines is fair, but the club can not exceed a total player score of 2100 points. With a 30 man squad that equates to an average player score of 70 points.
Clearly this points system would lead to a level playing field more so than the system the NRL has in place now – and lives would not be damaged in the process.
A team with a bunch of rep players worth 90+ points would lack depth at the bottom end of their roster, while a team with their top players outside of the rep arena would be able to stack up on non-rep-playing ‘depth’ players.
While players stand to gain substantially from the removal of a salary ceiling, the clubs could also gain by introducing a limit on the length of playing contracts of two or maybe three years, which would enable the clubs to stagger deals to better manage their points limit each year. Another side benefit is that this would reduce the risk of major injury always borne by the clubs.
Under this system we would no longer have to endure the annoying code-hopping superstars as clubs could pay the truly elite players any amount they are worth. Your Sonny Bill Williams types would be remembered as rugby league greats, as they should have been.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg described the current salary cap rules as ‘simple’ and ‘clear’ in handing down penalties to the Cronulla Sharks and Wests Tigers, which made me chuckle a little bit through my gritted teeth.
Footy fans are mostly salt of the earth people who care for exciting end-to-end action, big tackles, speedy backs, and the notion that all competitors get a fair go. Legal speak and sub-sections in rule books don’t tend to tickle their fancy too much.
The ‘utopian’ system outlined above would no doubt work to level the playing field across any number of elite sports – I’ve tested it and the system also makes perfect sense to common rugby league people like my mates and my family.
Regrettably, with power, money and the various different agendas at play, the people who make the decisions in our elite sports are just not common, everyday people anymore. And I don’t expect they’ll be knocking on my door to ask about my ideas.