Conference Constraints - Doomed to Failure
The key decision taken by the Conference League promoters at this week's meeting is going to come back and bite them on the bum! They have elected to introduce a rider grading system to restrict team strengths and to postively discriminate in favour of young riders. Each rider has been allocated a points grading on a scale of 11 to 2 and teams can build to a ceiling of 42 points. Older riders - such as Buzz Burrows and Justin Elkins - have been allocated a higher grade than younger riders of a comparable standard - Jamie Robertson for example. An additional restriction is that all teams must line up with two 'grade two' riders - that particular grade being reserved for young novices.
That much is straightforward and I applaud the thinking behind it - the Conference League clubs should be encouraged to give youth its fling. I think the gradings (listed below) are reasonably fair and they've avoided the temptation of giving all older riders a grossly over-inflated grading - for instance Phil Pickering has been assigned to grade five.
It's arguable whether restrictions on team building at this level are required at all. The league has operated pretty successfully for 11 seasons without any need to distribute riders evenly. This approach has allowed clubs to build a side that suits their particular goals, whether those are to develop young riders or to provide semi-professional speedway in circumstances where Premier League racing is not viable. There is now a danger that by introducing a points limit (of sorts) clubs will feel duty bound to put out the strongest team that the regulations allow. We've seen in the Premier League that this can often lead to young middle order riders missing out as teams spend their points at the top and bottom of the team. Riders in their second year, and out of the comfort of the grade two zone, would be particularly vulnerable to this kind of thing.
The decision to insist on teams fielding two riders from grade two is interesting. It's clearly intended to encourage teams to give new talent a chance, but I wonder if it just increases the bargaining power of riders in that band? For example could a particularly promising rider, say Adam McKinna for example, become a target for a number of clubs who would all be drawn into a bidding war?
My main concern actually relates mainly to the inherent complexity of the system. In recent years many Conference teams have struggled to put seven riders on track, in fact I'd wager that fewer than half of last season's meetings saw 14 riders come to the tapes. The situation could be even worse this year as teams will be more constrained than ever.
Let me give you an instance. Let's say that Newport turn up at Buxton with six riders, only one of whom has been classified as a grade two. The only available replacement is Ashley Johson - a grade three rider that (hypothetically) Buxton can't fit into their side. Which of these ridiculous scenarios would ensue:
a) Newport are denied permission to use Johnson. The fans have to put up with three rider races and Johnson, who is neither over the hill or in the Rickardsson class, misses out on valuable experience.
b) Newport are allowed to use Johnson - thus breaking these rules.
In an ideal world a situation like this would never occur. All clubs would field a full complement of their own riders and a team that conforms to the rules. Experience has shown that all too often this fails to happen at Conference level - sometimes with good reason - often without.
I confidently predict that before the end of April at least one team will have fielded an ineligible team. I can even more confidently predict that this rule will be quietly dropped or significantly overhauled before the tapes rise on 2006.
Thanks to www.weymouthspeedwayclub.co.uk
This article was first published on 5th February 2005
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