Exclusive: TRU Talks - BUCS Director of Delivery Jenny Morris

BUCS Director of Delivery Jenny Morris says there is still a chance that university sport could return before the beginning of next year.

The national governing body for university sport were quick to act following the suspension of the 2019/20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, BUCS have outlined their plans for the 2020/21 campaign and they are targeting a ‘Term 2’ start which will see the majority of sports run from January through to April.

However, on the latest episode of TRU Talks, Morris didn’t rule out university sport and university rugby returning before the conclusion of this calendar year, but she admitted it is still an ever-changing situation.

“What we are trying to do at the moment is to make sure those lines of communications with staff related to rugby union programmes within institutions are as open as possible,” Morris said.

“Obviously with announcements coming out from the RFU [Rugby Football Union], the WRU [Welsh Rugby Football Union] and the SRU [Scottish Rugby Football Union], around their plans in terms of return to play and what competitions nationally might start to look like, we are very aware of those.

“We transpose our decision making against the things that the unions are doing and to make sure we are aligned. I understand that if you are a Director of Rugby or a student that plays BUCS Rugby Union, if national competition or the community game is back, the obvious question is, why is BUCS not back? We need to make sure we are working hand-in-hand with those home nations bodies to make sure our processes are following the same journeys.

“The expectations of students are really what is important for us. We certainly don’t want to be in situation where every other competition and programme is back apart from ours and at the same time, we don’t want to force a restart if it is too early so it is a real balancing act at the moment.”

After consulting with universities, coaches and students, one of the other key decisions which BUCS have made is to postpone promotion and relegation for 2020/21.

In BUCS competition, if you fail to register a team for consecutive seasons, that side will automatically have to re-enter the league structure at the bottom of the pyramid.

However, due to the difficult situation some institutions find themselves in due to the impact of Covid-19, Morris believes scrapping promotion and relegation for one season will avoid the prospect of universities dropping down a number of tiers and in turn, will help sustain rugby programmes across the UK.

She added: “The decision around no promotion and relegation is very much aimed at creating a safety net. So, a lot of rugby union programmes have been developed over a number of years. They are not something that have just happened over night. There are recruitment programmes, there’s player development programmes, there’s teams and clubs like MMU [Manchester Met] who have progression plans in terms of getting up the structure and we are very aware of that.

“For us, the promotion and relegation was looking at what could be possible. On the whole, we expect to have six team leagues in the majority of leagues within the tier structures which would still mean 10 league fixtures which you would get in a normal season, but you are doing that in a condensed period of time. That means there aren’t the break weeks. There aren’t the opportunities to rearrange based on weather or things like that so it makes every single fixture even more heightened.

“If you were an institution, through no fault of your own, and couldn’t play that fixture, that could be the difference between promotion and relegation much more than it has meant in recent seasons. It was weighing that up, but also when we were speaking to institutions right at the start of our planning, because student recruitment is a bit unknown at the moment, that impacts on budgets.

“That might mean that there are decisions made within institutions where they have five or six teams and they may have to reduce that to two or three teams for this coming season.  Their second, third and fourth teams might be quite high up so if they were to drop out and expect them to come back to the bottom, we feel that could decimate programmes in the long term. It is not about putting a ceiling in. It is about trying to protect programmes as a whole and a lot of people have understood that.”