Return to Play
This page provides further information on the return to play process, following the update on Tuesday 16 June.
As the governing body for Higher Education (HE) Sport, our role is to provide the best sporting experience possible, despite the unprecedented landscape. Unfortunately, there is no ‘playbook’ or existing protocol for dealing with the situation we are currently facing, so we are working hard to find the right strategies and solutions.
We fully recognise the impact our decisions can have on clubs, teams and students. This is why we have based our return to play decision making on consultation with our member universities and colleges. So far, the return to play process has engaged over 300 staff and students from over 140 institutions.
We recognise that understanding what students and staff need is absolutely crucial if we want to achieve any success. That is why we would like to once again thank all of those that have engaged in the consultation opportunities so far, and reassure all our members that we will continue to listen over the coming weeks and months.
This section will be updated regularly as we continue with our planning. If your query is not answered below, please contact your sport department, as they should be able to answer this for you. If they cannot, then they will be able to liaise with us.
We know that any worry or disappointment being felt comes from the passion students, coaches and volunteers have for higher education sport, and we understand those fears and concerns. All we can do is continue to work together, and share the solutions each of us discovers.
Normally we use the summer months to review our programmes, via our National Competitions Group, to identify opportunities to develop and improve our delivery ahead of the new season.
Unfortunately, the landscape we are currently facing is one of uncertainty and planning for delivery as usual has not been possible. Instead we are finding the best solutions to the new challenges we are facing.
‘Return to Play’ is the name we have given to the consultation and planning process we are currently undertaking, in preparation for the 2020-21 season.
Who has BUCS consulted before making any decisions before next season? / How were the decisions about return to play made?
We have spent the last few weeks consulting with hundreds of staff and students from across our member universities and colleges. This culminated in specific Return to Play Consultation video calls, with over 110 institutions taking part in those discussions alone.
The Return to Play consultations, Senior Manager Network meetings, regions and nations meetings, and utilisation of BUCS Advisory Group sessions have all been focussed on trying to fully understand the challenges that are being factored into planning at an institutional level for next year. We have learnt that institutions are facing unprecedented challenges around finance and resource, and universities are doing their best to find solutions to still deliver a worthwhile experience for students.
Examples of these challenges are the use of sports halls for non-sport activities, capacity to hold multiple Wednesday afternoon fixtures on one site, practicality of using public transport or coaches to travel, clashes with academic timetabling and enrolment of students in both returning and new classes to join sports clubs.
This list is not exhaustive but is designed to give a flavour of the scale of the challenge the HE sector is facing. If you are a student wanting to know more about the challenges your institution is facing we would suggest contacting your university sport department directly.
There won’t be any promotion or relegation at the end of the 2020-21 season. Instead we will be using the finishing positions (i.e promotion and relegation) from the end of the 2019-20 season, to determine what leagues teams play in for 2021-22.
We anticipate a reduction in team entries based on the feedback we have received from the membership. This means that the existing competition programmes and structures are likely to change quite significantly for the 2020-21 season. Therefore, a conversation with members was needed to discuss whether 2020-21 would reflect a new programme, or whether 2020-21 would be an interim offering that enabled us to offer competition with a view to returning to the existing programme in 2021-22.
Promotion and relegation are mechanisms to move teams between tiers to provide the most appropriate level of competition each season. With a significant reduction in team entries expected, teams may find themselves pulled up into higher tiers next year. Utilising the 2019-20 standings as a blueprint for 2021-22 provides the best method to continue the existing programme; which has been shaped by promotion and relegation over many seasons. Our decision to not apply promotion and relegation based on the 2020-21 season is due to how different leagues are likely to look, and the condensed nature of the season that could increase the likelihood of relegation for teams (with a reduced number of spare weeks in the calendar the rearrangement of any missed fixtures would be much more difficult than in normal seasons).
There will be a number of institutions unable to enter the same number of teams next year (of which your institution may or may not be one), and difficult choices will have to be made around which entries are made and which are not. It is our aim to support those institutions with a pathway to returning to ‘normality’ in 2021-22. A number of clubs will have spent years developing their programmes, and so we feel it is our responsibility to support our members in the best way we can, for the long-term health of HE sport.
It will be an understandable frustration for a number of teams that finishing top of their league in the coming year will not see them move up a tier for 2021-22. For teams that are not able to enter the 2020-21 season due to events outside of their control, eliminating promotion and relegation will allow them to return in a more positive 2021-22 season, at the tier that is most appropriate for them. The alternatives which were considered were; to allow them to enter at the bottom of the system, to allow them to re-enter and have larger leagues in 2021-22, or to allow them to re-enter and not honour promotion and relegation in those leagues. All of these options presented more disruption and potentially more confusion in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
If my institution can’t enter a team in 2020-21, will they have to start in the bottom tier in 2021-22?
One of the reasons we agreed to suspend promotion and relegation in 2020-21 is to support those clubs and teams who, through no fault of their own, will not be able to enter for the coming season.
If your institution maintains its annual affiliation (its membership to BUCS) in 2020-21, any teams not entered next season will be able to return at the same tier in 2021-22.
The 2020-21 league team entry process is currently live and will run according to the decisions outlined in this document. In the meantime, we are generating draft leagues for all sports based on the 2019-20 season, with promotion and relegation applied according to this document.
When the final stage of entries closes on Friday 16 October, we will remove any teams not entered in 2020-21 and add any new teams at the bottom of the relevant leagues. Leagues will then be reviewed and amended to allow an equitable number of matches across the various tiers, where this is possible. A Provisional League Document will be published on Friday 30 October.
As 2020-21 will be an 'extraordinary’ season, the 2021-22 league structure will be based on the outcome of the 2019-20 season – with promotion and relegation applied according to this document – for teams in institutions who affiliate to BUCS in 2020-21.
Any institution who is not a member of BUCS for the 2020-21 season will be treated as a new member for the 2021-22 season and their teams will enter the league structure at the bottom.
Reward and recognition tools used by BUCS include medals, trophies, league plaques, national rankings, and social media coverage. We are working with our Student Advisory Group and our Sport Review Implementation Group to look at what reward and recognition should look like in 2020-21. Our aim is to still provide competitive opportunities and ensure we recognise achievement as best we can. We believe there is actually an opportunity to use next season to look at ways to celebrate achievement better and improve the reward and recognition teams receive.
Our advice to anyone who feels that they have not yet had an opportunity to engage in the Return to Play process, is to discuss this with their sport department within their institution; as there may be other factors influencing decision making internally. This can be a member of staff or Sabbatical Officer. Our consultation is still underway, and we want to include as many people on that journey as possible.
You should contact the sport department of the institution you are intending to join, and directly discuss with them what opportunities will be offered within their sport programmes next year.