Frustrated Championship clubs are pleading for clarity from the Rugby Football Union with England's second tier still unaware of the level of funding it will receive for next season.
Budget cuts and the financial side-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have meant that each Championship club received only around £160,000 in central funding at the start of the 2020-21 season, compared with around £600k two years ago. For this season, roughly £90k was funded by the RFU with the remaining £70k coming from Premiership Rugby Limited.
With less than a month left of the current season, however, and with less than two months until England's second-tier clubs reconvene ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, the Championship remains in the dark about the level of funding it will receive from the RFU and PRL.
Telegraph Sport understands that clubs are expecting no increase or decrease in funding, with plans and budgets for next season being made accordingly, and the RFU has confirmed that it aims "to provide certainty over next season’s funding... in the coming weeks".
Alistair Bow, chairman of 10th-place Nottingham, told Telegraph Sport: "There are rumours, but we don't know what funds we are going to see from either the RFU or PRL for next season and beyond.
"Because of the cuts and Covid, we are at Ground Zero, so we now have to budget according to the worst-case scenario. We are assuming, and therefore budgeting, that we're not going to be getting any more money [from the RFU and PRL] than what we're currently getting.
"With Covid still hanging around, it's not just that funding that's going to be hit, but we're going to be budgeting for potentially smaller crowds at games next season because there's no guarantee we're going to be back to full capacity.
"We are semi-pro but I cannot budget for a fully professional squad because there isn't enough income. There is uncertainty of central funding, uncertainty on ring-fencing, uncertainty on the Championship model, Covid; when you've got all those things, you can only budget for what you know. And there are far too many uncertainties."
Bow's counterpart at fifth-place Coventry, Jon Sharp, added that planning for next season is "impossible".
"How can we recruit?" Sharp told Telegraph Sport. "Normally we would start in January but, alongside the pandemic, the continued uncertainty does not help the situation at all."
The lack of funding clarity has not been helped by the Championship clubs having to play matches behind closed doors until last weekend, with money made through ticket sales and hospitality a key source of revenue for the league.
"We did open our gates on Saturday for the Saracens game, but even then that was incredibly restricted - we had 1,400 in the ground," Sharp said. "With all the additional Covid safety measures, if we made any money - I don't know the answer yet - I would be very surprised. I imagine we would have lost money."
Bow and Sharp both argue, too, that if the Premiership were to suspend relegation indefinitely, then PRL should increase the size of their payment to the Championship clubs, which was originally set-up to reimburse the second tier for abolishing their promotion play-offs. The matchday attendance and revenue generated from home matches against the Premiership's relegated side eclipses anything else in the Championship season.
"Playing the Premiership's relegated team with crowds, which we didn't have this season, brings a big income," Bow added. "We would have been full for our match against Saracens - and we were looking at moving it to Meadow Lane (Notts County's stadium). It was worth £70,000 to us, that game; we were forecasting a crowd of up to 10,000."
Sharp added: "If there is any form of ring-fencing then Championship clubs need to be compensated for that lost game against the Premiership's relegated side."
In response, an RFU spokesperson said: "Championship funding is variable and linked to the RFU’s profit. This year the RFU is likely to make a loss of between £30-35m, however we have continued to provide funding to the Championship and have not pro-rated it for a shorter season. The RFU also has a responsibility to support the wider community game and its 1,900 clubs.
"Any decision on promotion to or relegation from the Premiership would require a vote by the RFU council at the end of June... As the discussions are ongoing nothing has been decided."