PAUL CADDICK and Gary Hetherington are stepping back into the breach to keep alive Yorkshire's dream of hosting a successful top-flight rugby union club after Leeds Metropolitan University surrendered their controlling interest in newly-promoted Leeds Carnegie.
The troubled university will today confirm they are relinquishing their 51 per cent majority stake in Leeds Carnegie, just two years after they took over the running of the Headingley club in a 10-year deal.
Leeds Met will maintain strong links with the National One winners but responsibility for the day-to-day running of the club will revert to Caddick and Hetherington, the two men behind Leeds Rugby, the parent company of Super League champions Leeds Rhinos.
Caddick, who bankrolled the union club under their guise as Leeds Tykes between 1998 and 2007, is to become chairman of a new board of directors which will also feature former Wales and British Lions international Gareth Davies, the new dean of the Carnegie faculty of sport and education at Leeds Met.
The move brings to an end a ground-breaking but controversial partnership which saw an ambitious higher education establishment attempt to run a professional sports club as a means of increasing its profile on the national and international stage.
The Carnegie brand has been strengthened by the tie-in but at some cost: in 2007-2008, the club were relegated from the Premiership leaving the university with a bill of 1.1m and Leeds Met had to spend around 800,000 keeping Leeds Carnegie afloat in National One last season.
The move comes after the university has faced months of turmoil following the shock resignation of its vice-chancellor Simon Lee – the man responsible for developing Leeds Met's sporting links at Headingley.
Lee resigned after being told he faced an inquiry into complaints about his alleged treatment of staff. He was accused of creating a culture where dissent was treated as disloyalty. However, Lee, who denied the allegations against him, said he believed his departure was linked to a disagreement with the university's board over its tuition fees.
Lee combined his role as vice-chancellor with that of chairman of Leeds Carnegie and the Yorkshire Post understands that since his departure Leeds Met have been unable to find anyone with the vision to drive the club forward – or explain why a university with the lowest tuition fees in the country could justify spending such vast sums on professional sport.
For all the costs involved, Leeds Rugby have lost none of their belief that Yorkshire wants and can sustain a Premiership rugby union club. Having spent between 5m and 10m of his own money on the Tykes, who were formed by the merger of Headingley and Roundhay in 1992, Caddick is unlikely to be under any illusion as to the financial commitment required to make Leeds Carnegie work.
Leeds Carnegie will start the new Premiership season in August as relegation favourites but the change in ownership could be the catalyst needed to avoid that fate.
Under Premiership rules, clubs can spend up to 4m on players' wages and it is hard to imagine those kind of funds being generated by a university which is facing losses of up to 7m in the next year and the prospect of sweeping job cuts.
The club has retained most of its best junior talent and, unlike two years ago when there was a dearth of high quality established players because of the World Cup, a buoyant transfer market exists giving head coach Neil Back and director of rugby Andy Key ample opportunity to build a competitive squad.
"The new arrangements significantly strengthen our viability as we develop a business that can sustain itself," said Hetherington last night. "We now have the benefit of a major strategic partnership and, by retaking a controlling interest in the club, there is an opportunity to attract new investors and partners.
"The county is crying out for a successful Premiership club and Leeds Met has taken the lead with this initiative which, hopefully, will encourage others to join, too. This will now enable Andy and Neil to continue their search to bring in some top-class players for next season to add to our current group of players.
"We will also continue to enjoy all the support we have had from Leeds Met, particularly from the Carnegie faculty, whose expertise in sports science is invaluable and has flourished this season under the stewardship of our performance director Steve Nance."
Hetherington was fulsome in his praise of Davies, who has established a strong reputation in business since retiring as a player. His CV includes roles as assistant director of the Welsh CBI Wales, BBC Wales Head of Sport, chief executive of Cardiff RU club, head of international business for Wales in Australia and New Zealand and director of Welsh affairs with Royal Mail in Wales.
"Gareth is a hugely respected man, not only within rugby but with tremendous credentials in business and education as well. He will be a great addition to our board," said Hetherington.
Davies said he was delighted to have the chance to join the rugby union club's board and is looking forward to building on the established synergy between the two organisations.
"The innovative partnership between Leeds Carnegie and Leeds Met will continue to bring benefits to our current and future students, as well as raising the profile of the university," he said. "I think it's fantastic that Leeds Met has helped the club to get back into the Premiership.
"It is now right that a broader range of supporters, partners and sponsors are now brought on board to support the club over forthcoming seasons."
Changing times – the main points
Leeds Met has returned its 51 per cent stake in the club to Leeds Rugby and agreed a revised strategic partnership which maintains the current sponsorship deals and naming rights.
The original deal was struck in May of 2007 with Simon Lee taking on the role of chairman and stating: "We want to pioneer sport and sports coaching, not just in the city of Leeds but by the standards of the country and the world."
Leeds Met has forked out close to 2m in covering the club's running costs over the two years it was in control.
The Leeds Carnegie board will be re-structured with Paul Caddick, who was chairman of the Tykes between 1998 and 2007, taking over as chairman in place of Simon Lee.
The Leeds Rugby board will now be free to attract new investment to the club to cover the costs of player recruitment ahead of next season's Premiership campaign.
Former Wales and British Lion international Gareth Davies, who is due to take up a new role as Dean of the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education, will join the board as the university's representative.
Gareth Davies is a former chief executive of Cardiff RFC and BBC Wales Head of Sport. He joins Leeds Met from his position working for the Welsh Assembly Government, based in Sydney. He was Head of International Business Wales for Australia & New Zealand, promoting economic development and inward investment. Prior to this role, he was Director of Welsh Affairs with the Royal Mail Group in Wales.
Davies spent 12 seasons as a player with Cardiff and earned 21 Welsh caps. He captained Wales five times, and was part of the British Lions team that toured South Africa in 1980.