Premiership Rugby could break away from the Rugby Football Union and form a new independent league, according to a report.
The Mail on Sunday claims it has received minutes from a recent meeting between the clubs' chairmen threatening to form an unregulated league separate from the RFU, should the national governing body ultimately turn down the league's proposal to scrap relegation.
A breakaway would threaten the eight-year, £200 million professional game agreement signed between the RFU and Premiership Rugby Limited back in 2016.
One of the minutes from the board meeting, quoted in The Mail on Sunday, states: 'If the RFU were to be unwilling to support change, we shall need to ensure access to match officials and player insurance cover (as this is a joint policy), as this would potentially become an unregulated competition.'
Ringfencing the Premiership requires the approval of the PRL's 13 board members – the current Premiership clubs plus London Irish – as well as that of the RFU.
"As anyone would expect the Premiership Rugby Board will discuss a number of issues at each meeting, with only some of those ever coming off the drawing board and into reality," said a Premiership Rugby spokesperson.
"Our Board Meetings are a forum for ideas to be discussed but until there is an agreed policy on any issue, these are just ideas.
"The topic of promotion and relegation from Gallagher Premiership Rugby has been discussed since the game turned professional and is of course a topic raised at many of our Board Meetings.
"If a proposal on promotion and relegation is agreed by our Board it will be presented to the RFU. We are in a partnership with the RFU under the Professional Game Agreement.
"Any leak of minutes which are clearly a private record of Board discussions does however represent a serious breach of internal confidentiality which we shall need to formally investigate."
Acting RFU chief executive Nigel Melville dismissed that possibility back in December, saying: "I think that's called wishful thinking isn't it? Suddenly people want something to happen now. Well no, that's not how it works.
"Should Premier Rugby want to change their structure, they can bring that to the Professional Game Board for a vote and then it would be put to the RFU council. Nothing is going to change as regards this season."
Scrapping relegation to the Championship – and promotion from it – has been a common topic of discussion among the Premiership clubs in recent years. However, the intensity of those talks has increased this season with several established sides still in danger of dropping into English rugby's second tier.
Newcastle Falcons are currently bottom of the table after 12 matches and four points clear of safety, one year on from making the Premiership's semi-finals for the first time.
The 13 clubs that make up PRL are set to imminently receive a substantial investment in excess of £200m following the addition of CVC as a minority shareholder.
Premiership Rugby Limited has launched a formal investigation into the leaking of the minutes, with a spokesman saying: "The Premiership Rugby Board discuss a number of issues at each meeting, with only some of those ever coming off the drawing board and into reality. Our meetings are a forum for ideas to be discussed but until there is an agreed policy, these are just ideas."