De-constructing League Reconstruction
- 15 January 2013
So, about a week after were we told that 12, 12, 18 restructuring of Scottish football had been widely agreed by the SPL and SFL clubs, the cracks are already starting to show. Several clubs, including Rangers, have come out and stated their opposition to the plan and now even the SPL teams are starting to break ranks with Ross County and St Mirren the first to express a preference for the 14, 14, 14 plan proposed by Rangers. SFL clubs are saying that once again they have not been properly consulted and we have the absurd spectacle of the largest club in the country not being invited to discussions on reconstruction.
One wonders how the SPL and SFA have managed to discuss this at such length and still make such a complete mess of it - again. It seems their working groups just don't work, along with virtually every other aspect of these failed organisations. So let's take a look at 12, 12, 18 and see if we can prompt any of its supporters into answering some simple questions, which must surely have come up during their 'high level' discussions.
First let's address the idea of splitting the top two leagues of twelve into three groups of eight after 22 matches. It's worth remembering that this system has been tried in Austria and was a complete failure. The Austrian authorities, apart from calling it "boring" when asked about it, made it clear that one reason for the failure was that everyone wanted to have the chance to play the two top teams in the country more often. Neil Doncaster, showing the type of forward planning and sharp thinking for which the SPL is renowned, answered that this was not an issue in Scotland as Rangers are not currently in the top league. Excellent, so that reason is shelved for the next two years. What then Neil?
I have a myriad of issues with this idea of splitting into three leagues of eight. First of all, it is just stupidly complicated for fans. At what point did this notion of needing to have a split become ingrained in any idea of league reconstruction? It's nonsense, and it always has been. If you want more games in the season, put more teams in the league. We keep being told that the SPL don't need Rangers, so the idea that a TV contract now relies on 4 Old Firm games a season is obviously not true. Why not just play each other twice? Unless of course the SPL are talking nonsense, do need Rangers and are terrified about the status of the TV deal. We'll come back to that later.
The idea of this split also makes an absolute mockery of the second league, the ironically named "Championship". It is in keeping with the lack of common sense, innovation and general competence of the SPL that, when forging this plan, they gave the name 'Championship' to a league in which there can be no champion. You can't win it. Unless of course you win it by being top half way through the season, which is absurd. Or perhaps you win it by coming top of the middle group of eight? In which case you've got teams who have come down from top league being crowned winners of a league in which they have never actually taken part. Splendid stuff.
One of the main bonuses of this system, we are told, is that it will redistribute wealth. Well let's see about that. The figure being quoted to 'win' the Championship is 400k - except you can't win it. So who gets that money? If it is the team who finish top after 22 games then it's absurd as the season still has 14 games to go. There is then the added complication that they have a very good chance of not being promoted. Are we seriously to believe that the 400k payment they would receive makes up for the season in the top league which they would have previously been guaranteed from normal promotion? I think not. If it is the team that finishes top of the middle 8 that receives the payment, then again there is a good chance that this will be one of the bottom 4 from the top league and therefore, again, there will be no redistribution.
Now, call me an old cynic but I'm seeing another handy by-product of "8, 8, 8" for the current SPL clubs. Under the new SPL rules, insolvency events would trigger large point deductions for those teams. As we know, several of them are teetering on the brink currently. So, how about this? SPL clubs push through a new league structure as quickly as they can and ensure Rangers remain in the bottom league despite there being precedent for them being admitted to the Championship. Because this new structure comes under one newly formed league body, they secure Rangers TV rights to give them a chance of Sky not ripping up the TV contract in the summer.
All pretty simple so far? Here is the clever bit. Struggling clubs go into administration to clear their debt and happily take the points hit. This means that, as opposed to a normal SPL season, there is a good chance we find the likes of Aberdeen, Dundee Utd, Hearts etc, in the bottom four. These teams, instead of being relegated, now have their points reset and a full home and away schedule against the top four of the current First Division. So they are playing against teams who, so far, have seen no additional money from reconstruction and are therefore of a standard they would fully expect to beat. This gives the four teams from the SPL an excellent chance to finish in the top four places and resume their place in the top flight free from the crippling debts that many of them currently have.
Of course I'm sure that no such thing has crossed the minds of the esteemed chairmen who find their clubs in such perilous positions. After all, it would fly in the face of the sporting integrity of which they are so fond. I'm sure they have other reasons for liking this proposal. I'm just not sure what they are.
Most of my objections to this have little to do with Rangers but how would we fare in this 12, 12, 18 setup? Well, frankly, it shouldn't matter much to us. We've already shown that our fans will turn up in huge numbers to support the club no matter what division we are in. We would also make considerably more money keeping our own TV rights and broadcasting our games on Rangers TV. I have no issue with us being in the league of 18 next year, except for one small point.
Stewart Regan, in an interview with Tom English at the weekend which read like yet another attempt to justify his position but without actually answering a single difficult question, has gone on the record as saying that Rangers must be treated like everyone else. I completely agree Stewart but in that case, if this "abomination" of reconstruction is agreed, Rangers should be heading for the Championship. That is what happened with Stranraer in 1994 and I've yet to hear a single person come up with any justification for ignoring that precedent.
Of course the usual suspects will moan and complain about how unfair it is. They will claim Rangers are being aided despite all the evidence to the contrary. They will ignore the precedent, but can the SFA? Not after what Regan is on the record as saying. What are the bets that Stewart will just ignore the question anyway or perhaps make up a new rule which means it can be ignored? Will anyone in the press even bother to ask him?
Also what is the rush? Surely, with the SPL thriving (stop it...) and the TV contract signed for 5 years (now now!) there is no need to move ahead so quickly? It's not like the SPL clubs need Rangers under this single football body umbrella to include them in the TV deal is it? Sponsors too have no need for Rangers and their support to be involved in this league setup we've been told. Why not just take our time and make sure we get it right?
Just one last question – who is going to be in charge of this brave new dawn for Scottish football? We currently have three bodies and we're being told it will be reduced to one. So who is resigning? Doncaster? Regan? Longmuir? I would almost be willing to accept these idiotic proposals if I thought it would allow us to move forward without Doncaster and particularly Regan at the helm, but I'm not hearing either of them make noises about stepping aside. In fact, Regan is clinging onto the bucking bronco of his job like a man possessed. It appears the only thing he is actually good at it is deflecting criticism onto others.
The bottom line is that, as usual, the only thing driving this reconstruction is self-interest. The fans, who as recently as the summer were so important, are being ignored. The SPL clubs are trying to create an environment where there is at least a 50/50 chance that the top league will never change, whilst claiming it makes the league more aspirational.
This is not just about Rangers, although there is a good chance we'll be shafted by the football authorities, this is about Scottish football once again rushing into a disastrous setup which fails utterly, as the SPL has done. The only hope now is that the SFL clubs, and some from the SPL, actually take a stand along with Rangers and block these proposals. I'm sure there will be much back room dealing going on over the next few weeks. It is in the interests of fans of all clubs to ask questions about this or we can look forward to another decade of stale, boring football and farcical football governance.