SPL opts for radical plan to tackle ‘closed-shop’ issue

Neil Doncaster addresses the media after the league reconstruction meeting
Neil Doncaster addresses the media after the league reconstruction meeting
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All 12 Scottish Premier League clubs yesterday emerged from a meeting at Hampden Park having reached broad agreement on a league reconstruction plan that is hoped will be given serious consideration by Scottish Football League clubs, who unveiled their own proposal last week.

SPL clubs were unanimously in favour of a proposal where there would be two divisions of 12 in an attempt to group together 24 elite professional clubs in Scotland. At present, this would not include Rangers, whose chairman Charles Green has been a vocal opponent of the SPL. Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, has backed the 
SFL proposal for a three-division 16-10-16 set-up.

The SPL, however, remain convinced that extending the top league to include 16 clubs is not viable for commercial reasons and would also lead to too many meaningless games, at a time when one of the principal aims is to attract fans back to Scottish football.

Having investigated other league formats in Europe and North America, an SPL restructuring group have devised a system consisting of two leagues of 12. They then split into three divisions of eight teams after 22 games, with the middle division being where the promotion/
relegation issue will be played out over a further 14 games.

SPL chief executive Neil 
Doncaster was at pains to 
express that the new proposal was not a mechanism to hasten Rangers’ rise from the Third Division. Instead, it was one devised in the knowledge that something radical has to be done to address the problem of exclusivity. The SPL has long been perceived as a closed-shop.

“There is a view that we need to be expanding the top league to be looking after the whole of the professional game in Scotland but also those clubs that 
aspire to be full-time professional clubs,” said Doncaster.

“The view unanimously expressed round the table today is that is exactly what we should be doing. We met with the clubs in September, a restructuring group was formed and its work was fed back to all of the clubs today, and unanimously they approved the view that they should be working towards a plan that does exactly that.”

The two league set-up that is being explored would see the two top leagues consist of 12 teams. However, the leagues would split into three divisions of eight after 22 games. The top eight teams would play each other twice again for a 36-game season, two fewer than the 
current model, where the split occurs after 33 games.

The bottom four of the top division would join the bottom four of the second division and complete their own extended play-off system, with their points totals re-set to zero. The bottom eight teams of the 24 would also play each other twice again, as the top eight teams do.

Providing these plans are accepted by the SFL and the Scottish Football Association, the SPL hope the new format could be in place for the start of the 2013/2014 season. There is, though, a PR battle to be waged first. A 40-page document 
will be issued to each SFL club outlining the plans in detail.

“There is a realisation that we need to work together for the greater good of the game,” said an SPL chairman yesterday. “We don’t want this to be adversarial. We need to move on from historical squabbling about things. This is not going to keep everyone happy but it is about compromise. The future of Scottish football is at stake.

“Four clubs will have a chance of playing in the top league the following season. Currently there is only one. And four clubs could go down, of course. There will be excitement right through the leagues.

“It is all about compromise from everyone, whether it is Celtic at the top or teams at the bottom, who will give themselves more chance of being relegated. Anything new in this country, people knock it. We hope this might be given a chance first.”

The SFL’s own plans are based on a 16-team top league with two further tiers of ten and 16 teams respectively. This would also include a number of promotion/relegation play-offs at the end of a regular season.

The members of the SPL 
restructuring group, which 
includes Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston and Steve Brown of St Johnstone, will 
report back to the SPL at a 
meeting on 3 December with further findings.

“There will be a final vote at some point but we are trying to do everything by consensus,” said an SPL source yesterday.