“Disgusting and cowardly.”
“Pile of pish.”
These are just some of the comments I’ve seen from friends in response to the Scottish Premier League’s likely new format: a ten-team league. I’d add a few more: cowardly, short-sighted, and suicidal.
Following Monday’s meeting of SPL clubs in Glasgow, SPL chairman Neil Doncaster stated there was a “broad agreement” on a move to a 10-team top league with a 12-team SPL2. A 16-team SPL appears off the table as Doncaster presented evidence showing a substantial loss in income for clubs, and even the SPL’s turkeys don’t want to introduce Thanksgiving to Scotland.
Looking more closely, however, the picture is more complex. No binding vote was taken – the only concrete action following the meeting is for the executive team to “further develop aspects of the proposals.” That sounds sufficiently corporate-speak to mean nothing, really – they’re kicking the can down the road under the guise of filling in some detail on what the so-called 10-12 option would mean financially.
Doncaster’s “broad agreement” also glossed over the fact that a quarter of the clubs present voted in favour of a 14-team league (the dissenters were Caley Thistle, Kilmarnock, and Hearts). If they hold to this position, there will be no reconstruction: league rules require 11 of the current 12 SPL clubs to be in favour of a change. No doubt there will be pressure exerted by the other nine if push comes to shove – Terry Butcher had a wonderful rant on this topic after Caley’s Tuesday night game at Ibrox (“We’re being bullied into submitting to this 10-team league”) – but St Mirren and Dundee United had previously voiced objections to a top ten, and if they all stick to their guns it’ll be a no-go.
The 14-team league is an interesting idea. If there is a 6-8 split halfway through the season, it would seem to remedy the main concern with the current setup – the occasional imbalance of home and away games post-split. Also the top teams – who are more likely to be involved in Europe and later rounds of the Cup – would play fewer games over the season, while the lower teams would get more games, meaning more matchday revenue. What’s not to like?
It’s not clear. There are other vocal backers of a shrunken top division – Craig Levein, Henry McLeish – and Doncaster has dropped hints that there would be more TV money on offer post-reconstruction, but how much? And why would a 10-team league – where top and bottom could often be decided by early April – be better than a post-split set of games between the best six sides in Scotland?
And, fundamentally, should the Murdoch shilling be driving the future of our game?
As the Inverness majority shareholder David Sutherland told the BBC, “There is a long way to go in this saga yet.”
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