Looking for expanded top tier
18 April ~ On Monday the SPL failed to win enough votes from its member clubs to take their plan for league reconstruction and football reform to the next stage. They'd been painting their plans as a last roll of the dice but their proposed league structure was fatally convoluted. The package of reforms contained positives – fairer cash distribution, one unified league body, a lower-league pyramid structure, more play-offs – but the fans were turned off by a "12-12-18" structure that becomes "8-8-8-18" after 22 matches.
Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor said he couldn't vote for a structure the fans don't want. In a recent poll, 87 per cent of fans opposed the plans. Most want a bigger top flight; they're bored of playing the same small number of clubs so often. The SPL say this would be financial suicide, with a 16-team top flight providing just 30 games a season. But fans, journalists and clubs have proposed structures delivering 34, 37 or 39 games.
The SPL haven't explained why their league structure is the only viable option, or why the good parts of the reform package couldn't work in a different structure. The best explanation of their proposals is in a Q&A on Hearts' website. It acknowledges the structure is flawed but paints the middle eight as one big play-off, reducing the number of meaningless games. But the structure would create meaningless games elsewhere and there are bigger problems. The middle eight's points would all have to be reset to zero after the first 22 games. Those 22 games would have to be finished before Christmas and seasons could potentially end with no promotion to or relegation from the top flight.
The suspicion remains that the SPL's only objectives are to ensure top-flight clubs get as many games as possible against Celtic (and Rangers when they return), and to give Sky four Old Firm games a year as soon as possible – even though TV money in Scottish football is far lower than ticket revenue. The 12-12-18 structure would have given some top-flight clubs matches against Rangers half a season earlier than the current set-up. Last season the SPL and SFA told clubs any refusal to accept the phoenix Rangers straight back into the top flight would result in "armageddon", undermining their own negotiations with Sky in the process. They don't seem to have learnt from their mistake.
On the weekend before the vote Falkirk, Hibs, Dundee United and Celtic provided two outstanding, dramatic cup semi-finals, with 14 goals from 11 goalscorers with an average age of 22. Not everything is wrong with Scottish football. The fans want a simple set-up that works for the game, rather than for Sky and sponsors. As former SFA president John McBeth has said: "If you chase the money you'll kill the game. If you look after the game the money will come."
There's no guarantee that there won't be change before next season. SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster says he doesn't want to speculate on what might happen, while First Division clubs have called a meeting for Monday, resurrecting the prospect of a breakaway SPL2. Just when clubs are trying to sell early bird season tickets, fans don't know what they're being asked to buy. Mark Poole