New league split may finally spell armageddon

Written by Andrew Southwick.

By Andrew Southwick:
If you were a little naive, more open to persuasion than others, than you may very well be surprised to be here just now. Armageddon was meant to have hit; from scholars past and present predicting destruction at the end of the Mayan calender, to journalists past and new prophesying carnage at the loss of Rangers from the SPL.

Until now though, we've done okay. The world is still intact, though if you tuned into STV the other night expecting to see FA Cup highlights and were instead met with Kelly Osbourne's life stories, you would be forgiven for thinking the apocalypse was well underway.

In Scottish football, the stories of how we couldn't survive without the status quo headlining our league have not yet come to fruition.

Rangers vast support in the third division is strengthening the game from the bottom up, while in the SPL itself fans are enjoying the tightest league in years, some good football, and some excellent youth players emerging.

No-one has said that reconstruction isn't needed for our game, but what certainly isn't welcome is someone coming along and derailing the good things we do have going for us with a barmy 12-12-18 set-up, complete with a mid-season 8-8-8 split, that may well bring about the death of our game when we were just starting to think we had survived.

There are three main things the majority of Scottish football fans want. An end to four games a season against the same opponent, fair promotion and relegation, and an all inclusive pyramid system. Sadly, all three wishes may never happen any time soon.
Loss of Rangers accelerated SPL reconstruction plans. Photo by Gary McLaughlin

What is alarming, is that we appear to be going for a set-up that solves none of our current problems, and will likely create new ones.

Let's look ahead to the exciting possibilities that await us under the 12-12-18 proposal.

After 22 games, the top two leagues - the SPL and a newly created SPL2, would split into three mini-leagues of eight.

The top and bottom divisions carry on as normal, facing each other twice more, while the middle division - comprising of the bottom four teams from the SPL and the top four from SPL2 - would begin at zero points and over the course of 14 games decide the promotion and relegation placings.

Still with us?

In the mind of Neil Doncaster and various SPL chairmen, it appears to be an exciting prospect. However let's consider how it changes things.

At the moment, in an albeit far from perfect set-up, St Mirren are just seven points off a potential European spot (4th place could have a Europa League place depending on who wins the Scottish Cup).  However, they have played 22 games and are below the top eight, so in this new split they would now find their European hopes taken away, and instead they start from scratch and begin a relegation fight.

Ross County have currently only played 20 games. They could potentially win both and move themselves into the top eight, and put themselves within five points of second, or just three from the potential European place in 4th. However, forget that, because all Dundee United need to do is take a point from their game in hand with Celtic and therefore Ross County, instead of making a historic bid for Europe, are instead fighting relegation.

Imagine racking up win after win, knowing that these could be going towards finishing as high up the table as possible and getting a crack at Europe, but instead knowing they're simply helping you finish above teams you already finished above six months ago when you originally earned promotion.

It's exciting isn't it? That should get the crowds going up and increase the TV exposure.

So how does that help these clubs, or help the development of our game? Will the standard of football rise when you introduce fear rather than a carrot of success? Did we not say the ten team set-up put clubs off playing youth players, which was the reason for increasing the numbers in the first place?

Then of course there's Dundee. After a handful of games when it became evident they wouldn't finish above the bottom four, where's the motivation for them when the important games essentially don't begin until January?  Why should Dundee fans descend on Dens Park for the first few months of the season when any points they are playing for, any wins they do manage to get, will simply be scrapped come the winter break?

What about Partick Thistle? Does this barmy new plan actually help Jackie McNamara's side gain promotion, because a potential four promotion spots have been opened up instead of one? Let's look again.

At the moment they sit in 3rd place in the first division, two points off the top in what is turning out to be a mouth watering three-way fight for the title between the Jags, Dunfermline and Morton.

They have two games in hand though, against Cowdenbeath and Hamilton Accies. Win both and they're four points clear. Considering the split wouldn't happen until after 22 games, they could have another three fixtures to perhaps increase their lead a bit more.

What gives them more chance of promotion? Continuing the season with a four point lead over their rivals, with what should be play-off spots below for those that miss out?

Or, having all their points taken away and starting again? Rendering that 5-1 win earlier in the season against Dunfermline as meaningless. Making the last month or two nothing more than warm-up games once they'd essentially booked their place in the top four.

More importantly, now not only are they being asked to get themselves back above their first division rivals, but also ahead of at least one SPL team should they want promotion. Where is the fairness in that? No team should top their division and be denied a step up the ladder, and this isn't a step up the ladder, it's a mini-league where they'll be at a disadvantage from the off.

Take into account that when a side is promoted to the SPL, they usually need to strengthen in order to compete. Dundee didn't have enough time to do that this summer due to the Rangers/Newco situation, and look at how they have struggled.

Your four first division teams facing off against the SPL quartet would also have just a matter of weeks to prepare for battle against four clubs with bigger budgets. As good and competitive as Thistle, Morton and Dunfermline have been at the top of the first division, can you see them finishing above Hearts, Ross County or St Mirren - their potential opponents based on current league placings? Can you even see them finishing above Dundee should they, in any normal season, have had a reasonable time to budget and adjust to the higher division?

At best, you might see one team promoted. Rarely, you might see two. Often, you will see none.

So what problems have we solved?

A fairer set-up? No.

Extending the SPL to allow more teams the opportunity to get in? No.

A fairer distribution of money? Possibly, but you've taken away the carrot of European football for some and replaced it with a relegation fight - they'll likely suffer from lack of exposure, a struggle to keep players in the January transfer window, and a drop in crowds.

Better youth development? Who will play youth players if they know they only have 22 games to safeguard the rest of the season, and then potentially just 14 games to stay in the SPL?

Cutting out playing the same teams too often? There might be a bit of variety for the teams in the middle split of eight teams, but that's about it.

It could be said that anything is worth trying once. The thing this, this idea HAS been tried before, and seemingly didn't work.

The Austrian league gave it a go. And on Saturday UEFA general secretary David Taylor commented:

"They tried it for six or seven years. It's not there any longer."

He added: "Each country has to find its own solution but each country can learn from others' experiences.

"You don't have to repeat the mistakes of others."

And there you have it. It didn't work in Austria, so why are we giving it a go?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Neil Doncaster, it's over to you.
You can also vote in our poll on the right hand side and pick which of the current reconstruction ideas being discussed you back.

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