Scottish clubs set for vote on league reconstruction proposals

By Chris McLaughlinSenior Football Reporter, BBC Scotland
Neil Doncaster, Stewart Regan and David Longmuir

Scotland's top 12 clubs will meet at Hampden Park on Monday to vote on whether they want to change the current league structure or maintain the status quo.

It has been something of a saga to this point and even now nothing is certain. So just what is on the table and how will it work?

The background

Scotland's top flight, the Scottish Premier League, was formed in 1998 when a group of 10 clubs broke away from the Scottish Football League.

Much like the English Premier League's split from the English Football League, the SPL wanted to take control of its own finances and negotiate its own broadcasting and sponsorship deals.

It left behind three lower leagues, which would be governed by the Scottish Football League. The SPL expanded to 12 clubs in 2000 but it has been a fairly uneasy alliance with different clubs looking for different things.

The problem

Many within the Scottish game believe the current model is broken and needs urgent attention.

The fall in spectators coming through the turnstiles is reflected in the drop in sponsorship and broadcasting revenue. Fans say they do not enjoy the repetition of watching their side play the same teams at least four times in one season.

Chairmen, meanwhile, have warned that some clubs are facing financial ruin if things do not change.

Fans and clubs also say they are frustrated that three governing bodies oversee the Scottish game.

The proposals

In January those three bodies, the Scottish Premier League, the Scottish Football League and the Scottish Football Association, met and agreed to move forward on a number of key proposals.

They agreed, in principle, to create one league body to oversee three leagues. It would be called the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL).

The new league structure would see a Premier Division and Championship, both with 12 teams, and a National League, with 18 teams.

It is not quite that simple, though, and here comes the tricky part.

After 22 games, the Premier Division and Championship would split into three leagues of eight.

The top eight would carry over their points from the first 22 games and fight it out home and away for the title and for European places. The middle eight would have their points reset to zero and compete home and away for a place in the Premier Division the following season. The bottom eight would carry their points on from the first 22 games and enter into a relegation battle.

As well as a change to the league structure, the proposals also include plans for a more even distribution of cash across all of the leagues and a pyramid structure allowing opportunities for entry into the league system for those clubs outside the 42.

The positives

Those in favour of the changes believe that the plans will create more excitement and help bring the fans and the sponsors back.

They say the proposals would help struggling clubs by providing more cash from top to bottom and argue that it is now the only plan on the table that can deliver a single league body.

Some in the 'yes' camp also say clubs will go out of business if the reconstruction does not go ahead.

Most of the SPL clubs, including Celtic, back the plan as do the majority of the clubs in the current First Division.

The negatives

Those against the changes believe that those pushing the proposals are not listening to the fans. A recent survey commissioned by the Scottish FA showed that 87% of fans asked wanted a bigger league - with a top flight of 16 the most popular.

Dissenters also argue the proposals are being rushed through without proper time for debate.

The 11-1 voting system, which means 11 of the 12 SPL clubs must vote for the proposal for it to succeed, may also prove a sticking point.

St Mirren are the most-high profile SPL club against the plan. Third Division champions Rangers have also thrown their muscle behind the 'no' campaign. They have been extremely vocal in their opposition to the SPL since the financial meltdown that led to them starting again in the bottom tier of the Scottish league.

What now?

Some clubs in the SPL and the SFL have changed their minds about what they want and a number of meetings have been held in order to move towards consensus.

At one stage, all 12 SPL clubs looked to be in favour, but St Mirren have publicly stated they will not vote for the proposals and Ross County seem undecided.

If the top-flight clubs back the changes at their meeting on Monday, it will then be up to the SFL to vote on Friday - but it appears there are splits in the lower leagues too.

If the SPL vote succeeds and the SFL decides not to back it, it is likely a number of First Division clubs would break away and look to create an 'SPL 2'.

This possibility has already been discussed by a number of clubs behind closed doors.

So how the voting will go? Given what has happened over the past few months, that is anyone's guess.

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