Scotland: Plus ça change…Ten team SPL would change nothing
In the continuing struggle to find a format to make the Scottish Premier League more interesting it is quite astonishing that the top administrators can think of nothing more radical than to reduce the number of teams in the top flight from twelve to ten. This would, in no way, improve the situation and would only allow the Old Firm to further dominate both on and off the pitch.
Stoppage Time – International Football Blog argued in a post in on April 13th last year (“SPL In Need Of a Shake-Up”) that the Scottish game should be changing the format comprising of a 16 team top flight. Here is the proposal I made in that post:
“…….the Scottish Premier League should be looking at ways to increase the league to sixteen teams, therefore playing thirty league matches. This will mean that clubs have more time to recuperate inbetween matches, even allowing for the fact that there are two domestic cup competitions in Scotland. At least there will be a balanced fixture list which is drawn up at the start of the season with teams not playing against the same opposition so many times. The clubs may talk about losing potential revenue, especially the smaller clubs who rely on the Old Firm coming to their grounds at least four times a season, but I think the financial aspects will sort themselves out over time. If one wants an example of a country with a sixteen team league and two domestic knockout competitions which is doing well in UEFA’S Co-Efficient table (a system used to rank leagues across Europe) then Portugal is perfect. Using a similar system to the one suggested Portugal currently ranks as Europe’s ninth strongest league in the UEFA rankings and their clubs have often performed well in European competition, an area where Scottish football as a whole really needs to improve despite the heroics of the Old Firm reaching UEFA Cup finals in recent years.”
However it seems that the 16 team SPL isn’t such a good idea for SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster who says that if such a move were to take place you would “take away half of the big games”. In that sentence it would seem that he is accepting that the over-reliance on the Old Firm to provide the “big games” in the SPL is still prevalent to the thinking of the game’s administrators in Scotland. What harm can it do to have just two Old Firm games in the SPL every season as opposed to the current four? The people who should matter but seemingly do not – the fans – think that the current set-up is boring and that a reduction to ten teams would not make a jot of difference other than making it easier to get rid of the “split table” which occurs in the current system after 33 matches. Also, looking down the league pyramid, there would be another 26 teams who currently occupy the leagues below the SPL to consider in the event of any restructuring. For me the answer would be to have two divisions of fourteen teams below a 16 team top-flight. Before you think my maths have gone astray let me explain: a fourteen team Division 1 would leave twelve teams left in Division 2. An additional two teams can, therefore, come up from the Highland Football League into Division 2. There is a precedent for this eventuality which occurred in 1994 when the likes of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County joined the Scottish Football League (SFL) when the league system was changed in order to accommodate four leagues of ten.
Advocates of the ten team model are at pains to stress that the last time this model was used between 1975-2000 the likes of Aberdeen FC and Dundee United won four league titles between them but all of those titles were achieved in the 1980s which was a very different time when the top flight was pretty much comprised of good Scottish players spread throughout the league in an age when money wasn’t the be all and end all. The Scottish game at that time also had much bigger crowds because there was more competition between teams. If bringing this competitive streak back to Scottish football was to be the main principle behind restructuring the league – as opposed to solely those of a financial nature – then the fans would come back to games. Seeing as Scottish football enjoys more people per head of population going through the turnstiles than any other league then the prospect of increased attendances should appeal to all in the SPL.
One aspect in which I agree with Neil Doncaster is that there should be play-offs between the various divisions and not at the top of the SPL which should be decided by first-past-the-post. Various leagues in Europe presently have either a play-off system (e.g. San Marino) or split the league into a championship group and relegation group (e.g. Israel) in order to add more excitement but, as a traditionalist, my preference is to maintain the theory of whoever scores most points over “x” number of games wins the championship. Again hardly a radical solution but sometimes its the simplest things that make the most sense. Scottish football please take note.