13 November 2012

In Neil Doncaster's SPL, League Expands You!

by Andy McGowan | CRO Contributor

In June 2011 SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster told us that a 16 team SPL “would mean a £20m loss” for Scottish football. This was in response to a poll that showed 88% of fans wanted an expanded SPL and were overwhelmingly against a smaller SPL, which Big Neil was pushing for.

Now, just over a year on, the SPL again looks at reconstruction under Neil Doncaster following the unprecedented events over the summer at Ibrox. And it's looking BIGGER.

Currently the SPL is a 12 team shit show league. Each sides plays the others three times, 3x11 = 33 games. The league then ‘splits’ into a top and bottom half with the top half teams playing each other once for the title/European spots while the bottom 6 sides play to avoid just a single relegation place, bringing the total number of games up to 38 games.

The current model is unpopular and clearly doesn’t work despite constant claims of the SPL being in ‘rude’ health.  The much maligned split is one of the most unpopular mechanisms ever introduced into Scottish football. It was often mocked by our English counter-parts early on and it has now sadly become ingrained in the top division.

The SPL has given us two new proposals for its traveling circus: the first, a simple expansion to 16 teams (sounds a hell of a lot like that SFL plan we saw yesterday, eh?) with no plans to improve revenue streams to the lower divisions. Basically the bust breakaway that is the SPL would become a more bloated corpse.

The second "plan," if we can call it that, is for an SPL1 and SPL2 both consisting of 12 teams (presumably two broken leagues in rude health is better than one). Each team would play the others twice for a total of 22 games. Following these initial 22 games (try to stick with us here, it gets pretty ridiculous) the leagues would then merge, then split into three groups of eight. Each team would again play the teams in their respective pod, leading to a total of 36 games being played across the course of the campaign.

The first of these groups would be to decide the championship and European places, the bottom group to decide relegation and the new middle child to decide which clubs start in the SPL1 and SPL2 in the coming season.

The lunatics running the asylum have genuinely now lost the fucking plot. Of all the proposals and plans ever submitted or discussed this is by far the worst ever produced. One SPL doesn’t work? Attendances are falling? Clubs are struggling to survive? One is about to be liquidated? The league itself is insolvent? Better get ourselves another SPL then! It also sees Neil keep his beloved smaller league, which almost 90% want rid of.

I almost fell off my chair when I read the line “After two rounds, the leagues would then merge and split into three groups of eight.” It is simply the most ridiculous idea ever proposed in Scottish football. What the fuck are they thinking?! Fans hate the split, so instead of scrapping it they bring it back in the most convoluted and impractical fashion imaginable. Only a mind as warped as Neil Doncaster could deliver us two 12 team leagues which are actually a single 24 team league which is actually three smaller leagues. The solution to a problem is never to take what doesn’t work, double it and make it more complicated.

One of the biggest problems with this system is its cut throat nature. Finishing a few places lower in SPL1 could be the difference between competing for a European position and relegation to (presumably) SFL1. Neil Doncaster talks about avoiding ‘boring’ and ‘meaningless’ games; what he’s actually doing by forcing every club into a win at all costs situation is denying them the opportunity to give younger players a chance (wasn't it he who pushed through the U-21 rule we have?) while also hamstringing the chances of clubs playing expansive entertaining football. If every game is a ‘must win’ game, which it will be under these proposals, you will see cautious football with very little opportunity for young players to go and learn their trade.

What my faithful readers may not know is that my day job is designing computer and board games which for the most part involves balancing mechanics, i.e. making things that don’t work work. So here is how I would reconstruct our football system, and my secret is that I am going to be sensible:

A reshuffle of the management of the SPL and the SFA: A polite way of saying get to fuck Regan and take that square headed mongo Doncaster with you. The damage they have done to Scottish football at international and club level is staggering. The first priority for all clubs in Scotland should be to remove the cancerous leadership that will be constant roadblocks to positive change.

Bigger Leagues:  Occam's razor is a principle that suggests the simplest solution is more often than not the correct solution, in this case – if almost 90% of the supporters want a bigger league, give them a bigger league. Scotland has 4 divisions with 42 clubs, a top division of 12 teams and 3 lower divisions with 10 teams each. A country the size of Scotland has no need for 4 leagues. Reducing the number of leagues by increasing the sizes of the top division to 16-20 teams, with more promotion or relegation places across the leagues, is the most sensible and straightforward solution. (Part of the SFL's plan)

Play-off games: Something else fans are craving is promotion play-off places. The play-off system works well in England, with the Championship play-off final being one of the most watched football matches of the year. (Again, part of the SFL's plan)

A Proper Pyramid System:  Yet another implementation fans have been asking for. Fans want to see a system in place similar to the Blue Square Premier League in England where teams are promoted and relegated from the professional league setup.

Summer Football: This one is more polarizing. Personally speaking I don’t see why summer football isn’t already happening in Scotland. The one and only reason we keep to the current football calendar is tradition. Russia plays summer football. It is absolutely workable and, sadly, as all Rangers fans found out first hand in Manchester, Russian clubs are no mugs. Clubs can be successful with Summer football, and I can’t speak for anyone else but I would much rather pay to watch my club on a sunny July afternoon than a wet and windy day in December. Summer football would open up the game to more casual fans in a big way. Couldn't hurt our chances in Europe, either.

Hearts may not even survive to see these new plans come to pass, yet the SPL leadership will press on with proposals that aren’t even popular with their own member clubs who would prefer a 16 team setup.

My ideas here are broadly similar to what most fans want to see. The current proposals will lead Scottish further down a dangerous road of complicated solutions to a problem which seems an easy fix in most fans minds.

Andy is a regular contributor to the CRO. He can be found on Twitter at @iEmpire_Andy and via email: amcgowan@thecoplandroad.org