IF ever there was an activity which requires the ability to place hope above experience, it is the business of preparing proposals for league reconstruction in Scottish football.
No sooner had an exciting coloured flowchart entitled 'A Dynamic and Simple Framework for Growth' appeared at Hampden yesterday, than a job lot of time-served Scottish Football League chairmen were trotting out of the national stadium, speaking in matter-of-fact tones about the chances of the project ever becoming a reality.
For all the lower division clubs' unanimity over a 16-10-16 future for the game in this country from the summer of 2014 onward – the controversial proposed introduction of Old Firm 'colt' teams has been parked for now – the only mechanisms whereby it could come into being would be if 11 of the SPL's 12 member clubs effectively decided to disband the top flight, or else if the rump of SPL clubs decided to begin the two-year process of resigning en masse. With the SPL having their own patterns for league reconstruction – either a 16-team top flight or two leagues of 12 have been mooted – they may just feel their chances of persuading four SFL clubs to break ranks are better than the SFL talking 11 of them into a change of allegiance.
With a motion to change SPL voting rights on major changes from 11-1 to 9-3 still unsigned, it is entirely plausible this scheme could result in a further impasse when it is put to the Scottish Football Association's professional game board at the end of the month. Turnbull Hutton, the Raith Rovers director, feels the onus would then be on Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, to take firm leadership, or that an independent body should adjudicate on the issue.
"The feeling in our meeting was pretty unanimous," said Hutton. "The SPL will have to think about that, but you would hope that between the two organisations we can come up with something that is workable for both sides. If not, we are at a stand-off, but something has to happen. At that stage, the SFA would probably have to step in. That would be the next port of call. An independent body coming in to achieve a solution has to be on the table. We can't go on with two bodies putting things up, for the other to knock down. How long have we been going on like that? Stewart Regan's role will be pretty crucial. I don't want to say bang heads together, but there is probably an element of that."
There is a weariness about predictions in the wake of last summer's talk about Rangers, but Hutton believes the writing is on the wall for SPL clubs. "There will be a slow lingering decline," he said. "If you don't excite the fans, give them what they want, and crowds keep dropping, it's going to be difficult for clubs. I'm not saying it will be armageddon. It's not falling off the cliff, but it will be harder for clubs long-term. There is a market. Clubs are seeing that, but it's a question of galvanising it going forward."
Gordon McDougall, the Livingston chairman and another arch-critic of the SPL, admitted in all likelihood the discussions could be rendered irrelevant. "There was a broad consensus, nobody spoke against it, and it had good support, so it is an interesting proposal," McDougall said. "The colt teams were parked rather than dropped, we all have our own views on that. The problem is that it will require an 11-1. Today's discussion was meaningless without something happening in the SPL. If the 11-1 disappeared we would have a better chance. But we are not party to that. Until that happens, I would say the chances are very much against."
The SFL's office bearers and their clubs were rightly proud of their document, which incorporates a revamped league cup, the first nod to the introduction of a pyramid structure and the prospect of a full-blown merger between SFL and SPL.
"It's predicated on what we call Freedom To Succeed," said David Longmuir, the SFL chief executive. "It's about protecting full-time and part-time football. It involves development of a pyramid structure for Scottish football by opening one place up at the bottom and involves the amalgamation of the two organisations. Even the three names – the First Division of Professional Football, the Championship of Professional Football and the Premier League of Professional Football – are quality names that are premium in terms of aspiration."
They even went as far as calculating the number of meaningless games under a new structure. They might just have a job persuading the SPL to go along with it.