PEACE in our time, a brave new dawn or merely another false beginning?
When Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, Neil Doncaster, his counterpart at the Scottish Premier League, and David Longmuir of the Scottish Football League, gave an press conference at Hampden after more than four hours of talks, the immediate impression was of a seismic moment, a feeling that the 15 years of infighting that has followed the formation of the SPL was being cast aside for a brighter future.
Considering how difficult it was to agree on whose boardroom the conference should take place, the tri-partite agreement on a merger of the two league bodies, incorporating a 12-12-18 structure, with three mini-leagues of eight and a pyramid underneath, certainly seemed a serious undertaking. But the devil will be in the detail. Here Herald Sport tries to fill in a few blanks . . .
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Two leagues of 12 splitting into three leagues of eight. Didn't Austria and Switzerland try that then decide it was all a waste of time?
ND: "There was a desire to play the two big clubs in Austria at the time which was frustrated by the system and we don't actually have that problem at the moment."
DL: "It was a self-created prophesy 14 years ago but let's not go back to that. We are going forward on a basis which puts us back on the right track again."
So how will the three mini-leagues work? How many trophies will be handed out?
ND: "You've got different titles, effectively. You've got the overall Premiership, which is won at the end of the season; there will also be a Championship award after game 22 but you've got the winners of the three eights as well. So effectively you've got five potential prizes to be playing for as well as avoiding relegation. The top eight are vying for the championship and European places. The next eight is effectively an extended play-off zone, with four up and four down. The third eight are also playing to avoid relegation and, from that eight, potentially four could go down."
Will the second 12 clubs be decided on league placings or could teams be fast-tracked?
ND: "There is a genuine desire to ensure that sporting merit is the basis on which clubs fill the positions. I don't think there is any desire to accelerate any club falsely."
DL: "No club will move through the leagues any quicker than any other given any of the structures we have put in place. We are unanimous on that."
Isn't it a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic if you do nothing to address the lack of competitiveness at the top end?
ND: "It is the biggest clubs that are giving up the most money; the top eight in particular are funding the changes. There are real issues here: the moment a club is relegated you've got a massive disparity financially to deal with. The desire for a pyramid in the interests of the game as a whole is clear. There is an advantage to be gained ensuring a trickle down of wealth. That is hardly rearranging the deck chairs."
SR: "If you are going to get more clubs capable of competing then what you need are stronger clubs. So you need to be able to pass more money through the game."
Let's talk about the pyramid structure. Most junior clubs are reluctant to take part and some say Scotland already has enough clubs?
DL: "The pyramid needs the most work. There is still quite a lot to do within the third division and below to make sure that works and that there is a clear route back. Everyone has to know that if they were to go into a play-off spot at the bottom of the third, where they would go and how they were going to come back. The principle of opening up those places is something we have embraced."
SR "This is quite a breakthrough: the opening up of a pyramid so we get the Pollok to Parkhead mentality. What we would like to look at is what we can create in the lowland area of Scotland to ensure that any club that could be relegated from the third division has a place to go and play which they could come back from in the future. Obviously a pyramid isn't going to be for everybody but what we would like to do is not stifle ambition."
What about the merger? How will the names and office bearers be decided?
ND: "This is not about individuals. This is about ensuring we have a plan in place for a system which benefits 42 clubs. The detail of how we fill positions is for another day. Every club and level will be represented on the board; we just have to work through how the rulebook as a whole will work, including voting, but all clubs will have a vote."
DL: "There are very complimentary skills throughout the two organisations. The SFL is skill rich operationally, the SPL is rich in other areas, so combining complimentary skills doesn't faze us. We have an awful lot of work to do when you think how we operate now, albeit we are next door to each other."
SR: "There are legal challenges, commercial challenges, HR challenges, you name it. Whatever way the clubs decide to go, if they decide to accelerate it and put it in place for next season, we will be behind it."
Is a rebrand of the 'toxic' SPL on the cards?
DL: We are in agreement about how we re-brand the game and perhaps put a new face to Scottish football in terms of its image."
What about stadium criteria. Currently the SPL requires grounds with 6000 seats.
ND: "There has to be a recognition that the current criteria may be out of step with the economic reality. And we need to reflect the financial position of Scottish football. So for the SPL to take a more liberal approach would be the appropriate thing to do."
The Clydesdale Bank and Irn-Bru deals both expire this summer. What happens then?
DL: "Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be discussing with our sponsors what we've got and what we potentially may have. It adds value to what they currently get and we'd like to present our plans to sponsors."
ND: "There's huge power going to sell a single league for the whole of Scottish football; we should never lose sight of that."
And what about broadcasters, with the SPL TV contract still having two years to run?
ND: "We will have conversation with everyone who might be affected by this but the broadcast deals are in place. The deals accommodate the new structure."
So what happens next?
DL: "We need 75% of our clubs in favour of any major strategic change. We had nine of our clubs represented today and we still have another 21 to speak to. We meet in two weeks' time to present to the SFL clubs."
ND: "We need 11 clubs in favour but we already have approval in principle from all 12 [in the SPL]."