There is an element of that about how Scottish football is working out how to deal with Rangers. The Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League have a history of rubbing each other up the wrong way but – with the Scottish Football Association acting as marriage-brokers – they are being coaxed into becoming unlikely bedfellows.
The motivation is obvious: the authorities are trying to find a mechanism for punishing Rangers while limiting the damage suffered by anyone else. No deals have been done and no agreements reached yet, although talks among all three governing bodies and member clubs are occurring daily. From those discussions, a picture is emerging of an outcome which could be acceptable to the greatest number of clubs and, crucially, their supporters. In essence it would mean newco Rangers not being allowed into the SPL when clubs vote on their application on July 4, but the other 11 clubs rejecting them on the understanding that the Scottish League would accept them into the first, rather than the third, division.
By showing that they had voted "no to newco", clubs could puncture the threat of boycotts from those among their own supporters who are hyper-sensitive about any perceived leniency towards Rangers. A benefit would be the probable retention of the Sky television deal. The broadcaster would tolerate a year without Rangers and Old Firm games but not the three-season absence which would entail from them starting again in the bottom division. Other commercial partners may be inclined to take a similar view. SPL clubs would have only one year without the commercial benefits of Rangers' travelling support.
Crucially, too, Rangers' absence would allow the others to remove the requirement for an 11-1 majority on votes on financial matters. Only Celtic would benefit from maintaining the status quo, but without Rangers they would lose the vote. The Scottish League is in a stronger position than at any time since the larger clubs split from it to form the SPL 14 years ago. In return for accepting Rangers into the first division, the Scottish League would seek an immediate return of play-offs to open up a second promotion spot from the first division to the SPL. New agreements would also be sought on distribution of broadcasting income.
The SFL will almost certainly ask for a one-off payment to "compensate" its clubs for accepting Rangers in their top division rather than at the bottom. That money would be distributed among all 30 clubs, including those in the third division who have been contemplating the possible arrival of Rangers and thousands of their fans next season.
David Longmuir, the SFL chief executive, sent a circular to all 30 of his clubs yesterday, effectively asking them to be ready to be called to a meeting at short notice to discuss the Rangers scenario. "We will be doing nothing without their involvement because that comes first," Longmuir told Herald Sport. "Their involvement could be needed at fairly short notice, but we have it in our rules that we can call a meeting quite quickly. We have to do the right thing for the game here as well as protecting the interests of the SPL. All we're looking to do is see if there is a solution that the SFL can accommodate. If so it will be done in the best interests of the SFL and the game."
Rangers being denied entry to the SPL would create a vacancy to be filled next season by either Dunfermline Athletic, newly relegated, or Dundee, who finished runners-up in last season's first division.
Redrawing Scottish football to allow a newco Rangers into the first rather than third division could be done via a deal between the SPL and SFL but there is a mood to go further and merge those bodies entirely. The SFA have been pushing for unification of the leagues for a couple of years but a merger now – perhaps called the Scottish Professional Football League – is seen as more realistic than at any time since it was proposed in Henry McLeish's Independent Review of the Scottish game. With compromise and concessions, common ground can be found.
The obstacles are significant, and all underpinned by the self-interest which has undermined the Scottish game for years. What if the SPL believes it is being held to ransom by the SFL and will not cough up the asking price for placing Rangers in the first division? What if the SFL cannot be convinced that if it takes Rangers now the SPL will keep its word and deliver the agreed structural changes six months or a year down the line?
The SFA's Appellant Tribunal could yet suspend Rangers entirely. But what if the SFA urged the club to accept the 12-month transfer embargo it has already successfully contested at the Court of Session? If that was re-imposed to take effect from September 1, Rangers would be banned from signing anyone for two full transfer windows but, crucially could prepare for that by making additions to its squad this summer.
Rangers may think it unfair that the newco is being punished for the sins of the oldco, and that exclusion from the SPL amounts to a punishment for not disclosing Employee Benefit Trusts payments before the investigation into that has returned a guilty verdict. But Rangers' are weak and entirely dependent on others to shape their future. They cannot play in the SPL if the clubs aren't prepared to vote them in and, if they're going to end up in the Scottish League, they are better off having only one year rather than three in the comparative wilderness.
A year ago it would have been utterly unthinkable that Rangers may be forced out of the SPL and into the lower leagues; now there will be hardliners at other clubs claiming there should be no special treatment and they should be dealt with the same as any other newco, starting again at the very bottom. It will be up to their chairmen to sell the idea to them as a way of hurting Rangers without having to foot the bill for it.
The governing bodies want to redraw Scottish football so that there is a greater good to be salvaged from the club's implosion: tangible punishment for Rangers, limited financial pain for others while they're out of the SPL, and structural changes for the good of the game. It is a proposal motivated by neither leniency nor bloodlust towards Rangers, but pragmatism.