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League reform: let's hear it for 14-12-16

HeraldScotland poster TOM DALE, a Rangers and Partick Thistle fan who's been exiled in Washington DC for 15 years, has his own proposal for league reconstruction

Let me state it upfront. The 12-12-18 plan for league reconstruction is a good one, is a timely one, and is being proposed for the right reasons.

And the merging of the governing bodies is long overdue, to allow the Scottish game to move forward with a more united and democratic front. But I will say that the plan could be even better - more of that later.

See our new dossier on league reconstruction - and how you can shape the debate

       

Let's admit it - the SPL is a failing product, becoming staler with every season that passes. Change, right now, is a necessity.

Who would seriously defend the current set-up? Nobody. Regan, Doncaster, and the rest should be commended for seeing this, and for coming up with a plan that hits the target on most of the problems.

The SPL has become almost a closed shop, with only one team up and down each year. There is a core of eight teams who will always be there, then there is the rest of the SPL and the First Division clubs that scrap to either avoid the drop or get that prized single promotion place.

If a team loses its SPL place, it will be a long time before they get it back, if ever - ask Thistle, Falkirk, Dundee, Raith Rovers, and many others.

Competition is stifled, and leads to weeks or months of meaningless games. Ross County had their promotion sewn up long before the end of last season, while second place got you nothing.

The new plan takes this head on. With an 8-4 split in the mid season we have a real chance of an exciting top division as the 8 play for the title and 3 other European places. The next 8 play for four places at the top table. This ensures that the league will be exciting to the last game, and opens up a broad path to the top division.

But then we hit a problem. The third group of 8 will only be playing to avoid relegation. And the 18-team division will rapidly become the top few playing for a promotion chance, and the rest just seeing out the season. The good news is that this can be easily fixed, and spread competition and opportunity through all the leagues.

Here's how. Have a 14-12-16 set-up, with an 8-6 split in mid season for the top tier. Have a 6-6 split for the middle tier, and a 6-10 split for the lowest tier.

In the second half of the season, the top 8 play for the title and Europe, the next 12 play for six places in the top tier, the next 12 play for 6 places in the second tier, and the bottom 10 play for a league title, with, perhaps, financial rewards for the top teams.

What does this do? It opens up the top division even further, to 14 teams. And it ensures competitive lower divisions until the end of the season. Openness and competition are sadly lacking in Scottish football, and this gets us a long way there.

But, I can hear you say - how many games does this involve? More games - 40 for the top 8, 44 or 48 for the next 12, and 44 or 52 for the next 12.

Too many? Well, the much admired English Championship plays 46 games. And let's remember that for the smaller teams the problem is too few games, not too many. We can handle this. It might force us to start the season in mid-July - which, if you think about it, might give our clubs a chance of staying in Europe beyond August.

All this is based on the idea that teams playing each other four times a season is a good thing. I firmly believe it is.

If, for instance, you're a Dundee United supporter, would you rather see four games against Hearts, or two against Hearts and two against, say, Hamilton?

Or four games against Dundee, versus two Dundee and two Dunfermline? No disrespect to Hamilton or Dunfermline is intended. Its just a fact that we need to have more of what people want, not less. And remember this plan opens up more chances for Hamilton, Dunfermline and all the others to play in the top tier.

Finally there is the problem of Rangers. Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that they have a point - that winning a league, then playing the same teams again, is just not fair.

This plan helps there too. They will play the same 9, plus 6 others - then, assuming they are in the top six, a new set of six from the higher division. There is no fast track for them, but they get the change of scenery that seems to be at the bottom of their complaint.

Scottish football needs a lot to get into decent shape - academies, better grounds, more punters through the turnstiles, more money into the game from sponsorship and TV.

League reconstruction is only the start of an answer. But it's easy to do, and invigorated competition will kick-start the process.

The leaders of our game have made a good start with 12-12-18 - just tweak it to 14-12-16 and it is even better.

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