IT is awards season, with the PFA Scotland dinner taking place last night, and our own Scottish Football Writers’ Association event taking place in a couple of weeks’ time.

As well as providing a golden opportunity to get blootered on the company’s dime, the SFWA awards ceremony allows us to recognise those players who have excelled throughout the course of the season, and the decisions in the various categories are usually difficult ones.

When it comes to the Young Player of the Season Award this term though, the call has presented a mental challenge comparable to that of the Rubik’s Cube.

You see, while foreign players like Liel Abada, Matt O’Riley and Malik Tillman could be nominated alongside Albion Rovers sensation Charlie Reilly for the PFA Award, the SFWA version of this particular honour comes with some stipulations. The most challenging one of which this year, and most other seasons in fairness, is that the nominated player must be Scottish.

READ MORE: Six Celtic and Rangers youth standouts as attackers light up cup final

Trying to find a standout Scottish youngster under the age of 21 has been an eye-opening exercise into the lack of first-team minutes that our homegrown players are actually receiving at Premiership level. Regular starters that fit the bill fall into the hen’s teeth category.

Adam Montgomery of St Johnstone, on loan from Celtic, has racked up the most starts of any player aged 21 or under when the season began, with 23. Next on the list is Ethan Erhahon, who left St Mirren in January, with 20.

Dean Cornelius has had some decent minutes at Motherwell, while his teammate Max Johnston has been a regular at Fir Park since returning from a loan spell at Cove Rangers. But Johnston could soon be the latest example of one reason behind the lack of young Scots currently strutting their stuff in their own top league.

A host of European clubs are known to be interested in signing Johnston in the summer, and he looks certain to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Aaron Hickey and Josh Doig in seeking to further his fledgling career abroad.

The prevalence of young Scottish talent in high-level European leagues is a success story, and it could be argued that our best young talent being tempted away at increasingly early ages is one of the explanations behind their scarcity in the Premiership.

Ben Doak would surely be playing on a fairly regular basis for Celtic now had he not joined Liverpool, though remarkably, he has played more often for Jurgen Klopp than he did while at Celtic Park. Calvin Ramsay would be the starting right-back at Aberdeen had he not followed Doak to Anfield.  

Similarly, Dylan Reid would probably be a fixture in the St Mirren side by now had he not joined Crystal Palace in January. And there have been many others who have been spirited away before they have even made an impression at first-team level for the clubs that reared them.

Undoubtedly though, the composition of the Scottish Premiership and the fear the size of the league engenders at every level of it is also a factor.

It goes without saying that young players shouldn’t be thrown in without earning it, but they shouldn’t have to do more to earn that chance than inferior ‘experienced’ players.

READ MORE: Celtic homegrown player quota could influence summer transfers

Celtic and Rangers are reluctant to throw in kids as any slip ups could cost them the title. At the other end of the table, a fear of losing livelihoods on the back of relegation inhibits managers from giving their own talent a chance, even though in many cases, they are also reliant on developing talent and selling it on as part of their financial model.

Nobody wants to see ‘meaningless games’, which was after all one of the driving reasons behind the introduction of the split, but in theory, expanding the number of teams in the league would provide something of a buffer for teams to give younger players more minutes by removing some of the jeopardy around their top-flight status.

However, while there are enough clubs of a reasonable size currently outwith the Premiership who would contribute and compete in it, we all know that any risk to the SPFL’s main broadcasting partner losing out on four Old Firm fixtures a season will never be countenanced.

What can realistically be done then to ensure that our top-flight teams give more young Scottish players an opportunity in their first teams?

Well, while I am always loath to compare our game to that south of the border, the Homegrown Player Rule initiative in the EPL is something that the SPFL could also look to adopt, where clubs are allowed a maximum of 17 ‘non-homegrown’ players in a maximum squad size of 25.

So, in every squad, there would have to be at least eight ‘homegrown’ players, defined currently as a player that has spent at least three years at a club before the age of 21. While UEFA regulations are broadly similar, and affect our clubs, they do allow ‘homegrown’ players to be ‘association trained’.

Greg Dyke, the former chairman of the FA, was a driving force behind this proposal, and he wants it to go further, with that age limit reduced to 18. As players cannot move across international boundaries until they are 16, that would mean homegrown players would have to start at any club by the age of 15, further limiting the number of ‘foreign’ players that can be classed as ‘homegrown’.

That would be a radical step if adopted here, and one that would be met with resistance no doubt. Clubs such as Celtic and Rangers may argue that their best young talent is currently being hoovered up by English teams, so they shouldn’t be forced to play Scottish players who are not up to the standard of their imports.

The point though is to force these clubs to invest more in their facilities and their efforts in developing that elite talent, and providing them with first team opportunities, so that they won’t be as easily tempted away when these things are offered to them elsewhere.

As things stand, the Scottish Premiership simply isn’t the place to see the best young Scottish talent, and it is a place that actively limits their potential to flourish.