AS I wrote in my last blog post, my impetus for writing this series was to show how the total mess the SRU has managed to make of attempting to implement change, via its Super-6/Agenda-3 project, (I will refer to this hereafter as S6A3) might reflect onto football.
[I fear, however, the SRU left the detail to a bunch of front five “donkeys”, the big men who shift the pianos, rather than the smaller men who actually play them. (This is a reference to a French description of a rugby team – eight piano shifters (the forwards) and seven piano players (the backs).]
The whole S6A3 nonsense was kicked-off, allegedly, by Scotland's Australian Director of Rugby, Scott Johnson, declaring the BT Premiership, the top level of the club game, being: “Unfit for purpose.” The problem with this view was, he seemed to be saying the BT Premiership clubs ought to be preparing their players to step-up to the full-time ranks, with the two fully-professional teams: Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors; the Premiership clubs thought their job was to win their bloody league.
Edinburgh and Glasgow are rugby's equivalent of Celtic and Rangers – competitors, but, without the nasty, sectarianism. They play in the multi-national Guinness PRO14 League, against four Irish, four Welsh, two Italian and two South African clubs, and they play in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup – rugby's equivalent of the Champions and Europa Leagues.
But, enough about egg-chasing; what lessons are there for football?
If we take the PRO14 to be (football) Premiership standard, then the (rugby) Premiership is probably League One standard. The clubs are all part-time, and, in truth, only a very few of the players will make it to the higher level, having missed-out as younger players. However, if we look at the SRU's proposals as a means of raising standards, they are laudable.
The over-riding “buzzword” around S6A3 is “Sustainability”. This does not mean, as it appears to with football's League One and Two clubs: “If we can draw one or other of the Old Firm in the Scottish or League Cup, we'll be fine for another season or so.” The clubs need to demonstrate they have a strategic plan, both in terms of the playing and financial aspects of the game and their continuing. When the top clubs applied for one of the six franchises, they had to submit their books to Murrayfield, they had to have a strategic plan as to how they would grow their franchise, and, they had to agree to certain facilities:
- Good floodlighting
- A 3G or 4G pitch
- Proper support staff – administrative, medical and strength and conditioning, with good facilities
- They have to demonstrate how they intend paying for this.
I wager, if the SFA was to put such a proposal to most of our 42 Senior clubs, Tom Johnston at the SJFA would suddenly have a surge in membership applications.
But, why shouldn't the SFA insist that the member clubs install decent pitches and upgrade their facilities?
To hark back to rugby, while the improved results under Gregor Townsend undoubtedly helped, Glasgow Warriors have succeeded in growing a genuine support, partially through offering terrific facilities and: “a great spectating experience” at Scotstoun. Nothing wrong with Firhill – their former home – but, Scotstoun is more-modern and better. Might football benefit from going down this route?
So, to drive forward my hypothesis:
- The SFA restructures to have a set number of “Senior” clus, say a maximum of 20.
- It sets-out the criteria for membership of this “Senior” status
- It invites clubs to apply for these “Senior Football Franchises”
- These applications, particularly the financial aspects, are scrutinised by an independent board, who recommend the clubs to be invited to participate.
- If, initially, 20 clubs cannot meet the criteria, they go with those clubs which can, while unsuccessful bidders will be given notice of where they need to improve their applications, and are assured, if you meet the criteria, you will get in, up to a maximum of 20 clubs.
Suppose they succeed in getting 20 applications which meet all the criteria. How then do they operate the conferences? How about:
Jock Stein Conference Alex Ferguson Conferences
Dundee Dundee United
St Johnstone Aberdeen
Inverness Caledonian Thistle Ross County
St Mirren Greenock Morton
Kilmarnock Partick Thistle
Dunfermline Athletic Queen of the South
Hamilton Academical Motherwell
Format of the Season – Part One, Regular Season:
- Each team plays every other team in their conference, home and away – 18 games
- Each team plays every team in the opposite conference at least once – 10 games
- 28-game regular season programme to give conference positions
Format of the Season – Part Two, Post-Season Play-Offs:
- The top three sides in each conference qualify automatically for the play-offs
- The sides in fourth and fifth in each conference play cross-conference “wild card” games to decide the final two teams for the play-offs. Fourth in one conference plays fifth in the other.
- These final eight clubs then play two-legged (home and home) knock-out games down to a Grand Final, at Hampden. In the play-downs, the lower-ranked team has home advantage in the first leg of each tie.
- The losing teams at each level play each other in a one-off game for final league position. The 12 teams not involved in the final eight also play off across the conferences for final league positions.
- Thus, the top eight finish-up: Finalists – winner and runner-up; losing semi-finalists play off for 3rd and 4th; losing quarter-finalists play-off for 5th to 8th; losing wild-card teams play for 9th and 10th.
- Those teams which did not even qualify for the wild-card games - 6th to 10th in each conference, play- off against their equivalent in the other conference to decide positions 11th to 20th in the overall league
- Prize money and European competition places are decided on these final 1-20 placings.
Levelling the playing field
- Each club would only be able to register 25 players
- An agreed, high percentage of these players, perhaps 70% would have to be Scottish-qualified
- Consideration to be given to a salary cap – to assist sustainability of the league
Part Three to follow.