By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (July 6, 2012) US Soccer Players – Oh Scotland, what are you really thinking? Our friends north of Hadrian’s Wall are losing the plot over Rangers in all directions. Allow them back into the Scottish Premier League, and some would have the basic integrity of that august competition crumbling. Punish them fully by making them re-enter the professional game at the lowest level, and we’re talking civil unrest. Or something.
For those arguing that the rest of Scottish soccer will take a learned decision when it comes to Rangers, forget about it. The representatives of other clubs who would very much like to be the top tier’s elite are going to act in their immediate self-interest. We’ve already seen that from the SPL, who noted Rangers out. It’s worth asking if any of them really believe that preserving the sanctity of their league will keep them warm at night while losing significant sponsorship money and general interest.
Though it’s easy enough to confuse the issue here, what’s in play is simple. A minor European league with two elite teams is knowingly changing that to one elite team. Set aside everything else, because that’s the big picture issue for Scottish soccer. We can talk about economic models, financial impropriety, and the basic rules that should govern the appropriate conduct of clubs, but all of that has to be weighed against the realities of a struggling league.
Make no mistake, the Scottish Premier League won’t emerge from this any stronger. There’s an old saying in MLS circles that no fan roots for single-entity. That may or may not be true, but it can be reworded to give it more meaning. Not enough fans vote for single-entity. Scotland’s attempts to prove a point will cost them more than punishing Rangers, and it doesn’t take an advanced degree in ethics to tease out why.
The whole of Scottish professional soccer got them to the point where punishing one club could endanger all of them. This didn’t just happen. It’s been an ongoing process over decades, and part of it is the same system that put Rangers and Celtic in that odd space caught between domestic success and trying to compete in Europe. Again, that model applies to all clubs in Scotland. There’s a domestic price point and a European price point, with arguably all the clubs outside of the Old Firm not even spending enough to get into the domestic conversation.
We can stop here and consider that. It’s not a new point to argue that the Old Firm is the long-term problem in Scottish soccer. Even before Rangers collapsed financially, the model was broken. Two clubs dominate, spending more on players and filling stadiums twice the size of anybody else’s. It’s their game, with the rest of the league as role players. That has to get old for clubs and fans alike. With that in mind, who wouldn’t take the opportunity to say publicly that the less ambitious model was right all along?
It’s the Scottish league in theory and practice, with Rangers getting liquidated in a season where they still finished second all the proof anyone should need. To simply wipe that out and return them to their expected place in the Premier League? Why would any of the other clubs even consider that?
Well, we’re back to the broader problems with Scottish soccer. This is a situation where they have to consider the broader costs to the game. Yes, that cuts both ways. Allowing any club to flaunt rules and be inconvenienced rather than punished speaks to that credibility issue. At the same time, a Scottish Premier League with Celtic but not Rangers also speaks to a credibility issue. For a league that has already seen its European coefficient drop, they’re in serious danger of irrelevancy.
Those running Scottish soccer were already discussing yet another format change before Rangers went into administration. It has to be worth acknowledging that had Rangers found a savior willing to shoulder their debts, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. They would’ve avoided administration entirely, replacing their fellow clubs voting on league position with the expected grumbling that the Old Firm play by different rules. That’s exactly the point, they do.
Remember what we’re talking about. Whenever discussions of Scottish soccer get past the Old Firm, it’s a return to the early 80’s when Alex Ferguson was managing Aberdeen. Thirty years gone, and aside from tinkering with formats Scottish club soccer remains trapped in a scenario where it’s Rangers, Celtic, and everybody else. Cut that to Celtic and it’s a ridiculous setup.
This is a league knowingly creating a scenario where there could be a 30-point gap between first and second. Even a single season of that could be enough of a turnoff to severely hamper a struggling league. What Scotland has been facing for decades is a systematic problem that has yet to be adequately addressed. Two teams spend, most teams don’t, and the result is a top-heavy league that relies on those two clubs to drive its value in the marketplace.
Again, we’re not talking about a league in theory enforcing a code of financial regulations. We’re talking about the Scottish Premier League in particular, and Scottish professional soccer in general, taking a substantial step in the wrong direction.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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