By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (July 13, 2012) US Soccer Players – Well, if nothing else it's now abundantly clear how the rest of Scottish soccer feels about Rangers. Our 54-time Scottish league champions are now member of the Third Division, the bottom level of Scottish professional soccer.
It's an open question as to whether anybody without a rooting interest is still applauding the rest of the Scottish clubs for punishing Rangers as severely as possible. There's been enough media coverage of what Rangers outside of the Scottish Premier League means in terms of the ability to make money through broadcast rights and sponsorship, but that was with the cautious optimism that Rangers would be back in the topflight after a season. Now, under the guise of sportsmanship and integrity Scottish soccer has turned on itself.
Make no mistake, by opting for animosity over logic things are decidedly more difficult for Scottish professional soccer. It wasn't easy going before Rangers ran into trouble.
This wasn't Scottish soccer on the verge of a renaissance, held back due to the untenable spending of a team at the top of the table. Far from it. In real terms, Scottish soccer remains a top heavy league where everyone else from the teams making up the numbers at Premier League level to those down the divisions aren't keeping up. In other words, Scottish business as usual.
What that should do is temper the glee from those so happily branding Rangers as cheaters. The better question is why and the answer isn't flattering. As a group of clubs, Scottish soccer makes it very difficult to compete. In a real sense, Scottish club soccer cheats itself. Clubs unwilling to spend at an appropriate level that might create the kind of appeal that raises attendances outside of Glasgow and brings with it increases in sponsorship and television revenue. Thinking about basic structure that does more than give extra clubs the chance to under-achieve in the topflight. The unflattering realization that the Rangers scenario is an indictment of all involved.
In 2012-13 the clubs that voted Rangers into competitive irrelevancy can convince themselves what they've really created is an opportunity. They haven't, not in any attainable sense. What they've done is force a scenario that will show Scottish soccer as even more of an irrelevancy than it has already become. A circuit that chose to take things to the next level by turning it from a two-team league into a one-team league.
Remember, this is by choice. Popular vote decided that the whole of Scottish soccer was better off with half of their brand dropped multiple divisions. There was no mandate here, and they had better options.
Barring a Champions League run by Celtic, that's the kind of thinking that won't improve Scottish club soccer's reputation. The role of ethics enforcer won't balance out a basic imbalance on what it means to be a professional soccer club in Scotland.
Rangers went too far, but they did it while playing through a scenario that had them at their own competitive disadvantage. There's no support for the vanguard of Scottish soccer, spending to compete in Europe and thereby dominating Scotland. The other Premier League clubs look at their own situations and choose to leave that gap between themselves and the elite unchallenged. The teams at the top act like the elite in every other league in Europe, pushing past what their domestic league can reasonably support. The opportunity that's left isn't much of one. Cameo appearances in European competition with squads that aren't at a high enough level to impose their game becoming more pronounced season-by-season.
Again, that's not a new problem for Scottish clubs. It becomes difficult to determine a reasonable median. It's certainly not spending like Rangers, but at the same time it's also not hedging like the bulk of the Premier League teams. Is that median somewhere in the regular gulf of points between the Old Firm and everyone else, and will it ever work in both directions to bring realistic competition to the whole of the Premier League? That has to be a better question than how heavily to punish Rangers. Like we talked about a week ago, a willing investor before the team entered administration and it's business as usual in Scottish soccer. That seems to have gotten lost in the discussion of appropriate punishment.
Beyond the self high-fiving that goes along with punishing Rangers as severely as possible, is there even any hope that the broader attempt to revamp Scottish club soccer get any traction? In light of dropping Rangers to the bottom, will there be any enthusiasm for looking at the league structure as a whole and realizing substantial work is needed? Has Scottish club soccer made the sizeable mistake that punishing Rangers vindicates everyone else?
In the announcement that Rangers are a Third Division club, Scottish Football League chairman David A. Longmuir concluded with the following: "The Scottish Football League has been entirely consistent in our willingness to work with other bodies to ensure that we focus on rebuilding our game, restoring pride in our game and exploring revenue streams which allow the game to prosper. Our willingness to achieve these aims does not alter."
The feeling from the outside is that it's highly unlikely. Scottish club soccer is currently pleased with itself. They've shown the rest of the world that this is a league from top to bottom where financial impropriety will be treated with the upmost severity. Ok. now what?
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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