By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 3, 2012) US Soccer Players – The Scottish Premier League kicks off this weekend down one Glasgow-based club but still in possession of a television deal. Even in the unchartered territory that the SPL finds itself, things could be worse. Sure, that TV deal includes showing a selection of Rangers games three leagues down but that was to be expected. The justice seekers among Scottish clubs might have decided they had a future without Rangers, but the wider world did not.
Rangers in exile is now the story for Scottish soccer, the point of interest for those that make up the difference between a small regional circuit and a viable league capable of sending competitive teams into European competition. If that sounds like a major reach, consider what it was that got Rangers into financial trouble in the first place. They didn't need that level of spending to keep pace in the Scottish Premier League. Relative to scale, competing in the SPL is significantly cheaper than trying to get to the knockout stage in either the Champions League or the Europa. The disparity in league points two clubs caused by focusing their efforts on Europe has yet to be significantly addressed by their fellow Scottish clubs. Even with one club left in the European hopeful category, the problem remains.
What's also still in play is the public appeal of Rangers. Scottish soccer's punishment phase backfired spectacularly. By dropping Rangers to the bottom of the professional pyramid, they jeopardized the game as a whole. Even in the parochial confines of the Scottish professional game, sponsorship and broadcast rights are the difference-maker. Without Rangers at Premier League level, the marketability of the game is impacted. Now, Rangers of all clubs are about to start out on some romantic ideal of the pro game. The team that was cast out trying to reclaim its rightful place. Add in some flowery language, and it's almost worthy of fiction.
Meanwhile, there's a Rangers-less Scottish Premier League season about to start. Most pundits have gone out on a shaky limb by picking... well, who else were they going to pick? The league belongs to the other half of the Old Firm now, and all involved know it.
Minus Rangers, duly punished for so flagrantly violating tax law and not being able to come up with a savior in time, all of Scottish soccer's problems remain firmly in place. It's still a top-heavy league even with one club. There's still the expectation that there will be a substantial gap in points between that club and everyone else. There's still the sizable problem of how to get the other clubs at Premier League level to spend enough to compete for a title. There's still the disparity between large and small in a league where there's more 50k-seat arenas at Rangers' new level than in the topflight. Thank Queens Park Rangers for playing at Hampden for that bit of trivia.
What comes next for Scottish soccer is difficulty. What form that takes is not all that hard to understand. The league as a whole needs Rangers back, but that's several seasons away. Any slip on their return journey and a resulting drop in interest potentially throws sponsorship and broadcast rights back into question. Rangers remain the story, overshadowing everything else since the Scottish Football League followed the Scottish Premier League's lead and all but banished them.
It's worth pointing out that Rangers have yet to fully regroup as the start of the Third Division season approaches. A week away, and there are several topflight players still on Rangers books that have no business playing their soccer in Scotland's fourth level. Though remarkably there are still those arguing that Rangers' punishment should've been worse, few are seeing a struggle for the club winning promotion this season.
How bizarre that in a search for a consensus on fair punishment, what Scottish soccer has really done is create the Premier League problem four levels down. The Third Division will see what it's like to compete against a club that, relative to scale, simply has more to work with. If things go as expected, it will be the Second Division's turn next season, then the First, and eventually we'll be back where we were.
Changing that has nothing to do with Rangers, or Celtic for that matter. It has to do with everybody else in Scottish soccer. As we wait for the start of Celtic's lopsided title run, not enough has changed.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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