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Page last updated at 22:11 GMT, Wednesday, 20 October 2010 23:11 UK

SPL clubs appear to favour a 14-team top flight

Teams are anxious not to lose games against Rangers and Celtic
Clubs are anxious not to lose money-spinning fixtures with the Old Firm

By Chris McLaughlin

Scotland appears to be heading towards expansion of its top flight to 14 teams and the Scottish Premier League is confident change will happen.

The current 12 clubs on Wednesday held the latest in a series of meetings designed to improve Scottish football.

Chief executive Neil Doncaster stressed that no format or system had yet been decided upon at the Hampden gathering.

But he said: "The 12-team format is something that people perceive has possibly seen its best."

Talks have been ongoing for weeks between concerned chairman, who privately admit that drastic action is needed to give the top flight a boost.

BBC Scotland has gained access to detailed analysis undertaken by the clubs, who have been looking for the best way to fix what many see as a broken product.

All options have been considered, from a top flight of 10, all the way through to a league of 24.

There is a general recognition within Scottish football that something needs to change

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster

And, if the majority get their way, the new-look SPL will welcome two new teams and become a division of 14 and will also include one automatic relegation spot, with the second bottom side facing a play-off involving the top three from the second tier.

"I am absolutely delighted at the contributions that are being made some big thinkers in Scottish football," Doncaster told BBC Scotland.

"They are coming to the party, they are wanting to make a contribution and they want to help with the process of reaching a consensus."

The SPL board has been joined by representatives from other major clubs, with those involved including Hibernian's Rod Petrie, Celtic's Eric Reilly, Motherwell's Stewart Robinson, St Mirren's Stewart Gilmour, Aberdeen's Stewart Milne and chief executives from the Old Firm - Celtic's Peter Lawwell and Rangers' Martin Bain.

They will next meet on 1 November, but Doncaster suggested, although some clubs might want changes to be introduced next summer, that it would undermine the present competitions to make changes in mid-season.

"I think it would be ambitious - I am always hopeful that we can achieve things as soon as possible - but there is an awful lot of work to be done and we are only part way through the process," he said.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster

Proposed change to SPL explained

"There is a general recognition within Scottish football that something needs to change.

"It is vital that what we do is to achieve something that improves the whole of Scottish football going forward and is not just considered piecemeal.

"We are trying to put forward a whole package of measures that we can then put to the clubs and vote on, because ultimately we need 11 hands going in the air to achieve any change, so that consensus package is what we are working on."

Doncaster was referring to the SPL voting system, which requires an 11-1 majority, and pointed out that the clubs were looking for changes that will go further than the structure of their own league.

"The format of the top league is something that is obviously a key part of our deliberations, but it is only part," he said.

"What is important is that we put forward a plan for the whole of Scottish football and we do so with the best interests of all clubs at heart.

"We need to look at how we can shrink the coefficient gap that is existing between our league and a number of leagues in Europe.

"We have to look at how we improve our teams' performances in Europe, we have to look at how we get more people through the gates and how we can bring more money into the game and league reconstruction is just one of the areas we have to look at."

The plan is for each team to play each other once home and away (26 fixtures) before splitting into two sections, either six/eight or eight/six.

Teams would then play other teams in their section once more home and away.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

It means those in the post-split section of six would play 36 matches and those in the group of eight would play 40 games.

The SPL sees the main benefit of this format as the balancing up the games after the split, since there has been controversy in recent seasons surrounding the disparity of teams facing more away games than others.

Many fans favour a larger division still, but several chairmen are fearful of losing the financial benefits of playing the Old Firm clubs twice at home.

They also believe that anything bigger than a 14-team division would dilute the appeal of the league to broadcasters, leading to reduction in much-needed media revenue.

Doncaster was optimistic about the future of the SPL and Scottish football.

"In terms of per head of population, we are the best supported league in Europe," he added.

"We have a lot to shout about, but at the same time there is a general view, probably rightly, that 12 teams may have had its day and it is an opportunity to look at a different system as part of a number of different areas that we need to bring forward."



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see also
SPL clubs would not ditch split
14 Apr 10 |  Scottish Premier
Rangers call for end of SPL split
13 Apr 10 |  Rangers
Split provides thrills - Houston
13 Apr 10 |  Dundee Utd
Motherwell challenge SPL fixtures
12 Apr 10 |  Motherwell
Rangers boss favours 18-team SPL
05 Mar 10 |  Rangers


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