While the majority of sport has quite correctly been suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it may give Scottish football a golden opportunity for change.
With the football season in limbo for the foreseeable future, this unfortunate incident may allow Scottish Football to make a couple of changes for the betterment of the leagues and the national teams.
There is now a major opportunity to completely change how the football leagues in Scotland run. I think that they should follow the lead of Rugby League and move to Summer football. It has been discussed sporadically for many years, with the main concern being the dead period between the Summer and the new season starting in the early months of the new year, but with the pandemic making the timing of the completion of the season unclear, this may be once in a lifetime opportunity.
With the Scottish coefficient dropping down with UEFA (though there has been an upward trend recently), the teams that qualify for European football are getting less and less time to prepare for the start of qualification for UEFA competition. This along with clubs being deprived of some of their international players, who are either in their rest period, or competing at the Summer Championships, has not helped either the individual clubs or the nations coefficient.
If the SPFL and SFA do not take the opportunity to move to summer football, which is their choice, it should once and for all be jettisoned as an idea.
So the Pros and Cons of Summer football as I see it.
Disclaimer: I may have missed some of them.
- It will allow the season 2019-20 to be completed and the Champions, promotion and relegation achieve a complete legitimacy, this will remove any rush or unsatisfactory completion. There are at least eight league games and two cup matches (excluding play-off matches) to play.
- Likelihood of cancelled games due to inclement weather is reduced
- Better conditions for playing football, weather and condition of pitch
- Less competition for TV money (an increase in potential income)
- Midweek match availability would be increased as less UEFA competition matches played at this time
- Ability to give players a decent break every year.
- Teams will be well into the season and ready for European qualification, which will improve the coefficient and the standing in European Football.
- Players not being lost to AFCON and Asian Cup (played in January/February)
- What happens when FIFA and UEFA championships are on, there is potentially an 8-week window where international players would potentially be unavailable.
- Cash Flow, as they clubs would have a lack of income for a period of time, between June and January.
The only issue I have highlighted can be addressed as has been shown in Scandinavian countries. Sweden (who only play 30 league matches, and that is a completely different argument), start their season at the start of April and finish by the middle of November. This season there was a plan for a four week break in June. While Finland, who have a 12 team, 33 game league, have a similar start and end date. The season can be structured depending on the qualification of the national team for the major championship. If they do not then they a break in June would not be necessary. While that may be deemed as unfair, if a club has international players from other nations, it has been an issue for years, when clubs have lost players to AFCON. Hibernian last year lost three players during January 2019 for the and before that a training camp in the build up to that tournament. They did not complain and accepted that was part and parcel of having international players.
If this format is undertaken, and Summer football is played, I feel that it will give a satisfactory finish to this unprecedented season. The season would be played to a finish and there would no issues regarding the promotion / relegation issues, and it would probably lead to Heart of Midlothian being relegated (deserved due to their performance in the first half of the season). What they could also do to remove any cash flow issues is extend next season as a one off to make the season 44 games (and no universally disliked split). The season could start earlier than April, as the players would have had an extended break, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
As a final footnote, I would play the Scottish Cup, during the season, culminating with the Cup Final at the end of August (similar to the Challenge Cup in Rugby League).