'Everyone can't be a winner in league vote as money talks for SPFL'
This is really a job for John Curtice, but in the absence of the good professor and his uncanny ability to predict the future, we're left to make this judgement on our own. Is Scottish football about to call time on the 2019-20 season or not? The numbers would suggest yes, just about.
As a recap, for the leagues to be declared over, for Celtic to be crowned champions, Hearts to be relegated, Dundee United to be promoted, Partick Thistle to go down and so on through the divisions, nine of the Premiership clubs need to vote for it. Right now, with the SPFL stating the outcome for the top flight would be delayed until after 23 April, it would only appear that Rangers and Hearts are against it. So the resolution will pass its first test.
Next, it needs 15 of the 20 League One and League Two clubs to also vote for it. That looks straightforward. Some of these clubs are bleeding financially and need the injection of cash that calling the leagues would deliver in days. Right now, there's about £8m of TV money sitting in the SPFL bank account awaiting distribution, but it can only be released when final league places are known. The 15 votes required from the bottom rungs will be won easily enough.
The battleground is the Championship. Eight of the 10 clubs are required to vote for the resolution. Partick Thistle are not voting for it. That means the SPFL board need eight votes from nine clubs. As it stands it looks like seven are likely. The one extra vote required to get this resolution passed could conceivably come down to Inverness or Dundee.
'A serious amount of politicking is going on in the shadows'
If one votes the way of Neil Doncaster the thing is done and the season is over. If both go against, then the resolution could well fail and we remain in limbo. The bold Curtice would call this confidently and with a knowing smile. We do so more hesitantly and in the knowledge that there's a serious amount of politicking going on in the shadows, politicking that will continue until the deadline for votes expires on Friday at 17:00 BST.
Previously, Hearts owner Ann Budge said she'd consider legal action if the season was called early and Hearts were relegated. Maybe she'll follow through with that, but if the resolution passes Hearts will have a hard job going against what would be considered a democratic vote of a members organisation. The legal route would be costly and risky. There was no mention of it in her statement of Wednesday night.
Budge was critical of what she said was a lack of sufficient consultation before this vote was sprung upon the clubs. Rangers and Partick Thistle also issued strongly worded statements criticising the attempt to "railroad" clubs into making a decision.
Why the rush? Some clubs are crying out for clarity. In this case, clarity is another word for cash. Much of Scottish football lives a precarious lifestyle. Month on month, it's hand to mouth. In the best of times, many clubs find it tough going. These are the worst of times and clubs are hurting.
The £8m that's being held by the SPFL until the season concludes? The SPFL says that according to league rules the money can't be passed on to the clubs until final league positions are known. It's clear as day in the articles of association, it says. Not a bob can be dished out until the league is officially over.
Rangers and Hearts are challenging this. They don't see why rules can't be changed to get the money released to those most in need without having to call the league first. They want it released now. They want the articles changed so the wolf can be kept from the door of the most vulnerable clubs. Free up the money and buy every club time to think calmly about the next step. Park the vote. That's their mantra.
To carry on with their train of thought, Rangers and Hearts want the season to resume whenever possible. They want the remaining matches completed and natural justice served, whether it's the title for Celtic or the drop for the Jambos. At least then there would be no excuses and no asterisks. It's the fairest thing to do, they say. And, of course, they're right.
'As much as we want fairness, the point is finance'
Everybody wants fairness, but not everybody is going to get it. It's not possible for all parties to come out of this smiling. The notion that the current season can be completed is not a particularly realistic proposition at this point. Not when you look at what that actually means. It would be extremely optimistic to think that there will be any football played in this country before August. Even that might be a touch hopeful.
But if you are resuming the current season in August, then it'll be mid to late September by the time you're done and it could be late October by the time the new season begins. Bin the winter break, reduce the number of league games, get rid of Scottish Cup replays and do away with the Betfred Cup entirely if you have to and you might get the season over by the time the Euros begins next summer, which is a must.
Sure, do all of that. But at what cost? As much as we want fairness, the point here is finance. The longer the current season goes on the more jeopardy the new television deal is put under. Being beholden to a TV company will stick in the craw of some, but that ship sailed a long time ago. The money is invaluable, especially the amount of money that we're talking about.
That new deal is worth about £125m to the Scottish game. It's obligated to begin in August, or as close to August as is feasible. If we're still playing the 2019-20 season through August and September then the SPFL fear that the contract is compromised. If there's a hope that Sky Sports will just shrug and accept a delayed start, perhaps as late as October or November depending on what happens next with Covid-19, without imposing financial penalties then it's likely to be a forlorn one.
Whether you agree with their rationale or not, that's what's driving the SPFL board (with the exception of Stewart Robertson of Rangers who sits on the board) and its resolution to end the season. The financial implications of not ending it are wholly unpalatable to them. As one senior voice in the Scottish game said of calling the season: "To do otherwise and to try to finish 2019-20 would be to knacker your new broadcast deal - and that's a deal that is massively important. We need to protect it. We've been talking about this every hour God sends."
'The Premiership will follow suit'
The carrot to the disaffected clubs is the talk of league reconstruction, something that the SPFL have agreed to engage with in a "meaningful way at the point when the resolution has passed, if it passes". That would be the much talked about 14-team Premiership with three other divisions of 10, a structure that would see Hearts staying in the top flight and Partick Thistle staying in the Championship.
The reality of that passing? In terms of the vote the threshold is high. It would need 11 of the 12 Premiership clubs to vote for it, eight of the 10 in the Championship and 15 of the 20 in the other two divisions. That would bring two extra clubs into the structure and two more mouths to feed. A big negative for some. There's still a chance of it going through for one season only with the structure reverting to normal the season after, but it would be a very tight decision. Budge won't be banking on it, that's for sure.
If the SPFL resolution passes then the three lower leagues are over for this season, but the Premiership will remain unsettled for now. That's just politics at play. The Premiership will follow suit soon after. For the moment, for Champions League and Europa League qualification purposes, it has to wait until Uefa gives it permission to bring an end to the season, which is expected to happen after the meeting of its executive committee on 23 April.
If the SPFL numbers add up on Friday, the conclusion of the 2019-20 season is a fait accompli. If the numbers don't add up, they'll try the vote again and again in slightly different forms, like a Conservative government trying to get Brexit through.
Underpinning all of it is that TV deal and the money it will generate and the impossibility, as the SPFL sees it, of protecting it next season without calling this season over first.