Hearts owner Ann Budge's league reconstruction plan to be ready within days
Budge’s priority above all else is devising a restructuring model which would expand the Premiership from 12 to 14 or potentially 16 teams, thus keeping Hearts in Scotland’s top flight.
The Edinburgh club suffered an enforced relegation to the Championship on Monday when the SPFL board ratified the termination of season 2019/20 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Budge is now talking to fellow owners and chief executives across all four divisions to garner opinions on reconstruction.
She intends to note all feedback and concerns to ensure whatever formal paper she puts forward is as robust and thorough as possible in order to stand the best chance of approval.
She would need to submit a members’ resolution for league reconstruction to the SPFL, which would then require a vote from all 42 clubs.
To pass, it would need 11 of the 12 Premiership teams to vote in favour – unless there was no change in prize money distribution and no extra teams being added to the existing 42. In that case, only nine top-flight clubs would need to say ‘yes’.
Either scenario would also require approval from eight teams in the Championship and 15 in total across League One and League Two. Hearts would be voting as a Championship side with their top-flight place taken by promoted Dundee United.
The Edinburgh businesswoman hopes clubs will at least look at a strategy for change after Premiership teams stated earlier this month that they would not discuss the issue during the coronavirus crisis.
That led to the collapse of the league reconstruction task force, led by Budge and the Hamilton vice-chair Les Gray, just two weeks after it was formed with the SPFL board’s blessing.
Budge was left frustrated that many in Scotland’s top division were unwilling to consider a restructure but she is now more hopeful of a rethink.
Whether she can garner sufficient support, particularly among the top 12, remains to be seen. She has put reconstruction top of her agenda for the moment and does not plan to discuss manager Daniel Stendel’s contract until she is certain which league Hearts will play in next season.
The German is technically a free agent after relegation was confirmed as his existing deal is only valid in Scotland’s top league. He is waiting to talk with Budge about his future once Hearts’ situation becomes clearer.
Stranraer and Partick Thistle were relegated from the Championship and League One respectively as a result of the decision to bring this season to a premature end.
They and several others will back Budge in her reconstruction attempts but it is those in the Premiership whose votes would be most crucial because of the 11-1 majority needed.
Budge is working tirelessly this week in the hope of being ready with her plan by Friday, if not before. She is eager to retrieve the situation after a wretched campaign in which Hearts won only four of 30 league games before Scottish football was shut down on March 13.
They languished at the bottom of the league at that stage, four points adrift of second-bottom Hamilton. With 24 points still available across the remaining eight matches, they remained hopeful of surviving had the fixture list been completed.
Budge firmly believes no club should suffer punishment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and is not yet giving hope of staying in the Premiership.
She is aware that the significant funds spent by Hearts in recent seasons under former manager Craig Levein should have ensured they were nowhere near the foot of the table.
Levein was sacked last October and Budge stands accused of leaving him in the job too long before finally taking action. He left Hearts bottom of the league and Stendel took charge in December, although form did not improve.
Reconstruction would be the simplest remedy to the mess from a Tynecastle perspective. That is Budge’s preferred option but, should it fail to materialise, she would then look at the possibility of legal action against the SPFL over the decision to send Hearts and others down a division.
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