A new Scottish Lowland League could be up and running by June 24 if meetings of the Scottish FA and Scottish Football League this week are successful.
Clubs in the East of Scotland League, South of Scotland League and the Junior FAs were recently invited by the governing body’s chief executive, Stewart Regan, to apply to be part of the new division, which is hoped will form part of a pyramid system to supplement the senior leagues.
Teams have until this Wednesday to state their case for an invitation into the new league, which is expected to get the approval of the Scottish FA at its AGM on Tuesday.
A further meeting will then be held involving the interested parties as to whether to establish the Lowland League in time for the 2013/14 season. A decision would be taken on Monday, June 17 as to which clubs would be invited to take part.
STV understands the Scottish Football League’s vote on league reconstruction will likely influence how soon the division will come into effect.
A “42-club solution”, which would see the amalgamation of the SPL and SFL, proposes promotion and relegation between the Third Division and the fifth level of the Scottish game, creating a pyramid system.
Under the plans, a play-off would be held between the winners of the Highland and Lowland Leagues, with the winner going on to face the bottom club in the Third Division for the right to a place in the Scottish Professional Football League.
STV understands consideration is being given to between 10 and 16 clubs being involved in the Lowland League in its inaugural season, with a 14-team league the most likely solution.
The deadline for applications is yet to pass but it is anticipated four or five clubs from the South, five or six from the East and potentially two clubs from the Junior setup will take part in year one.
Preston Athletic, Spartans and Threave Rovers are all fully licensed clubs with the Scottish FA and would be automatically invited to participate if the league is formed.
It is hoped other clubs invited to join will be given up to two years by the Scottish FA to bring themselves up to their “entry level” licensing criteria.
Applicants are likely to be judged on criteria such as showing progress towards becoming licensed, having plans in place both financially and operationally to becoming licensed by the end of the 2014/15 season and having performed well on the pitch in recent years.
Despite previous public opposition, it is understood a large number of Junior clubs, from both the East and West leagues, have expressed an interest in taking part.
Most though are expected to watch on as to how the Lowland League fares in its opening season before applying for membership.
"We are giving clubs a choice," Andrew Waddell, vice chairman of the East of Scotland League, told STV.
"Clubs who want to play in the Juniors, which is a fabulous product, are welcome to.
"This is about giving the other clubs an opportunity to play nationally.
"For some it wouldn’t suit their model. They are very successful in their own leagues and don’t wish to participate in a national league.
"There are others who are very keen, so let’s give them the opportunity.
"This is an opportunity for people who are ambitious and who want to participate in a national structure to get into it."
Promotion and relegation
It is expected that promotion and relegation will open up between the Third Division and the fifth tier through a proposed play-off but that is not likely to come into effect until the 2014/15 season.
Movement between the Lowland League, the East of Scotland League, the South of Scotland League and the Juniors is also not expected to occur in the first season.
Both the East of Scotland and South of Scotland Leagues are expected to continue independently in a revised format. Hibernian recently had their reserve side voted in to the East league.
"There is a glass ceiling to the Scottish Football League," Waddell continued. "Understandably clubs with a long tradition of playing in that league are concerned what would happen to them if they were relegated.
"It is up to us, through the Lowland League, to demonstrate this is a proper competition and a proper setup where SFL clubs can come down and still participate, and that there is an opportunity to move back up into the higher leagues."
"That’s once we actually have a situation where we have promotion and relegation. It is giving an opportunity for clubs to progress and hopefully to move up.
"Irrespective of that, this league would be part of the Professional Game Board and part overall of the professional game in Scotland.
"It gives clubs the chance to play at a more professional level of football and the top clubs from existing league to play in a professional league.
"It also puts in place missing pieces of the jigsaw. The Highland League is a very successful league, it’s logical to have the same in the lowlands."
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