Making the play-offs fairer is not difficult

Hawick, led by skipper Bruce McNeil, face lengthy lay-off before play-off, after taking on Melrose at the weekend. Picture:
Hawick, led by skipper Bruce McNeil, face lengthy lay-off before play-off, after taking on Melrose at the weekend. Picture:

The play-offs are nearly upon us and Hawick are involved, but it isn’t the one the Robbie Dyes had set their sights on at the beginning of the season.

The final league game of the BT Premiership has passed – Boroughmuir, Melrose, Stirling and Currie all have one postponed game remaining – which means the various post-season play-off scenarios have started to crystalize.

The usual suspects are at the top of the tree – Melrose, Ayr, Glasgow Hawks with Heriot’s and Currie still jostling for a top-four place.

While at the foot Hawick, their reward for surviving the gruelling crucible that is the Premiership season just that bit better than Gala, face a one-game play-off against the second-best team in National Division one. A one-game match-up, that is, that essentially amounts to a random chance against either Edinburgh Accies, Marr or Jed-Forest.

“It’s not the play-offs we wanted to be potentially involved in but we have to get on with it now,” said Hawick club president John Thorburn when his club stared relegation in the face in January.

Fast-forward four weeks with Hawick’s relegation play-off fate now sealed, and Thorburn added: “Gala went through this same scenario last season with a long lay-off, and while it isn’t ideal, they dealt with it.

“We have been involved with this play-off before, albeit on the other side of it with us being the team hoping to come up from the lower division, so hopefully that experience can help us.”

The relegation play-off structure currently in force for the Premiership/National one is terrible. Let that be clear.

Hawick earned promotion from National One through the system back in its inaugural 2012/13 season when they defeated Dundee HSFP 39-38, but that doesn’t make it perfect. It is a flawed hybrid scenario essentially trying to provide a counter-balance to the top four and satisfy those in the lower divisions with Premiership aspirations.

Is it exciting and dramatic for the two teams’ fanbases to stage a one-and-done postseason play-off? Yes, of course it is, but after a long 18-game Premiership league campaign, weighted with Border League, BT Cup and other random contests that render squads almost unrecognisable by injuries, in what is supposed to be an amateur league, is it completely fair?

The play-offs are a crapshoot, teams invariably get shafted somewhere along the line. Whether it be in the neutral ground selected to host the game or the length of lay-off/remaining games the Premiership/National teams must endure before actually playing –National One has 12 teams so currently has five weeks remaining of their season, while Hawick have played all their games.

Someone is always left holding the bag and it is never a level playing field come game time. If high drama and suspense is all we care about, why not go full NFL football and make almost half the league feature in some kind of play-off structure and be done with it.

The fix is easy. Expand the Premiership to 12 teams and involve a relegation play-off structure involving the three worst-placed teams.

Relegate the bottom side and have the two above play-off against one-another, ending with the loser pitted against the second-best side in the National One and the winner taking their place back at the Premiership table.

It satisfies those who feel the randomness of a one-off game isn’t fair, giving the worst teams a chance to figure out who really was the worst, while also extending the season long enough so as to finish all leagues within a week of each other. Plus the extra four league games and play-off would not add any more pressure that teams are not already under in the hybrid professional/amateur Premiership.

Hawick now face a four possibly five-week wait, depending on weather conditions, to find out who they will face in the winner-take-all match that will take place sometime in April. A long delay that could have potential long-term ramifications either way it ends.

It doesn’t seem that hard to fix this flawed system nor to implement, and this is just one solution, but I am not, however, holding my breath for any change coming soon.