Further to last month's blog post Dunfermline on the Brink, the Court of Session has today confirmed that Dunfermline are in full administration. The league table has now been updated to include the 15 point penalty Dunfermline were given by the SFL the day before yesterday. Dunfermline face a further penalty of 10 points and a fine of £150,000 if they fail to exit administration by a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) by the start of next season.
First of all, is this fair? The SFL has no "points tariff", no fixed penalty (unlike the SPL) for clubs going into administration. Dunfermline are the fifth SFL club to enter administration, and only the second to suffer a points deduction - Morton and Clydebank in 2000 received no points penalty, nor did Livingston in 2009, while Dundee were docked 25 points in 2010. Much is made of it being Dundee's second offence, but it was their first in the SFL, as they were in the SPL when they first went into administration in 2003. The fact is, the SFL take breaches of rules very seriously, and have a record of issuing draconian punishments - when Accies were penalised 15 points in 2000 for failing to fulfil one fixture on time, it seemed excessive (I don't think I was biased, especially considering the context of Morton and Clydebank that season). In this instance, a penalty of 10 to 15 points was widely predicted, but is it just?
It's hard to fix a penalty for this sort of thing. It isn't "cheating" to manage your financial affairs badly, but it could be construed as a deliberate means of obtaining an unfair advantage. The added penalty for an administrative delay into next season is more difficult to understand, even more so the financial penalty ("you've spent beyond your means - here, have some more debt"). The same financial lack-of-logic applied to the fine Accies received in 2000. Bear in mind that if Dunfermline fail to achieve a CVA, and go into liquidation, further penalties may await them.
Second, what is the impact on Dunfermline, Accies, and the rest of the SFL?
Dunfermline are now favourites for the play-off place (I discount the possibility of their automatic relegation, as I can't believe Airdrie will pick up the nine points, at least, they would need.) If they go down, it will impact on them financially, but if they stay up it's hard to see them competing effectively next season. Further pain, in financial and footballing terms, awaits them, assuming they can survive at all (my bet is they will, but it's not a certainty at the moment).
As of today, Accies have avoided the play-offs, unless Dunfermline successfully appeal their points penalty. That won't happen, judging by precedent. Airdrie's inevitable relegation has been postponed, but surely not for long. Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath's contest for the play-off place has been joined by a third club, and my guess is both of them will be saved at Dunfermline's expense.
It's sad to see these events overtake Dunfermline. Even sadder is the knowledge that this will not be the last such instance. We all know that many other Scottish clubs - such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Kilmarnock and Hearts - have been living beyond their means and have large debts, arguably unmanageable. Football clubs rarely disappear altogether - see Soccernomics for a full discussion of this - and no Scottish club has done so since Third Lanark, nearly half a century ago, but this may be of little comfort in the times ahead.