Aberdeen have knocked back the offer of a place in the proposed new Conference League, saying they don’t see benefits to young players as being worth the cost.
The Pittodrie club say the player development pathway provided by the proposals are not “one size fits all” and they will not be joining others in submitting a team.
Plans for the new ten-team league, which would sit in the fifth tier of the pyramid below League Two, are well advanced and all SPFL clubs have been asked if they would have an interest in submitting a team.
The proposals would see the new level of competition introduced just below SPFL League Two in Scottish football’s pyramid structure, and would also feature sides invited from the Highland and Lowland leagues.
Celtic, Hearts and Rangers all currently have B teams competing in the Lowland League on a temporary basis, but the new league plan is intended to provide a permanent platform for young players to develop in a competitive environment.
The proposals have proved to be controversial, with non-league clubs in particular dismayed about a move they believe effectively demotes every team below the fourth tier.
Aberdeen suggested that they had listened to concerns from smaller clubs in addition to carefully weighing up the pros and cons of the scheme.
Chief executive Alan Burrows said: “We spent considerable time assessing the impact on our player development strategy, including the player pathway, and reviewed the cost/benefit of entering a B team in the Conference League.
“We also took account of feedback from other stakeholders, supporters and considered the decades long relationships we’ve had with Junior and Highland League clubs, including clubs who are now established in the SPFL.
“The player pathway challenge we would face with a team in the fifth tier is that ‘one size does not fit all’.
“We have young players who need experience at higher levels in the pyramid. To accommodate that, and have a full-time B team, we would need to have around 55 full-time players. We estimated additional annual costs of around £400,000.
“While we have said no to the SPFL and Scottish FA about entering the proposed Conference League in 2024/25, we are keen to explore other options such as a strategic partnership with another SPFL club, where expanding some of the loan regulations would be key to ensuring Aberdeen FC continues to be one of the best developers of young talent in the country.
“We will therefore continue to push our best young talent to our first team as quickly as possible, along with using the loan market to provide player pathway experience, which has been impactful for the Club over many years.”
Conference League plans were drawn up after initial suggestions for an SPFL ‘League Three’ including Premiership clubs’ ‘Colts’ teams found little support.
The new division, which is expected to be voted into existence in the coming weeks, would be independent of the SPFL’s four-league structure. It would be funded by fees paid by the participating Premiership sides and be free to strike its own commercial deals.
Under the proposals, four Premiership Colts sides would join six clubs from the Highland and Lowland Leagues in the league. Promotion and relegation to and from the SPFL would take place, though not for the ‘Colts’ teams.