The prospect of league reconstruction for next season has been quashed after failing to win enough support from Premiership clubs.
This development comes after a meeting of top-flight clubs on Friday and means Hearts face being relegated to the Championship if the Premiership season is ended, with Partick Thistle starting next season in League One and Stranraer being demoted to the bottom tier.
All SPFL divisions below the Premiership have already come to an end as they stand, with Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers declared champions of the three divisions.
There is a desire among top-flight clubs, however, to revisit the issue of revamping the league structure in the future.
Following the vote to end football in the lower leagues in April, a 15-strong reconstruction group was set up to look at options.
Two main plans were being discussed for the season 2020/21 – both with a three-division structure.
One would have seen each division contain 14 sides. The other would have been a 14-14-16 system, which would have allowed for Highland League winners Brora Rangers and Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts to be promoted to the bottom tier of the SPFL.
On behalf of the group Dave Cormack, chairman of Aberdeen, said: “The strong feeling of the group was that we must focus all of our energies on emerging from the crisis we face, due to the pandemic, on getting back to playing football safely and getting fans back into grounds as soon as practicably possible.
“Whilst the group sympathises with the plight of the situation the relegated teams are faced with, it concluded that this is not the right time to consider immediate reconstruction in the midst of a crisis. But the group is willing to engage in and pick up on these discussions once we are through Covid-19.”
A statement from the Scottish Highland Football League said: “Today’s news that the current work towards SPFL league reconstruction has been brought to an abrupt and arbitrary halt is disappointing and frustrating in equal measure.
“This year, albeit in difficult circumstances, the SPFL had its first opportunity since the introduction of the Scottish football pyramid to meaningfully embrace the spirit of the pyramid.
“It is a matter of great regret that the SPFL has chosen to turn away from that. All associated with the Highland League share the undoubted disenchantment that will be felt by Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts.”
Inverness and Falkirk, runners-up in their respective divisions, will also rue a lost opportunity, with each club having been slated to move up a league had reconstruction been approved.
Falkirk chairman Gary Deans said in a statement: “As a club we embarked upon this process with eyes wide open and tempered optimism, hoping that the SPFL and other clubs might see the bigger picture and act in the best interests of Scottish football.
“In fairness, some did see that bigger picture and approached talks in a constructive manner – but once again progress has been hampered by the short sightedness and self-preservation of a small cabal within Scotland’s top division.”
Partick Thistle, who will start the next campaign in League One, said they were “deeply angered by the decision” to halt league reconstruction.
In a statement, the Firhill side it “will not only survive this injustice but will flourish again”.
“Our treatment is unprecedented in Scottish football. During this pandemic, across sport, efforts are ongoing to actively try to prevent damage, yet our governing body inexplicably chose a different path,” the statement said.
“It has singularly failed in its primary duty of care to a member. We have been forgotten, ignored and patronised while senior figures, for reasons best known to themselves, have scuppered a potential solution that did the least harm with no regard to the plight of those who have been betrayed for a second time,” it added.
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