QPR win promotion to the EPL!...Or Have They?

EDIT: The FA announced today (7/5) before the final round of Championship matches, that QPR have been found innocent of all but 2 charges (bringing the game into disrepute and using an unlicensed agent) and have been fined £875k. No points have been deducted so QPR are promoted as champions. Swansea finished third and have yet to decide whether or not they'll challenge this decision in court. Honestly didn't see that one coming! Shows what I know!

It was all smiles for Queens Park Rangers manager Neil Warnock this weekend, as an 0-2 win at Watford confirmed his team's promotion back to the Premier League after a 15 year absence. But their joy may be short-lived, as they have to face an FA hearing today that may lead to a points deduction that drops them back into the playoffs (or further down the league).

QPR are facing seven charges relating to alleged rule-breaking over the transfer of Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin in 2009. It is alleged that QPR bought Faurlin via a third party (i.e. not a club) and that third party still owned (or part-owned) him while he was playing for the club, which is a breach of the rules. There are further allegations that this transfer. QPR Chairman Gianni Paladini has been charged with providing the FA with false documentation about this transfer and QPR are also accused of delaying reporting the rule breach for over a year, in contravention to FA rules regarding third party transfers. There are also allegations that QPR used an unlicensed agent for this transfer.

The noises coming out of the FA suggest that they believe QPR are guilty. So this has lead to a lot of speculation as to what punishment QPR will receive (if found guilty).

Comparisons have been drawn to West Ham and Tevez-gate, when West Ham were given a large fine but were not deducted points, allowing them to stay up at the expense of Sheffield United (then-managed by Neil Warnock). This has given QPR fans hope that the same may happen to them. However, there is a big difference in the two situations. West Ham’s punishment was for not disclosing the third party ownership of Tevez, not for playing a player owned by a third party (as there was no rule against it at the time). The current rules about third party ownership were brought in after the Tevez ruling and were made clear to all clubs, so QPR may be in deep trouble for breaching them and could be used to set an example to other clubs.

Also, another difference is that West Ham held their hands up when accused, and there was never any real suspicion of any attempt to mislead the authorities. So the FA were lenient with them. QPR are denying all charges and are accused of deliberately providing false information, so the FA may come down on them hard if they are found guilty.

Points deductions occur for less serious offences. A team going into administration, which is usually due to financial mismanagement rather than any fraudulent behaviour, can mean a 10 point deduction. Hereford had 3 points deducted for fielding an ineligible player the first game after the transfer window closed, due to a clerical error. So it isn’t unrealistic to expect that if the FA finds QPR guilty, a points deduction will follow.

Whatever the outcome of the hearings is, whatever punishment (or not) is handed to QPR, it won’t be the end of it. It’s too big, too financially lucrative for the clubs affected to accept. If QPR get a points deduction that sends them into the playoffs, then the seventh placed team (the third to sixth placed teams contest the playoffs) may argue that the points deduction was not enough. If QPR don’t get punished with a points deduction, the team that finishes third (which will be either Cardiff City or Swansea City) will take legal action. Norwich secured promotion to the Premier League last night, but may argue that if QPR have broken the rules, they should be the rightful champions, so will also take action. QPR have vowed to fight any punishment ‘all the way’ so it is likely that this affair will carry on all summer.

There is a more immediate problem. The verdict is due to be delivered on Friday. QPR have the right to appeal any decision meted out to them, so no penalty can be enforced until this appeal is heard. The Championship playoffs are due to begin the following Tuesday, so they will have to be delayed to see if QPR are going to be demoted back into the playoffs or not. There have been reports that the clubs in the playoff positions have been informed to prepare for a delay.

This story broke in March, with the charges against QPR announced then, but the FA has waited until the climax of the season to take action. Many people think this is a classic example of the FA screwing up again. That was my initial opinion too, but after thinking about it, I think the FA have played this one correctly. The FA have given no indication (officially anyway) of what punishment, if any, QPR face, so that has ensured that QPR and the other teams chasing automatic promotion and the playoffs have played as hard as they can. If QPR had been deducted points back in March, who knows how that would have affected their players? This in turn may have had a knock-on effect on teams playing QPR as they would possibly be playing against a team who had been psychologically affected, so potentially could have had an unfair advantage.
It seems to me that it was better that all teams played as though nothing had happened, so all the teams gave it their all, so that when any punishment is handed out, no team could say they had been at a disadvantage. This was the best way to ensure that the integrity of the Championship as a competition was maintained.

My personal opinion is that if QPR are found guilty, they will get a points deduction rather than a fine. If the FA had planned to just issue a fine to QPR, they wouldn’t have waited two months to do it. Currently QPR are on 88 points with one game left. Nottingham Forest are the team occupying the last playoff spot on 72 points, so it maybe that the FA decide to deduct enough points so that QPR are still in the playoffs. What may make things interesting is that if QPR are deducted 20 points, then Leeds United would occupy the last playoff spot, one point ahead of QPR and the two teams play each other on Saturday.