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Watch: When might different sports return?

The Scottish football season has been ended, amid some acrimony, and the prizes have been handed out.

Now it faces a whole new and even more labyrinthine range of complexities as it tries to plot a path through unchartered territory for the 2020-21 campaign.

Here, BBC Scotland examines the issues facing the game.

When is football likely to return?

After two months of uncertainty since the abrupt halt in mid-March, there is now a glimmer of clarity over a resumption.

The SPFL is planning for games in August and Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell says this is “definitely achievable”.

The Scottish government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions puts football in phase two, which could come into effect around 18 June if strict criteria is met. And the SPFL will ask if clubs can return to training – initially in small groups – on 10 June.

Scottish FA medical advice recommends around six weeks of pre-season before matches can take place, so an early August restart is not out of the question.

The League Cup’s scheduled mid-July start already looks doomed, however. A scrapping of the competition’s group stage may be a potential solution to buy some time.

Will matches be behind closed doors?

Most likely, at first. But that presents problems as matchday revenue is king in Scottish football.

The question is existential. With contracts to honour, or new ones to negotiate, and in some cases deferred wages to cover, how do you survive when you’re spending way more than you earn?

In the Premiership, gate receipts accounted for 43% of income in 2018 according to Uefa’s latest Club Licensing Benchmark report. That is almost three times higher than the European average.

Add in the cash from corporate hospitality, and supporters spending money inside the stadium, and it’s a business model heavily weighted towards the paying punter.

An added outlay will be the testing of players, staff and officials. Maxwell, though, says this is likely to cost around half of previous estimates of £4,500 per week and that the Scottish FA will look to help with funding.

And David Southern, the former Hearts managing director and Dundee United general manager, believes playing in empty stadiums is a workable temporary compromise in the Premiership.

“Realistically, I think they could all play at least up to the new year behind closed doors,” he said.

“Okay, clubs are eating into any cash reserves – Dave Cormack at Aberdeen has mentioned £1m a month it is costing – but there is an enhanced TV deal [worth £160m over five years] about to start.

“Another thing is that a number of clubs are backed by extremely wealthy individuals – Cormack at Aberdeen, Mark Ogren at Dundee United, Ron Gordon at Hibernian. They bought these clubs because they see value in them. So they are not going to unduly starve their own business of cash.”

But what about the lower leagues?

Scottish football is likely to initially return behind closed doors

This is where it gets really messy. Outside the Premiership, the importance on getting fans through the turnstiles is even more stark.

Clubs’ very survival relies on ticket sales and filling hospitality lounges. Add in the fact the government’s furlough scheme ends in October, and it’s clear the prospect of playing in empty stadiums is seen as not economically viable for even some in the second tier.

Championship clubs have been issuing dire warnings. Ayr United say some could “revolt” or go into administration if forced to play behind closed doors, chiming with Queen of the South’s assessment of “financial suicide” if games go ahead without subsidies in place.

A scaled-down second-tier season of just 18 games – and delaying the season’s start until January – will reportedly be discussed further at at meeting of that division on Monday. However, a schism could now form between those who support or oppose these plans.

And the bottom two divisions could be mothballed completely for a year. That’s a scenario Jim McInally, manager of League One Peterhead, says is preferable to playing with no fans.

Are partially-filled stadiums realistic?

Yes. Phase three of the plan to ease lockdown permits live events with “restricted numbers” and physical distancing. However, there is “no guarantee when this will happen,” says Professor Jason Leitch, the national clinical director.

The SPFL has begun tentative preparations by tasking clubs with conducting feasibility studies into reduced capacity crowds at their stadia. Southern believes it could be implemented “relatively easily” in the top flight, but would come down to whether it is cost effective.

A restricted number of fans could be back in Scottish stadia by July

“You could, for example, disperse 2,000 fans across a 20,000-seater stadium,” he said. “All Premiership clubs have online ticketing systems. And it literally is as easy as crossing a box for a seat to be sold. So a club can manage that.

“In-stadium, it would have to be stewarded very strictly. It would probably be the same number of stewards as a normal matchday. It then has to be a value judgment on whether the whole thing is worth it.”

A reopening of corporate hospitality facilities is a logical “first step towards letting fans in,” Southern adds.

Is league reconstruction still a factor?

This becomes even more pertinent if some lower-league clubs opt to go into cold storage. How many will be still standing to take part in season 2020-21?

Hearts owner Ann Budge is preparing a fresh reconstruction proposal, which will include an expanded top flight to save her club from relegation. But it will have to take into account the chaos below. Might the proposed reconfiguration have to focus on clubs who are willing to play matches in empty stadia?

Maxwell has conceded Scottish football will undoubtedly be “different” and may not be “in the format that we are used to seeing it”. And former Aberdeen chief executive Keith Wyness expects that when play does resume, it will be in a streamlined structure of “one or two leagues maximum”.

Any other potential solutions?

Nothing is being ruled out at this stage. The possibility of ‘hub’ stadiums, which would host multiple matches over a weekend, is being explored by the SPFL and Scottish FA joint response group. Virtual season tickets and online streaming have also been discussed.

These ideas could be key as many clubs have begun selling season tickets for the new campaign without any realistic hope of getting all these fans inside a stadium.

“Virtual season tickets is definitely something that should be looked at, because I would expect there should be a financial formula that would make it feasible for both the broadcaster and the supporter,” adds Southern. “It’s that sort of smart thinking that we need.”

What about the players?

Tom Beadling is one of 17 players to be released by Dunfermline

For the hundreds of SPFL players out of contract this summer, the prospects look grim.

Desperate to cut costs, clubs are likely to go with streamlined squads supplemented by youth next season. That means shedding players whose deals are up and holding off on making signings.

More players than ever will be looking for a club, with fewer deals up for grabs, so the immediate future for some may lie outside football. That’s the scenario facing Tom Beadling, one of 17 players who will be released by second-tier Dunfermline Athletic at the end of May.

Citing the “precarious situation” he now finds himself in, Beadling said: “There are bills that need to be paid and boys will be looking for jobs, and quickly.”

Some players, as well as PFA Scotland, have advocated extending the deals of those out of contract by taking advantage of the government furlough scheme.

However, legal advice around that varies, with Dunfermline among those unwilling to risk sanction further down the line should they prolong the contracts of players they have no intention of keeping.