The Soviet football season had two news in 1980 – one was usual: yet another change of formula. The other was kept successfully secret until the fall of USSR. The first legally transferred player to Western club – it needs separate narrative. As for the change, almost every year presented new rules and compared to some, this time the change was minor: it concerned only relegation/promotion between second and third division. Instead of 6 clubs, at the end of the 1980 season three were going down and three up. The reason was quite transparent: normally, the newcomers from third level did not last in the second, often relegated right away. They were obviously below the level of quality and reduction apparently was to take care of that – smaller number should mean more competitive ones. But second division was not reduced – it remained 24-club strong, so fewer relegation spots automatically meant increased comfort for the big number of clubs which were just happy to stay in the league without any trouble and no big effort. The reduction, however, changed the way clubs were promoted – so far, they were the winners of the different zones of 3rd Division. Now the winners were to play a final tournament for the three spots: 9 clubs divided into 3 round-robin groups. Which meant also restructuring of the third level – from 6 to 9 zonal groups, which perhaps inflated further the numbers at the expense of quality. At the end, to the finals emerged these clubs: Spartak (Kostroma), Rotor (Volgograd), Lokomotiv (Samtredia) – in Group 1; Traktor (Pavlodar), Dinamo (Samarkand), Torpedo (Toliati) – Group 2; SKA (Kiev), Khimik (Grodno), Dinamo (Barnaul) – in Group 3. Some played in second division before, but from those relegated in 1979 only Traktor (Pavlodar) managed to get a new chance. The final tournament produced outsiders and no real favourites. Predictably, the teams from the non-Russian South-East were below the rest. The third outsider was a relatively new club of which perhaps more was expected because it was attached to the giant VAZ automobile plant.
None of the group winners was particularly impressive and there was even a curiousity: Spartak (Kostroma) lost its opening match in Volgograd 0-6. They won all other matches and finished first, but with negative goal-difference – a rare anomaly for a top finisher and quite telling too of the general class of the candidates to play in second division: there was no much. It will suffice to give only the final tables – winners were promoted.
- Spartak (Kostroma) 2 1 1 4-7 5
- Rotor (Volgograd) 2 0 2 8-5 4
- Lokomotiv (Samtredia) 1 1 2 4-4 3
- Traktor (Pavlodar) 2 1 1 5-2 5
- Dinamo (Samarkand) 2 1 1 7-4 5
- Torpedo (Toliati) 1 0 3 3-9 2
- SKA (Kiev) 2 2 0 8-5 6
- Khimik (Grodno) 1 3 0 5-4 5
- Dinamo (Barnaul) 0 1 3 3-7 1
Dinamo (Samarkand) was the unlucky team – head-to-head matches with Traktor decided their fate and they were placed 2nd. Traktor (Pavlodar) won promotion and had a new chance to establish itself in 2nd Division after a single year in 3rd division, but if there was any hope placed on the newcomers, it was on SKA (Kiev) – they were familiar with second level football, represented the dominant already Ukrainian football, and as an Army club had much better chances of recruiting better players than Traktor and Spartak. It all depended on the not very well known in the West structuring of Soviet sport: SKA belonged to the Army organization, so the 'mother organization' would make sure to strengthened them. Spartak belonged to the trade-union organization and also would be helped by the centre. Traktor was on its own. So much for the newly promoted... Soviet press did not bother with them, except for mentioning that SKA was solid and confident from start to end.