As discussed in the previous article, the cancellation of this current football season is more likely than a resumption. That then moves the discussion on to how best to resolve a season that is around 80% complete.
With the fairest resolution to the season – playing the remaining fixtures – ruled out, it is about deciding what is the next-fairest from a range of solutions that will benefit and disadvantage teams in differing ways. The two main schools of thought are to render the season null and void or to decide things using the current league standings (or some sort of points per game calculation).
While the majority of Coventry City, Leeds United and Liverpool fans won’t want to read this, rendering the season null and void is the cleanest solution. In theory, it means that there don’t have to be any further discussions on matters of promotion, relegation or the awarding of league tables, just go back to the way things were at the start of this season.
However, starting the next season with the same clubs in the same division isn’t the same as travelling back in time one year. One year is a long time in football, allowing the natural progression and decline of individual clubs and players. Clubs who underachieved this year are let off the hook, clubs who overachieved go unrewarded. Furthermore, with player contracts also progressing over the course of time, along with two transfer windows between the start of this and next season, it means many squads will be much-changed.
Additionally, there are questions at Premier League level as to what you do with the European places (presuming that European football is possible next season). Meanwhile, in the Football League, because Bury were expelled at the start of the season there is currently a need to add one team to League One, which would involve promoting a team from League Two, then replacing that team with a National League team.
If in the Premier League you use last season’s table to decide the European places, does that set the precedent for using last season’s table to decide which teams to add to Leagues One and Two (presumably involving bringing the team in the highest relegation position up a level – which would be Plymouth Argyle and Notts County)? Do you use the current table? Do you use different methods for different leagues?
While seeming the cleanest and easiest solution, it still raises plenty of bones of contention.
So how about sticking with the current standings, using points per game (PPG) to determine league standings where appropriate?
The big issue with this method is that the current standings and PPG rates are imbalanced because not every team has played each other home and away. Some teams will have easier remaining fixtures than other and could argue are in an artificially low position due to vagaries of the fixture computer.
While 80% of the season being complete seems a reasonable indication of who the teams likeliest to win promotion and relegation are, there is still plenty that could have happened. This is why some other methods of using the current season to award promotion and relegation have been mooted, such as more complicated PPG calculations that take into account remaining home and away games, or using the table at the mid-way point in the season when everyone had played everyone once, or only calculating the table based on performance against teams who have played each other twice.
Each of these different variations may seem minute, but at least seem fairer that simply basing things on a distorted current league table.
Nonetheless, the inherent unfairness of treating an incomplete season as a complete one has led to calls to only use it as a method to promote, rather than relegate teams. This would raise fewer objections as it punishes the smallest number of teams possible – those who would just miss out on promotion. However, it would add teams to the top-flight, which has the consequence of reducing the division of TV money per club (although, teams at that level are better able to shoulder that cost) while adding four rounds of fixtures for a season where the amount of time to play games could be drastically limited.
While there is a third system proposed of settling promotion matters via a play-off system. However, it completely moves the goalposts from what teams were told would be how promotion would be decided heading into the season. Furthermore, while it reduces the logistical, ethical and financial difficulties of completing this season, it doesn’t get away from them entirely and could easily fall apart were the players involved to contract the Coronavirus or it led to the breaking of social distancing from fans getting together to watch the games.
In summary, any solution to a season scrapped 80% of the way through will be unsatisfactory and fraught with difficulties. Whichever one is chosen, it is important to keep in mind that, leaving aside your myopia for your own team, there isn’t really a good alternative. My line of thinking is that at a time where people are dying or have finding themselves dragged into poverty as a result of the lockdown, maybe football isn’t the most important thing in the world.
My question to Coventry City fans would be, would it really be that much more satisfactory to be awarded promotion via edict than have to restart this campaign from square one? Football isn’t necessarily about seeing your team play at the highest level possible, it’s about that never-ending quest for glory, those rare moments when you it is finally attained, that release of elation alongside a group of players and fellow fans. Even if the season was played out behind closed doors, we would have been robbed of that feeling and this promotion would always be tainted somehow.