The past couple weeks, I’ve spent time musing on how MLB could produce something unique and weird to play some kind of competition with a shortened window. Especially if that window was too short to complete a meaningful regular season and playoffs. In official corners of baseball, and not some wayward drunk in Chicago just musing about what he sees in his hallucinations from cough syrup while wearing his climbing pants (they’re yoga pants), they’re discussing how long they can play into the calendar year to get as many games in as possible. Both the NHL and NBA are considering just about every way to finish their campaigns, be they expanded playoffs or stretching into August or both.
Certainly, North American leagues aren’t the only ones trying to come up with oddball scenarios to complete seasons at unusual times and perhaps in unusual settings. Soccer is the most global, and with so many different competitions having to conclude, we could see a variety of solutions.
Euro 2020 has already been postponed until 2021, which opens up a bigger window for European domestic leagues, if need be. UEFA is already considering that both the Champions League and Europa League might not be able to be concluded. And that could be because of how some domestic leagues go Dr. Weird to finish out their seasons.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! BEHOLD!
Over the weekend, reports started leaking out in England that the FA was considering a World Cup-style end to the Premier League season. Stick with me here, because this is going to get a little goofy. Essentially, all 20 teams would be “quarantined” in training camps, similar to how teams are spread across a country during a World Cup. Matches would be played behind closed doors and only in a few stadiums, apparently in the middle of the country, in the month of June and spilling into July. And there would be matches every day, possibly a lot of them, instead of only on the weekends.
The feature here, and quite possibly the only one, is that with teams having nine or 10 games left, restricting travel does allow for a greater frequency of matches. It also gives their TV partners something of a bonanza, which is almost certainly the real goal. Conceivably, you could get through nine or 10 games for each team in a little more than a month. Six or seven weeks at max. For comparison’s sake, the World Cup is played in a month, with the winner through the fourth-placed team playing seven matches.
Of course, the problems are also clear, and there are more of them than bonuses. For starters, just as it is with the rest of the world, one positive test for a player or coach or anyone with any team will shut the whole thing down, this time for good. That’s the problem for any solution anywhere, though. The hope is that by June, the virus will be contained with widespread testing available to fight any fires. Hope springs eternal and all that.
Second, players aren’t going to be thrilled about being separated from their families for up to 10 weeks and playing games every three days for more than a month. If soccer is going to have to wait until June, and it probably is, then there will have to be some sort of mini-preseason training for everyone, which would also have to be done under some sort of quarantine, so everyone is looking at a long time away from home.
Third, there still has been no agreement, or even much discussion, about what adjustment will be made to players’ contracts. Much like MLB had to figure out service time, soccer player contracts end and begin on July 1. So a season that extended past that would see players either playing for teams with whom they no longer have a contract, or throwing two fingers up on July 1 and heading for the door. New contracts, like in the case of currently Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech but soon to be Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, provide the flipside. Would he just pack up and leave for Chelsea and play their last few games after July 1, as he’s currently contracted to do?
To keep going, the closed-doors aspect is still going to cost teams their gate receipts, which matters to some clubs more than others. This would probably be filed in the “something is better than nothing” folder, and at least the completion of the season would result in TV contracts being fulfilled.
More problems to pile on, and this is certainly getting to be a wobbly, though impressive stack. Cup competitions would certainly have to be scrapped. Just in England, with this kind of schedule, there would be no time to fit in FA Cup matches. As for UEFA, if other countries adopted this model then there won’t be time to fit in the rest of the Champions League or Europa League, and on down the line. Or if other countries didn’t adopt this, but did complete their season, would Man City, Wolves, and Man United have to just pull out of Europe?
Having said all this, these reports came from dog-training material like The Mirror or The Sun, so make sure your grains-of-salt quota is being met while reading these. However, it does feel like leagues in any sport are going to have to get creative to complete their seasons. In that sense, this isn’t totally crackers. Just pretty close.