Backup plans: Ideas for finishing European season are imperfect but something will have to be done

Europe’s scheduling decisions can’t be put off much longer. Nor can the discussion of the fairest way to declare champions, European places, relegation, etc.

UEFA has cleared the schedule as best it can. Euro 2020 has been pushed back one year, theoretically allowing time to wrap up domestic leagues, domestic cups, the Champions League and the Europa League.

But Belgium has already come to the realization that the window is getting too narrow. Its league season is over, pending ratification.

Surely each FA and each league must be considering contingency plans. They really should consider Ian Plenderleith’s proposal to switch to a calendar-year schedule, but that conversation probably isn’t happening in the hallowed halls of the FA.

So what’s the fairest way forward if there’s simply no way to complete every competition before next season?

Europe will have to set priorities. Do you play more league games or finish the Cups?

This Liverpool fan is biased, but let’s be honest -- the EPL champion has been decided. PSG is nearly set as the French champion. Celtic is cruising toward another Scottish trophy. The La Liga champion will be either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Serie A is closer, but Inter’s chances of overhauling Juventus and Lazio are slim.

The idea of running out the string in the EPL while failing to finish the FA Cup, let alone the Champions League, is simply nonsensical. For countries like Italy and Spain, where at least two teams are involved, it’s time to get creative.

Maybe Scotland can show us the way.

The Scottish Premiership has had an oddball format through the 21st century. After each of its 12 teams plays three games against every other team, the league splits into two tiers. The top six play each other once more, as do the bottom six. Points carry forward from before the split.

Suppose other leagues did something similar? Take the top four, top five or top six and have them play each other one more time. Teams would be playing not just for the championship but also for European places. The bottom four, five or six could do the same thing to determine relegation places.

It’s not perfect, of course. The midtable teams would have nothing to play for.

Another idea: For any vital position (championship, European places, promotion/relegation) separated by five points or fewer, have a playoff akin to the promotion playoffs England and many other countries already have. Make a few adjustments to keep teams in multiple competitions from being overwhelmed.

If a team has a massive lead, like Liverpool, declare them the champion. Atalanta, which is fourth in Serie A and also in the Champions League, gets a Champions League berth for next year without needing to play another domestic game. Barcelona plays Real Madrid for the La Liga title. Juventus plays Lazio for the Serie A trophy.

This system can get messy. In Spain, what allowance should they make for Atletico Madrid -- sixth place in La Liga, but also in the Champions League quarterfinals? Does Norwich City get to play to keep its spot in the Premier League while also pursuing the FA Cup?

But they’ll have to do something.

This isn’t the 1939-40 English league season, which only got through a couple of weeks before World War II shut things down. The leagues are in the stretch run. The cups are in the quarterfinals or beyond. They might not have time to finish a full schedule, but they still have fair ways to determine trophies and important league positions without tossing aside the many games that have already been played.

We can always hope to get control of COVID-19 so that the games can resume in May or June. But it’s time to make the backup plans.
5 comments about "Backup plans: Ideas for finishing European season are imperfect but something will have to be done".
  1. R2 Dad, April 5, 2020 at 6:59 p.m.

    We don't know when my state will declare the all-clear, but judging from the data here: won't be until june 1st at the latest that EVERYONE will agree it will be clear to return to normal-ish duty in CA. New York looks like May 1st at the latest. In Europe, going contry-by-country will severely compromise the calendar and playing locations. Won't each club need at least a week to get back in shape before playing? So many constraints....

  2. Beau Dure replied, April 5, 2020 at 7:14 p.m.

    Hard to say. Being past the peak typically assumes continued social distancing, does it not? Trump is saying August or September, though I wonder if that's an effort to set a low bar so that it looks like a triumph if we're back in July. 

    UEFA is looking at July.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, April 9, 2020 at 12:09 p.m.

    Trump is saying August or September to set low expectations before the Republican convention. You should not rely on his statements. It may happen earlier or later. 

    I have no expertise, but expect that the restrictions will be relaxed in progressive steps. Large sporting events crowds would be the final step. I would think the first step would be getting more people back to work.

  4. beautiful game, April 6, 2020 at 2:26 p.m.

    Beau, you listen to nonexperts for your pandemic information? You've been gaslighted for months. Best advice amigo is thatincompetent leadership is not to be followed. It's ludicrous to hear talk about contingency plans for finishing  2019-2020 season. The season is over, finito benito; and back-up plans is a fantasy. This pandemic crisis remains until a proven vaccine is made and distributed to even start any talk about the next season. Wishful thinking at best amigo bloggers.

  5. Beau Dure replied, April 7, 2020 at 12:01 p.m.

    Or effective drugs. 

    If it can't happen, it can't happen. But if it can, why not have a plan?

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