Sporting merit, points per game, and Europe’s seasons

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Wednesday’s soccer news starts with another reason to wonder why UEFA didn’t attempt to impose top-down regulations for how Europe’s leagues complete their seasons. Instead, leagues are operating under UEFA’s vague concept of sporting merit to determine final tables if they don’t complete their schedules. That’s led to some interesting interpretations of what sporting merit means.

The Dutch wiped their season except for the European places, a mixed message to teams wondering why Europe is more important than promotion and relegation. France opted for points per game, leading to the expected response from at least one club denied a European spot.

Points per game is also picking up support in England’s Premier League should Project Restart stall. There’s an open argument going on in England over the use of neutral sites, whether or not to promote and relegate clubs, and third on the list but most important, player safety. Any combination of that could derail the restart, with clubs, pundits, and fans wondering loudly about what we can politely refer to as sporting merit.

In the National Hockey League, the NHL and the players association created a Return to Play Committee tasked with working through these now familiar issues. Hockey was closing it on its postseason. Currently under consideration is a plan to finish that as quickly as possible to get to the playoffs, expand the playoffs and start them immediately, and potentially extend their window to October to get that done. It’s not lost on anybody that the wait could end up being the equivalent of an offseason, stretching the limits of sporting merit to determine a 2019-20 champion.

Then there’s the hub solution. In need of several practice facilities and a stadium or two with regulation ice, the NHL is looking for at least four regional hubs to stage neutral site games. Well, at least for the teams required to relocate to those hubs. Shocked looks, reports have half the league proposing their venues as ideal hub locations.

It’s the combo of wanting to get back to work with a focus on competitive interest at play across professional sports. The business needs the activity, but there’s the competitive risk of failure. All involved realize the bizarre situation of closed door games potentially at neutral sites to finish a season after what’s going to end up being a multi-month break. The Bundesliga is using its regular stadiums while acknowledging the dual risks of exposure through travel and the authority of multiple jurisdictions to allow teams to participate. It’s a half-step closer to normal while remaining decidedly abnormal.

Amid all of this is the threat of restarts not working. It’s hard to see any league waiting out two lengthy breaks to finish the 2019-20 schedule. Far more likely is the French response. That wasn’t Ligue 1’s choice, but perhaps it’s the better scenario. Government mandate leaves leagues no option but to call their seasons done. Then the argument shifts to how to determine the final table. In unique times, sporting merit takes on a variety of meanings without a lot of specifics. Is it what it was when the league suspended the schedule? Is it points per game? Should the Dutch option have even been on the table?

ESPN’s Dale Johnson looks at the various options for the Premier League. BBC Sport’s Simon Stone on the likely end to England’s League One and Two seasons and their understanding of sporting merit. The Athletic’s Jack Pitt-Brooke with Lorient finding not a lot to celebrate after winning Ligue 2 in France. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips asks about the Bundesliga’s push to get the games going. The Independent’s Brian Homewood on potential restarts in Austria and the Czech Republic.

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Photo by Hollandse-Hoogte via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com

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