We don’t know how or when the final quarter of the EFL season will be done and dusted, but here are the options and challenges that lay ahead.
When will the season resume?
This is impossible to answer conclusively, in such unpredictable circumstances.
It seems unlikely, however, that the 2019-20 season will be completed in front of live spectators.
The EFL do not want the season to continue beyond June 30th, because that is when many players’ contracts expire, although it is possible that most of those players will agree provisional extensions.
The ultimate, long-term aim in footballing terms should be to restore some normality to the calendar and with the European Championships moved to 2021, the 2020-21 season cannot extend too far beyond early May.
Theoretically, the governing bodies could make Sunday 2nd May the ultimate deadline for the EFL’s 2020-21 domestic season, with the Play-Offs taking place in the subsequent two weeks.
It is reasonable to ask teams to play a maximum of three league games per fortnight on average, accounting for the continuation of international football and domestic cup competitions, if the latter are preserved by the FA.
By that logic, the shortest period that the 2020-21 EFL season can last for is 215 days, which would mean it starting by the weekend of Saturday 26th September at the latest.
Clubs need approximately one month’s pre-season preparation, which could begin in late August and if there is a completion of the 2019-20 campaign, there must be an interlude to allow players to recuperate for the following season.
National League may yet be played to a finish later this summer. Confusion over what 'season going to be closed' means. Some clubs thought season finished. Actually meant stopped in short-term but might re-open. Discussions with FA/EFL ongoing.
— Simon Stone (@sistoney67) March 26, 2020
It is unclear precisely when mass gatherings will be safe in England, but in Scotland, they are expected to be prohibited until around late July and there is no reason why that logic should not be applied south of the border.
It would be impossible to reconcile a re-start date in late July with the guidelines provided above, so unless the governing bodies are happy to drastically change the usual calender in order to complete the 2019-20 season, the only way of doing so could be behind closed doors.
That option, though, has been rejected by non-league clubs, who are seemingly unanimous in their agreement that no more games in 2019-20 should be played.
If this season does not finish
If the agreement among non-league clubs extends higher up the pyramid, then the new way of deciding on outcomes of the EFL season must be judged by independent decision-makers.
The two likeliest solutions are as follows…
Firstly, to make 2019-20 null and void, then play 2020-21 with each team playing in the same division as the one they played in the previous campaign.
Secondly, to decide league positions and therefore matters of promotion and relegation by Points Per Game average.
It would be inaccurate to suggest that the latter solution would be ideal, or even fair.
In League One, for example, it would mean that either one promotion place would be taken away from clubs who had been playing for one of three, or that Wycombe Wanderers would be awarded promotion based on having the third-best Points Per Game ratio – the Chairboys are currently eighth with eight defeats in their last 14 games.
It would also mean that Tranmere Rovers would be relegated, even though they have shown convincing signs that they could stay up: the Super White Army, three points off safety, have won each of their last three games and were due to play three sides immediately above them.
In League Two, PPG would necessitate either Cheltenham and Exeter being denied promotion, having been outstanding for much of the season, or the Grecians being denied it due to having only one more point than their promotion rival with one more game played.
I’m sure the players if asked will all extend their contracts for a condensed period to finish the season and do it properly at the right time. No real need to make this call today . Consult with the PL and EFL and align the game from top to bottom . https://t.co/ZWdJ8UoeQj
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) March 26, 2020
Then again, it is impossible to find a solution that would not be cruel, and this option is in at least some way representative of every club’s work through 2019-20.
The null and void option, by comparison, would give Southend and Bolton a scarcely deserved second chance in League One at the expense of teams like Crewe and Swindon, who would significantly enhance the quality of the division.
Ryan Lowe has short-term ambitions of managing in League One and post-promotion circumstances at Bury last summer meant he had to forego those aspirations to manage Plymouth Argyle; the Green Army, too, are now on course to go up – but the null and void option could, harshly, force the Liverpudlian to inspire promotion a third time to finally get his chance in the third-tier.
It would also keep Stevenage, who have scored 24 goals in 36 games, in League Two whilst denying Barrow AFC, who play very exciting, innovative football under Ian Evatt, their chance to end their 48-year Football League exile.
If the season cannot be completed, then it is appropriate that we take the course of action that most suitably reflects the work that has been done so far.
It’s not perfect, but it might just be the best we have.
Who is at risk?
EFL clubs are unlikely to be put at risk as a result of recent events, because the governing body has supplied a £50M relief payment split across all clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two.
Premier League announces that, along with FA & EFL, it has scrapped rule that season must end by June 1 & extended "indefinitely". Message is clear: season 2019-2020 will be completed. No games until April 30 at earliest
— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) March 19, 2020
There are some concerns, though, about the impact lower down the pyramid for non-league clubs – the main governing bodies must give them the appropriate support, too.
Each club acts as a hub for its community up and down the country; it is therefore so important that those at grassroots level are helped through this process.
We certainly have enough money in the game – Premier League TV rights between 2019 and 2022 were sold for £4.464bn – and some of that income needs to trickle down to those that need it most.
As fans, we can help clubs temporarily by purchasing shirts and merchandise to compensate for the absence of match-day revenue, but fundamentally the bulk of the support must come from the top.
We all love English football outside the elite ⚽️
As a result of #COVID19 though, some clubs will struggle without the gate receipts 👨👩👧👦
— Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) March 17, 2020