Halt the Celebrations
Issue 14, Volume 110
By Krish Gupta
Sports have been put at an unprecedented halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and leagues are scrambling to decide what to do with what remains of their seasons. The NBA has been suspended indefinitely. The Olympics have been postponed for a year. March Madness was canceled altogether. The English Premier League (EPL) is no different, and the season has been postponed until further notice.
Unlike American sports leagues, the EPL has no playoffs, opening up the debate for whether runaway leader Liverpool should be handed its first Premier League trophy after an agonizing three-decade wait.
Looking at the Premier League Table, it seems that Liverpool is the far and wide winner. Surely, if the Premier League had gone on, it would have comfortably won. But giving its players the title would rob its nearest competitor, Manchester City, of a chance, albeit 0.1 percent. If English soccer has taught us anything in the past few years, it’s that anything can happen. Look no further than 2015, when Leicester City won the league after entering the season with 5,000-1 odds. So you’re saying that there’s a chance? Always.
If Liverpool is given the league title, the Premier League would be forced to continue with the normal relegation and qualification rules. The top four teams in the Premier League qualify for the prestigious UEFA Champion League, and the fifth place team makes the Europa Cup. Glancing at the standings, it is clear that there is a much tighter race to advance, with five teams within eight points of Chelsea, which holds the final Champions League spot. It would be blatantly unfair to award Chelsea a trip to the Champions League when several teams are just behind them, especially when factoring in strength of schedule. Chelsea was set to play Manchester City and Liverpool, in addition to several other top teams contending for its position, in their remaining nine matches. Wolverhampton and Sheffield United, in sixth and seventh place respectively, were surprise success stories this year and were close to taking down an English heavyweight and qualifying for the Champions League or Europa Cup. If the Premier League were to declare the rest of the matches null and void, these teams, which have spent time in lower divisions of English soccer, would be denied the opportunity of a lifetime. In addition, English soccer has a relegation system in which the bottom three teams of each division are demoted and the top three promoted into a superior division. The Premier League, being the top flight, is always the ultimate dream for small town clubs. This year, there is an extremely tight race to not be the one of three teams relegated from the Premier League.
Norwich City, sitting at the bottom, has 21 points, Aston Villa has just four more, and above them there are three teams tied for 27 points. If Liverpool is given the title, Bournemouth would be robbed of its spirits by a tiebreaker on goal difference—just one goal. This excruciating reality has the potential to scar a franchise forever.
The race to be promoted is just as tight in the second division of English soccer, the EFL Championship. The top two teams, Leeds United and West Brom, have relatively comfortable positions, but this is where it gets interesting. The next four teams on the standings are to compete in a playoff to claim the third spot to be promoted. There are eight teams within six points of qualifying for the playoff to send them to the greatest league in soccer. Teams receive massive bonuses to qualify for the Premier League, and it would be unjust to rob teams of that chance. In global soccer, it is not uncommon to see teams crumble from bankruptcy and financial hardship. Every year in the volatile cycle of English soccer, a few teams disappear from lower divisions, lacking funds to stay in the league.
The most pragmatic solution the Premier League can take would be to resume games over the summer and play out the remaining season in front of no fans. Scheduling issues are inevitable, but this is the fairest way to ensure all teams get an equal chance to determine their own destiny. Don’t feel bad for Liverpool. Fans will likely just have to hold their “You’ll Never Walk Alone” victory renditions for a little while, perhaps making victory even sweeter when it comes. Conquering the 19 best teams in English soccer and a global pandemic to end a Premier League title drought spanning three decades? The Reds truly would be on top of the world.