How to Name a Champion Without the Championship


At some point, leagues and sports around the world may have to come to the reluctant conclusion that they will never finish their seasons. They will then have to determine what the final results are and who, if anyone, will be crowned champion.

If Scottish soccer is any guide, those decisions are going to make a lot of people unhappy.

A plan was put forward for Scotland’s top four leagues to award their championships as well as determine promotion and relegation places based on where teams stand now. The measure passed by a narrow margin after a vote held among the Scottish Professional Football League clubs. One club, Dundee, changed its vote to Yes on Wednesday after initially opposing the plan last Friday. (Their reversal, as it happens, meant that their rival, Dundee United, was awarded the championship of the second tier and will be promoted to the Scottish Premiership.)

Understandably, the teams who will now be relegated were the most vocal opponents of the plan. Hearts is in 12th in the Scottish Premier League, the relegation place, but only 4 points out of 11th. This plan seals their relegation. “I believe the whole process has been incredibly badly handled and shows Scottish Football in a very poor light,” Hearts owner Ann Budge said in a statement, noting Dundee’s vote switch. “Sadly, anyone who believes this decision will draw a line under the whole matter, is in my opinion being optimistic indeed.”

One of the most aggrieved teams was Rangers, who stand second in the top division. Although they are 13 points behind and were almost certain not to win the title, they still objected to the plan as it awards the championship to their Glasgow rival, Celtic.

“I think what he has to do now — because there are so many accusations, doubts and questions about this institution — is allow an independent investigation into the setup to prove everything wrong and make sure there is fairness and transparency,” Steven Gerrard, the manager of Rangers, said on Sky Sports of Scottish football chairman Murdoch MacLennan.

With all the talk of fairness and transparency, it is worth noting that virtually every club in Scotland voted in its own self interest: relegated teams voting ‘no,’ promoted teams voting ‘yes.’ Perhaps it’s a sign to come for leagues around the world.

Sports have seemed to have three choices in the face of the coronavirus pandemic: postpone, cancel, or in the case of Belarus and Nicaragua, press on.

Bicycle racing has come up with another plan: shortening their events. The Vuelta a España will be cut to 18 stages from 21, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported, and the Giro d’Italia, which had already been postponed from its original May dates, was considering a reduction to 14 stages from 21, essentially cutting the race to two weeks instead of three.

Even at the shorter length, the Giro will have to scramble to find a spot on the calendar, especially now that the Tour de France has pushed back its start from June 27 to Aug. 29.

That move was criticized in The Guardian by Devi Sridhar, the chairwoman of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, who called it a “recipe for disaster.”

“The wise thing to do is cancel for this year,” Sridhar said. “This virus is here to stay and will come back. Even if France gets a handle on it by August, then of course the issue is people coming in from different countries.”

And the cancellations keep coming. The Women’s Professional Lacrosse League in the United States, which was to have started its third season, has been called off. The glitzy Indian Premier League of cricket was suspended indefinitely. Sri Lanka, which said it expected to have coronavirus under control before India, offered to be a substitute host. (There is precedent: The second season of the I.P.L. in 2009 was held in South Africa because of security concerns after an attack on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan.)

Just like the cancellation of beloved cricket in India, you know things are serious when Ireland halts its Gaelic sports. Hurling and Gaelic football have been delayed until at least July and may be scrapped for the year.

There were no large ceremonies in high school gyms or group pictures with teammates and coaches on National Signing Day Wednesday. Instead, future college athletes signed their letters of intent from their homes, with only close family members surrounding them.

People still did their best to make the day special. The lacrosse team at Mount Notre Dame High School in Cincinnati did a drive-by celebration for Maddy Eifert, who signed to play for John Carroll University. Her teammates made posters and honked their horns as they drove by her house.

Terrance Williams, who attends Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., held a virtual ceremony with family and friends on a videoconference call. He also did an Instagram Live as he signed his letter of intent to pay basketball at the University of Michigan.

Others held ceremonies in their front yards, like Malik Zachery, who attends Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. He announced that he will be playing basketball at the University at Buffalo. DANIELLE ALLENTUCK





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