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A wild proposal for salvaging the NWSL season

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There’s no reason to try and stick to old structures for sports right now.

2019 NWSL Championship

As COVID-19’s impact stretches out before us, it’s becoming increasingly clear that normal life in the United States will not resume for months. In times like these it seems selfish to try and speculate about how we can salvage nonessential things like sports, not when people are getting sick and dying. So I write this with a caveat that of course, our primary concern is keeping society safe, and this is as much idle daydreaming as anything else - after all, with everyone inside (or you should be), what else is there to do but to try and fill the hours somehow?

It was during one of those hours that I recorded a new episode of a podcast with my co-host, Gabby Rosas. Gabby, as she is wont to do, pitched a wild idea for playing out any remainder of the NWSL season, assuming that restrictions are lifted in time to have a meaningful number of games and some level of travel is allowed. It breaks down like this, with some modification from me:

  • Divide the league into three subgroups: Portland/Seattle/Utah, Houston/Orlando/NC, Chicago/New Jersey/Washington
  • These groups will play each other as though they were each in their own conference
  • Games will be played in clusters, where each team gets essentially a mini-tournament at their home stadium, so that each team gets to experience home field advantage
  • Take the winners out of each conference, plus one wild card, to seed a playoff
  • Wild card berth is determined on points, then goal differential as a tie breaker
  • Make the playoffs at a neutral site like Los Angeles, which would limit travel, negate any home field advantage, and also test the area for interest in a women’s soccer team, assuming that audiences are allowed to congregate by late fall

It’s clear that if there’s any time left at the end of the year to play out part of a 2020 season, the usual every team home-and-away format can’t be implemented. Unless the league can start by early-to-mid summer (probably with closed-door games), there simply wouldn’t be enough time for everyone to have 9 home games, given some weeks they would be away, and to have two weeks set aside for playoffs before it gets too cold to play (although if the playoffs wind up in LA as suggested, you could push playoffs much later than you could in other locations).

Other assumptions include that some nonessential travel will be allowed at this point, but to avoid airports, buses will be preferred. We’ve attempted to cluster the teams that are closest, although busing from Houston to Orlando is certainly not a short trip. But it would also not be a lot of back-and-forth using the game cluster method, where all three teams in each conference gather at one team’s stadium to play each other, preferably twice each, then at the second team’s stadium, then the third team’s stadium.

There’s also the issue of how you’d handle the results of any such season. Would the winner of the 2020 “season” get a star above their crest? An asterisk? Or are awards whatever we make of them, and perhaps a team could just have a slightly different mark above their crest for 2020 to show that they won, but under different circumstances?

Do you have a wild idea for salvaging the 2020 NWSL season? Think totally outside the box! Remember to keep in mind there will be a shortened timetable, and solutions that limit travel are preferred. Is this the time for FIFA 20 women’s club teams and an all-virtual season? Now taking all suggestions!