Michael Pavitt

The proverb that necessity is the mother of invention springs to mind as several major competitions attempt to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic enabling them to finish their respective seasons.

Not all have been in the position of the Bundesliga, which this weekend headed into its fourth round of matches since Germany’s top flight was permitted to resume as the number of coronavirus cases declined sufficiently in the country.

Several major leagues have expressed an intent to conclude their season and are attempting to follow suit, with dates for resumption and potential alterations to formats mooted.

Debates over whether it is appropriate for resumption, the commercial factors which may influence decisions and the sporting integrity of potential changes are all worth discussion.

From a purely sporting sense it will be fascinating to see whether short-term adaptations caused by the pandemic could serve as a catalyst for long-term changes.

While the circumstances are far from ideal, major leagues and competitions have been granted an opportunity to think creatively.

I was drawn to a Wall Street Journal article this week referencing how the National Basketball Association could be looking to borrow from competitions like the World Cup and the Champions League to help conclude its season.

A proposal was reportedly sent from the NBA to team managers outlining how a group stage could replace the first round of the traditional end of season playoffs.

Teams still have 15 to 19 games left to play to complete the 82-match regular season, with only the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics having secured playoff spots to date.

It was claimed that the proposal could see the top 20 teams being drawn into two groups, where they would face opponents twice. The top two teams would reportedly then advance to the more traditional seven-game series rounds to help determine the winner.

It is unclear as to whether the mooted proposal could become reality, as it would require a drastic change in the format of the competition midway through and teams on course for a top playoff seeding would potentially place themselves at greater risk in any group stage.

A Champions League style group stage is reportedly among proposals considered by the NBA to help conclude their season ©Getty Images
A Champions League style group stage is reportedly among proposals considered by the NBA to help conclude their season ©Getty Images

Yet for the same reason it could be interesting to see how it would unfold.

Would a group stage format help to create increased drama and greater interest from fans or would spectators yearn for the usual playoff system?

Another potential source of intrigue would be the proposed use of a single venue, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando in Florida, to help conclude the season.

With the current format of the NBA Finals seeing the team with home court advantage host the first two and last two games of the seven match series, with their opponents hosting the middle three, it would represent a major change.

I wonder whether, although it has been done for health reasons on this occasion, it may allow the NBA to consider whether they hold their finals in a single location in the future in the style of NFL’s Super Bowl or football tournaments such as the Champions League.

The Champions League itself is expected to undergo changes as UEFA aims to mould its competition around the various revised domestic calendars being announced.

European football’s governing body is reportedly set to move the planned final from Istanbul in Turkey to another location.

The most interesting suggestion mentioned is that all remaining teams in the quarter-final stage of the competition could travel to the chosen location to complete the tournament, while the same may apply to the second tier Europa League.

It would clearly be a change that organisers would have been reluctant to make, with the home and away element of the competition among one of the attractions of knock-out matches.

Health reasons and travel restrictions will have been at the forefront of thinking, as a single location would be easier than teams travelling to and from multiple countries in the current climate.

A single venue format with matches behind closed doors could be an interesting experiment.

The Champions League final could move from Istanbul amid suggestions the knock-out stage could be held at one location ©Getty Images
The Champions League final could move from Istanbul amid suggestions the knock-out stage could be held at one location ©Getty Images

I could imagine organisers and hosts may be attracted by the idea of creating a week long "football festival" in the future, where the knock-out stage of the club competition and the city would be the centre of attention for sports fans.

The concept itself is not completely alien, with the conclusion of basketball’s EuroLeague held in a "Final Four" weekend and the FIBA Basketball Champions League taking place over one week comprised of the final eight teams.

Given the success of the UEFA Champions League a shift to a single venue for the latter stages may simply be a necessary one-off to ensure this year’s competition can conclude despite a challenging climate.

What is to say a successful week in a host city might not lead UEFA being tempted to trial holding the latter stages of the Europa League at a single venue in future, potentially providing additional exposure and prestige to the competition.

Given the unpredictability of the current situation perhaps the conclusion of several of these events will not happen or proposals to conclude competitions never become reality.

Yet organisations have been presented with an opportunity amid the crisis to consider alternative ways to host their events, particularly the latter stages of competitions.

Fans and the media would likely have rallied against some of the proposals raised had they been suggested in a normal situation, citing that the traditional formats have served major competitions successfully for long periods of time.

The current situation effectively offers a free hit for organisers to make understandable adaptations.

Some changes may simply prove a one-off fix, but I wonder whether other innovations could become adopted on a longer-term basis should they prove successful.