Voiding the Season: Blatant Opportunism, a Lack of Sportsmanship and Philosophically Wrong

Voiding the Season: Blatant Opportunism, a Lack of Sportsmanship and Philosophically Wrong
April 1, 2020 Mark Cohen
In Free, Talking Point

 

By Mark Cohen.

Firstly, I have found the range of brilliantly informative opinions on this utterly superb site and community, TTT, in respect of Covid, so immersive, and in many ways comforting. It never ceases to amaze me the level of intelligence this site attracts. Thank you and God Bless you all.

In the words of the great Beck; “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey…” I think we all feel like monkeys right now, swinging around aimlessly in the jungle of the world, really not knowing our fate or destiny at all.

In terms of the destiny of the season and the title though, and of course, we understand there are infinitely more important things going on, I’d hope that we can produce solutions better than that of the animal kingdom, and I’d begin with the following;

Had Liverpool already amassed enough points to mathematically secure the title, would the argument of voiding the season even have been possible?

I ask this question as a precursor to the below discussion, as it’s become apparent that the narrative surrounding this unprecedented stoppage and league resumption/completion is playing out with two essential ‘sides’ having formed. Void or Complete.

It is also worth mentioning, that either position is naturally drenched in self-interest. So it is important to tackle the argument logically, instead of listening to a bunch of talking heads on the matter. As should be clear, an Argument from authority, itself a well known fallacy, is an incorrect way to solve this.

An example of Argument from authority would be West Ham Vice-Chairman Karen Brady’s ‘voiding’ statements with her team only out of the drop zone on goal difference and with the toughest fixtures remaining. Her lofty position in politics here is her perch on which her Argument from authority is based. Her argument to void is thinly veiled behind the supposed facade of government interest and a genuine care for the ill and the situation the world finds itself in.

Beyond this charade though, her wish to void smacks of blatant opportunism and a lack of sportsmanship, not to mention a pathetic attempt to sit on the back of a genuine and enormous human tragedy in order to save your poorly performing team from a relegation that is more deserved by the day.

Of course, a similar story could be said of Liverpool fans worldwide, who want the title awarded to the Reds and as such definitely don’t want a voiding.

We need to recognise this bias in our thinking, and do our absolute utmost not to let it sway our minds – if it is not safe to play, and if Voiders were genuine, and their ideas could pass intellectual muster, and they were the best, most efficient and fairest, then they should be listened to.

Thus, to repeat, its important that we act logically in our arguments and make a case that can stand on its own merit, regardless of the proponent’s position in society.

Now, I’m aware that the powers that be seem to be suggesting that we must complete the season at this time. The issue here is that we don’t know what the future holds. If Covid carries on through June and July, what then? If August and September come to pass without the possibility of football, the chorus of voiding will again gain traction. It is imperative to stamp this position out intellectually now, so that whatever the future holds, we can at least approach it fairly.

To state then, the two positions:

  1. Voiding, which its proponents claim is the fairest way of handling the issue.
  2. Completing, which is fraught with complexity and is a total unknown at the moment.

Okay, let’s deal with the Voiders first.

These guys seem to all have the same plan in mind, which is that, if something is incomplete, then it ought to be voided. The argument is very simple for a Voider:

“There is no way of determining the outcome of an event without the event playing itself out in its entirety.”

Essentially, there is but one way in this viewpoint to determine the outcome, and that is its most natural mechanism.

For tennis this means the completion of every single point of every single match. For cricket, every over must be bowled, until a team is bowled out or has accrued the runs it needs. For football that would be to complete every single game to 90+ minutes giving teams three points for win, a point for a draw, then add them up etc.

This viewpoint is intellectually inept, and is indeed bordering on being morally bankrupt.

Let’s start the evisceration with a scenario.

Say it’s Wimbledon, Men’s final. Its Federer vs Djokovic and Federer leads 7-6, 6-1, 5-0 and is serving for the title at 40-0 up. At the forty love up position, the game is called off by the government because of Corona fears. What should happen?

Well if you’re a Voider, then the tournament should be abandoned as this is the only logical conclusion available to you. In your mind, sporting integrity means that if a winner cannot be declared by the only mechanism available you can believe in, which is the total and utter completion of the tournament you are assessing, then it should be expunged from the record in its entirety. It should be deemed to have never occurred.

But there are other, far more normative actions.

One of them would be for Djokovic to concede, given the near-total impossibility that he was going to win. This is obvious and is far easier than nulling everything that came before.

This hypothetical Djokovic type concession would be with proper sporting precedents:

Below the MCC wording relating to cricket;

6.3 Umpires awarding a match

Regardless of any agreement under Law 13.1.2 (Number of innings),

16.3.1 a match shall be lost by a side which

16.3.1.1  concedes defeat

An example of this would be in June 2001, Alec Stewart conceding a one day against Pakistan after a pitch invasion. Pakistan needed just four runs in the final ten overs and a scoreboard error had resulted in the ground being swamped. To a Voider, the answer is simple – expunge the result, as it’s only fair. To Alec Stewart though, common sense prevailed, and he conceded. (https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/23205498/)

Golf is another example where concessions are common when probabilities are high. In match play, putt concessions, usually of a very short variety, are legal and are also a part of strategy. (https://www.liveabout.com/conceded-putt-1564034)

Also, one of the world’s great cerebral sports is famed for its concessions – Chess. Here, top players might concede the match many moves prior to checkmate as they understand their probability for a draw or victory have dwindled close to zero. I haven’t yet seen anybody claim that Kasparov was not a multi-world champion due to him having won countless big matches by his opponent’s concession.

What about boxing? Here the umpire does the conceding on behalf of the battered chap (usually). Would a Voider ask that every single boxing result be annulled because the guy ‘wasn’t actually Knocked Out?’

So it can be seen that multiple sports have a mechanism to complete a game without the need for the primary mechanism (being the playing of the game to its ultimate conclusion). These mechanisms use a common sense approach once a consensus that the odds of one winning have begun to approach 100%.

Indeed, many of these secondary mechanisms have been designed with certainty at way less than a 100%. Duckworth-Lewis, a well known example.

This only highlights the possibility of putting into place reasonably fair working systems for instances where they are needed like a rain interrupted cricket match, or something much bigger, like Covid.

To digress, the Federer example above is roughly analogous to the position Liverpool find ourselves in:

A virtually unassailable lead, indeed there is little to suggest that City can make up the difference even if we were to lose our last nine games!

If City, and the rest of the league were to simply concede the title to Liverpool, there would be barely a thinking human being who sees this as unfair, or in someway tainted.

The season is absolutely tainted for Liverpool, by the way, but only in the sense that we had all manner of records available to us to achieve, more than 100 points, home wins, etc.

In the ‘conceding’ scenario we will be the Champions, but those other records will remain out of reach, forever in our imaginations only. We can’t get those, so in that respect there is an asterisk.

But beyond that, of course we are the worthy Champions, and a quick concession, if games cannot be played, would confirm that.

It is absolutely fair and correct for this to be used as a mechanism for completion in the event a result is not possible by the primary mechanism and it also makes the most sense.

In the Premier League 19/20, it would be one of the truest, most transparently right, clear and incontestable concessions ever made. Liverpool have been statistically the strongest top flight side ever, and the points advantage is such that the concession is the only moral outcome.

There are the other matters in the league which the Voiders like to hide behind. We’ve all heard about the unfairness of Champions League places, and relegation spots among others, but as we shall see below, those voiding arguments are also based on illogical fallacies.

To understand, let’s take the voiding example to its nth degree to highlight its absurdity:

A cricket match is underway in which team A scores 100 runs. Team B has 20 overs to get the runs. At the start of the 20th Over, it’s 8 for 2. So team B now needs 93 runs in the last 6 balls. Now the game gets stopped for Corona…

Team B cannot score the required runs. This is mathematically impossible, and unless there were seventy or so no-balls bowled they are going to lose. (This event actually occurred once as a protest – the player in question was banned for ten years (https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/19147770/four-balls-92-runs-  one-bizarre-scorecard).

But this mathematical impossibility is nothing in the mind of the Voider. “It’s incomplete, therefore void it.” Similarly, the question posited at the beginning of this article, had Liverpool already amassed enough points to be mathematically guaranteed the title, but there were other matches to complete, the Voider’s opinion would be to cancel this reality and make a new fake one where the title win had actually not occurred because not everything was complete.

Of course, this is total crap.

People misunderstand something fundamentally about sporting structures. They are unnatural, meaning they don’t occur without interference or creation.

Chemistry, for instance, is a natural thing. A chemistry experiment follows a natural order – the laws of nature. Things occur here spontaneously, with one thing following another, again, by the laws of nature. If you were to stop a chemistry experiment in the middle, it is voided by default, as there is no way of determining its outcome without playing it out to its natural conclusion.

Football, as our example, does not occur spontaneously in nature. And this is important.

To explain;

During biblical times (and long after), a battle between men was usually solved with the death of one of them. If not the death, then severe injury at least. The conclusion to a battle was ‘natural’ in the sense that one of the protagonists could no longer physically fight. There was no need for an adjudicator, the guy was lying in a pool of his own blood. Done, finished, kaput, game over.

Sport is different. It is designed to be concluded within a framework specifically written for that game. Football is a game where eleven guys try and get a round object into the ‘den’ of another eleven guys more times than vice-versa. Cricket has eleven guys too, but the rules couldn’t be more different. These rules have been formulated over great periods of time, not in a willy-nilly way, but in a highly evolved way and always with the fairness and integrity of the game at its core.

For example, if there had been a rule where the team with taller players has to play on its knees, half the players would have been stammering around in the mud on the floor while the other eleven nimble guys would be running rings around them. The contest would be idiotic, unwatchable, and unplayable – and the rule would change.

One of the great modern rule changes in football was to award three points for a win, a move instigated by Jimmy Hill in 1981. This rule was designed with a key understanding in mind – since the game is about putting a football in your opponents goal, in order to score, why not award increased efforts to do so, instead of keeping the effort to defend your goal as equal to the effort of scoring a goal. Such a fundamental mental shift, and one which could not occur naturally.

So we can see that all sporting systems are designed to work within a framework which is not natural and is governed by human beings, who have made, hopefully meaningful, rules in relation to this adjudication.

Therefore:

Completeness does not, in and of itself, designate something as finished or unfinished and thus fair or unfair. The most concise designation is common sense fairness, an adherence to truth and a willingness to apply reality.

In other words – when a competition is stymied by events beyond its control, then the human beings who designed it can get together and alter its rules to try and preserve its integrity and fairness. Since we can agree that football doesn’t occur spontaneously in nature, we can agree that whatever rules we have made for it are open to adjustment in the interest of fairness as it is not reliant on any natural law to finish it, unlike our warring human example above. This applies even after an event is totally complete.

If you don’t believe me, consider Manchester City’s ban from Europe and possible future league sanction, including perhaps a points deduction which would hand Liverpool another title!

The fact that City actually accrued the most points in 13/14 does not mean they are ‘fairly’ the best team. In order to achieve this tally they cheated, and thus should face censure. The mere fact they ‘completed’ the league does not, in of itself, mean the league is finished – it might be retrospectively altered to fit a consensus based reality in which City’s punishment resulted in them dropping points. By the logic of voiding though, it would be impossible to alter such injustices as they have already occurred.

When he was found to have flouted rules, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his titles dating back some 14 years prior, another clear example of fairness trumping a competition’s natural mechanism.

Naturally the opposite applies too, an incomplete league is not necessarily beyond the scope of common sense’s ability to finish it fairly, through alternate means.

Voiding is thus also philosophically wrong. Liverpool went on an 18 match winning streak and also won 36 and drew two of a calendar 38 games over the course of the season (and the back end of last). These are records for all time which are likely to stand, such is their incredible strength and unlikelihood.

Voiding the season would mean voiding all these games, their results, the scorers, everything. This would be as wrong as the Team A/B cricket example above as these particular records have already occurred to their completion.

As Paul has just pointed out in his latest piece – would Harry Kane be happy to hand back all his goals for the season? Does he understand what voiding means?

Voiders might come up with the evermore moronic answer: “No, we are only voiding the title, the positions in the league, and their bearings on who gets relegated or Champions League football. We are not voiding matches, records, goalscorers etc…”

This sort of false logic begs the question – if you are allowing the prospect of cherry picking, in other words, some things stand and some are voided, then it simply becomes a shouting contest as to what stands and what is voided.

So all that happens is that my claim to something standing becomes as strong as your claim that it ought to be voided. This is a ridiculous position for an argument to enter and is unsolvable as it not based on any sound logic. This type of silliness is unfair and should only be considered when there is total consensus, more of this is discussed below.

If your argument now is for a voiding of every single thing that occurred in the season and simply start again, and your position for this is ostensibly ‘in the interest of fairness’, then you’d better power up the Delorean because you will need time travel.

Many things did occur throughout this season that do not require completeness for them to hold true;

  1. Liverpool held a 25 point lead at the top of the table, the largest lead of any team in history.
  2. Leicester had dramatically overachieved to sit in 3rd, as had Sheffield United in 7th.
  3. Spurs have been awful and are not currently close to being in the top 4.
  4. Norwich had been rooted to the bottom for months, with little chance of escape.
  5. West Ham had dramatically underachieved and reappointed David Moyes, who had seen them careen towards the bottom and an ever-likelier relegation.

You could carry on and on with this list ad infinitum as it has nearly 300 games reference already. Games that occurred in reality.

It is palpably unfair to ignore and void these occurrences if your position as a Voider is one of ‘fairness’. Spurs do not ‘deserve’ Champions League football more than Leicester and Norwich do not ‘deserve’ another 38 games at the expense of Leeds United.

In fact, the question of voiding and restarting also begs another absurd question: from when? A voider will say, ‘well from the end of last season, of course’ (benefiting Karen Brady’s West Ham and Harry Kane’s Tottenham surprisingly).

I would ask why ‘of course’? Why should we start from the end of last season? Given voiders’ insistence on fairness in their deliberations, surely, every completed season prior to this voided one has as much merit as a restart point as last?

Last season, completed and in history alongside 130 others, is arbitrary as a starting point.

Their would-be argument that the previous season was the most recent and therefore the most reflective of reality is hoisted by its own petard – this season is the most recent and reflective of reality and carries more merit than last or any other.

I would suggest offering to any voider the absurd prospect of starting with 1997 finishing places. Why not 1965? Why not the great 1925/26 season, with Huddersfield, Arsenal, Sunderland and Bury taking the Champions League spots and Manchester city relegated. Hell, even I might be inclined to get behind that!

At its heart, Spurs no more deserve Champions League football on a voided basis than Huddersfield, so come on then, let’s bring back the roaring twenties!

A voider would scoff at this suggestion, as should any thinking person, because this situation has again descended into silly cherry picking and a lack of logic. A lack borne of the illogical position of voiding in the first place!

Interestingly, I have not heard one voider offer any opinion other than to void wholly and totally. Why has there not been, even a cursory nod to restarting the league, but with some sort of handicap to account for what occurred this term?

The reason we haven’t heard anything like this is because the voiding argument is not being submitted in the interest of fairness whatsoever. It is illogical, unfair, immoral, and is being peddled by those with the most to lose from under-performance this term or from Liverpool winning.

This last point is at the front of my mind every time I see a celebrity like Piers Morgan chiming in that the only way forward is to void.

Of course Piers, because how hilarious would it be if Liverpool didn’t get the title we had all but won. How great for the silly narrative of the last thirty years to continue, whatever the cost to logic and fairness. Can you imagine the bantz on Twitter Piers! Oh get in! Oh my shattered nerves…

The voiding argument at this stage of the season should be given the shortest of short shrifts.

It would only make intellectual and moral sense if it impacted nobody within a fair probability. In other words, if only eight games had been played, we might have felt unlucky in the sense that we were top, unbeaten and flying, but we’d have had the grasp of fairness that there was still a great many games to play and that voiding, whilst imperfect, is probably fair.

There would likely be a total consensus for example, if one game of the season had been played – nobody would mind it being voided, and the whole thing starting again.

Right then, so if we are not voiding 19/20, that leaves us with completing the season, by hook or by crook.

I’ve read many a wise word these last few days from the likes of Rory Smith, our own Paul and others on the subject, and to summate the pros and cons of a few;

It seems that there is an awful amount of uncertainty in respect of how long Covid may last, and also whether or not it will affect multiple seasons.

This uncertainty means that whatever action is taken now, is going to create the precedent for actions during future disruptions. (This is another extremely strong reason not to void – the chaos created by this precedent will be destroying. Every season that is disrupted would now be voided? Why?)

Therefore, the precedent set now needs to be logically sound and applicable to a range of circumstances going forward.

For example, a number of TTT’ers mentioned a couple of days ago that 75% of the season is complete, and that this number represents something approaching a fair look at the league. I’d agree on this premise, but I’d set the basic percentage much lower.

I’d say that if more than 35% of games have been completed in a season, then, in the event fixtures cannot be made up, the table on the last date played stands.

If you like you could declare all remaining games at nil-nil for completeness sake, but it hardly matters.

You might want to add some riders to this equation to separate grumpy teams. You could say that if teams are level, then on resumption of play, a one game play off to separate them shall take place.

I especially see the need for creative riders in this instance, as the rules were unknown beforehand which does make them more likely to be perceived as unfair.

Liverpool being awarded the title is obvious yes, but which three teams go down far less so. Champions League qualification also presents an issue worth hundreds of millions of pounds. United are just three points behind Chelsea with much better form and an easier run-in and would feel aggrieved if the rug was pulled from under them. I understand this legitimate concern, and think play-off games for these positions is not unfair.

A carefully worked handicap could apply to help the team who is currently in the advantageous position. Perhaps Chelsea and United’s separator could work over a two-leg playoff with league points active. United’s three point deficit means they would need to beat and draw with Chelsea to advance. Chelsea would need only one win, or two draws. Imperfect, but fair enough.

Something similar for the relegation places perhaps.

Anyway, beyond this season and its situation, I’m sure there are other riders one could initiate, but the basic premise is that by and large, the league is done and fair at 35%, give or take an issue here and there.

Many folk might complain that 35% is way too low for the league to be declared done, and would benefit certain teams if they have had an easier start for example, but the opposite issue perhaps explains why there is a need for a lower threshold:

Let’s flip our limit around and say it was 65% and not 35% of the games having been completed for a season to be declared done. In this case, the void point would be 64%.

If we look at this season, it would have been voided at game 25. At game 25, Liverpool were 22 points clear of City with 538 calling us 99.8% certain to win the title.

This is palpably an issue, not dissimilar from the one we face now at 75%. Making the void point lower, like 35% might be imperfect, but a least everybody knows the rules from the beginning and is aware that the rule punishes teams that start slowly.

It also stops the incorrigible Voiders brigade from attempting to hijack reality for their own means.

Now, a voiding, at 35% or another number, only becomes possible ‘in the event the fixtures cannot be made up’.

If the fixtures can be made up, then we need to be very thoughtful about what this means and how to apply this.

Firstly, there are broadly two types of disruptions. Long or short. The shorter the disruption, obviously the easier the fix. If the disruption does not hinder the leagues ability to end on time or thereabouts, then carry on as normal.

If the disruption is long enough that it results in the current season beginning to cannibalise the next one, we need to be extremely careful:

If the season was, for example 90% complete when stopped, it is probably not that difficult to play the final 4 or so matches at a later point, prior to the start of the new season which could be pushed back three weeks to allow for it.

If the season is 75% complete, like now, it does become trickier, as nine games is quite a number and would take an absolute minimum of a month plus some training time prior to complete, so probably six weeks. This is still doable, in terms of maybe starting the new season six weeks later, removing the League Cup and an international break or two, in order to find the time to complete the new season at its normal end date.

I’d push it slightly further here – let’s say we had around 12 games left when stopped. The league could conceivably by finished in around 40 days plus training time before, so around 54 days.

To start a new season 54 days late is tough, but still workable. All cups scrapped for the season, and most internationals too. Probably make just enough dates to complete without issue.

So far so good.

The big issue comes if/when a season is disrupted at 40% say.

Of course it is technically possible to play the matches at a later date, all 21 rounds of them, but the disruption to the following season is so heavy that it might render the proposition unworkable.

It would thus seem that the 35% threshold makes sense from both sides, and should also work in tandem with a rule that says if there are more than 12 rounds to be completed, then completion is ruled out, if the disruption eats into the new season – even if it is technically possible, meaning the league table at 35% or more stands regardless.

There is an enormous amount of discussion around this in respect of the rights of TV broadcasters, gate receipt issues etc, as they stand to lose by far the most in the event of a failure to complete.

It does seem obvious though, that the world has so profoundly changed over the last month or so, and will continue to do so after this event, that normal business has to change.

For football, it surely means that a percentage of all income now has to go to a previously unneeded insurance, in the form of a disruption cover, in order to make sure that broadcasters can recover in the event of total failure.

Ditto gate receipt money, we just cannot expect business to carry on as before, now that we know how difficult it is to overcome these types of issues.

Indeed, one of the reasons the call for idiotic voiding isn’t louder, is because Sky have put pressure on the clubs to either finish or pay back monies for matches not broadcast.

One thing’s for sure; whatever happens now, for the rest of our lives we are going to be pretty thankful when things that we expect actually come to pass without incident.

If you told any Liverpool fan now that we’d be stripped of this season’s title for being too good, but Corona didn’t exist, obviously we’d all grab that in a heartbeat.

If only.

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