The FA objective is to prevent a third consecutive season being curtailed/declared as null and void at Steps Five and Six
The Football Association League’s Committee has issued the following statement, concerning Steps Five and Six of English football – which includes the Southern Counties East Football League and Combined Counties League.
National League System Step Five and Six Covid-19 Contingency Planning Update – 2021-22 Season
Whilst the government’s roadmap out of lockdown and the easing of restrictions has been welcomed, it is impossible to predict the precise circumstances that may exist, or any future restrictions or actions that the government may impose or take in the coming months or throughout the 2021-22 season.
This document therefore sets out the Approaches that The FA’s Leagues Committee (the “Committee” ) intends to develop and apply for Steps Five and Six of the National League System (the “NLS ”) in the event of COVID -19 related fixture disruption during the 2021 -22 season. These high-level Approaches have been discussed and agreed by the Committee and have been tailored to the specific needs at this level of the game.
Steps Three and Four (via the Alliance Leagues Committee) are also undertaking a similar process and the National League will engage in its own process with its clubs for Steps One and Two.
The Committee will keep these Approaches under review and, where appropriate, build out further details and next steps. The Committee wishes to give clubs an understanding of the proposed Approaches ahead of the start of the season so that clubs can provide any observations or views ahead of the Committee developing these proposals further.
The 2019- 20 and 2020- 21 seasons across the NLS have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and this has presented many challenges for its clubs and leagues.
The Committee maintains the view that the health and safety of club staff and players is of paramount importance, alongside acknowledging that any solutions must, as far as possible, be financially and operationally viable for clubs and divisions.
Following two disrupted seasons at this level, and with the only movement of Clubs at Steps Five and Six being those elevated through the restructure at the end of the 2020-21 season, the primary objectives of these Approaches is, as far as possible and with the above principles in mind, to:
• prevent a third consecutive season being curtailed/declared as null and void at this level;
• achieve promotion and relegation at the end of the season; and
• protect and maintain the sporting integrity and stability of the NLS.
3. CURRENT ASSUMPTIONS
The Committee has developed its preferred approaches based on the following assumptions:
• Where divisions are able to complete a full season of fixtures, league tables will be determined and promotion and relegation will take place, in accordance with the Standardised Rules and the NLS Regulations.
• The League season is expected to commence on or around 31 July 2021 but, could commence as late as 31 October 2021 (for example, if further restrictions are introduced) with divisions still having enough time to complete a full season of fixtures by the last weekend in April 2022 or second week in May 2022 at the latest.
• The Committee remain of the view that without the ability for clubs to welcome spectators to what it deems to be an acceptable level and without the ability to generate some secondary spend via food and beverage sales (or without financial support to cover some of these losses), then football at Steps Five and Six cannot commence (or continue).
4. PROPOSED APPROACHES
Approach 1 – 75% of fixtures completed
If the season successfully starts between 31 July 2021 and 31 October 2021, but it becomes clear that a division cannot complete 100% of its fixtures, the Committee proposes that league tables should still be finalised where the division has completed at least 75% of its fixtures.
Where this is achieved, final league standings would be determined by using unweighted Points Per Game ( “PPG” ) and promotion and relegation would take place based on those standings largely in accordance with the usual position under the NLS Regulations . The Committee (and in the case of Step Five to Four in conjunction with The FA Alliance Leagues Committee) would determine whether play- offs would take place, or the top two Clubs promoted instead. (depending on the time available).
Approach 2 – Alternate Competition
If the 2021- 22 season cannot commence on or before 31st October, the Committee proposes that an Alternate Competition be implemented and, subject to the circumstances at the time (including any restrictions in place) intends for this to take one of the following two forms:
a) existing divisions are split in half, with clubs in each half playing each other on a home and away basis; or
b) The division remains “whole” but with all clubs playing each other once (on a home or away basis), with clubs having as near to an equal number of home and away fixtures as possible.
Having completed their fixtures in the Alternate Competition, league standings for the Alternate Competition would be determined in the traditional manner with promotion and relegation to follow.
The precise mechanism for promotion and relegation will depend on which of the above formats is applied but, as with Approach 1, the Committee currently intends to apply the existing principles under the NLS Regulations. For example, at Step Five, for format (a) it is likely that the top club from each half of each division be promoted or required to participate in Inter-Step Play-Offs with a Step Four Club (such that no more than two clubs from each whole division are promoted) (subject to any reprieves in accordance with the NLS Regulations) with the bottom Club in each half division relegated ; For format (b), the Committee would determine whether play-offs would take place or the top two Clubs promoted instead (depending on the time available).
At Step Six, for format (a) it is likely that the top club from each half of each division be promoted, save for the four half divisions operated by the South West Peninsula League, where of the four top Clubs two will be promoted on a PPG basis and the bottom two Clubs in each Alternate Competition will be liable to relegation; for format (b), the Committee would determine whether play-offs would take place or the top two Clubs promoted instead (depending on the time available) and the bottom three Clubs would be liable for relegation, subject to the number of promotion applicants from Feeder Leagues. This is to ensure the impact upon each division overall remains consistent with the usual position under the NLS Regulations. If an Alternate Competition commences and cannot complete, the matter will be referred to the Committee to decide the next steps.
Approach 3 – Supplementary Competition
Where (i) Approach 1 is implemented but a division cannot complete 75% of its fixtures, or (ii) Approach 2 is implemented but there is in sufficient time for the Alternate Competition to be completed, the Committee may implement a Supplementary Competition which could be extended beyond the end of the traditional season. If a Supplementary Competition is required, the Committee intends to utilise results from completed fixtures in the 2021/22 season to (i) avoid clubs playing opponents more than twice in the season, and (ii) ensure there is sufficient data to determine league standings.
The Committee will continually review whether or not the regular playing season has commenced in each division from 31 July 2021 – the planned opening weekend of fixtures for the vast majority of Step Five and Six Leagues.
The Committee acknowledges the difficulties that different clubs and divisions have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, including when certain areas of the country have had tougher restrictions than others. The Committee therefore proposes to consider each division’s individual circumstances when determining which of the above Approaches to apply, whilst also ensuring that all divisions are treated fairly and consistently.
This may therefore lead to different divisions within the same Step being subject to different Approaches. Nonetheless, where the Committee applies PPG (Approach 1), or an Alternate Competition (Approach 2) is implemented and completed, the Committee intends to consider that division to have completed the 2021/22 season such that its league table can be finalised.
The Committee’s intention, in line with the objectives above, is for promotion and relegation to occur where standings have been determined, but this will be subject to a wider review of all divisions in the Steps to ensure the integrity and stability of the NLS is maintained. If a Supplementary Competition (Approach 3) is required, the Committee will consider whether promotion and relegation can occur.
Finally, the Committee acknowledges that, given the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a scenario in which none of the above Approaches are feasible. If this is the case, the Committee would still be able to determine what actions are to be taken (subject to approvals from the relevant FA entities), at its sole discretion, by reference to the principles and primary objectives noted above. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to consider a curtailment to the 2021 -22 season without promotion and/or relegation (i.e. ‘null and void’).
5. NEXT STEPS
Should any club wish to provide observations or views on the above, please email these to NLS@TheFA.com by no later than close of business on 30 July 2021.
These views will then be considered by the Committee when they develop the Approaches in further detail.