Clubs in the Championship are aiming for 25 May as a possible date to return to training, after the government published guidance for a tentative first step back based on sessions with physical distancing between players.
At a meeting on Wednesday Championship clubs reaffirmed that they do want to finish the 2019-20 season if possible and will now discuss with players a prospective return on that date.
Following a board meeting also held on Wednesday, clubs in League One and League Two will discuss their options on Friday, with a majority view said to be moving towards a decision not to try to complete the season. The practical and safety hurdles for training again and looking to play matches behind closed doors are not balanced in those lower divisions by a major financial benefit from playing.
Players’ contracts that are scheduled to conclude at the end of a season generally do so on 30 June so clubs will face further costs of paying out‑of‑contract players if they resume and extend the season beyond that date.
If the season is cancelled, consideration would be given to how final places will be determined, with the most likely format being a points-per-game average allocated for the outstanding matches. The idea of still holding a round of play-off matches to determine final promotion places is likely also to be discussed.
The EFL chairman, Rick Parry, told the Commons select committee for digital, culture, media and sport last week that the league is collectively facing a potential £200m deficit caused by football’s suspension because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Championship clubs, who receive the bulk of the EFL’s TV deal and Premier League “solidarity” payments, still have some financial incentive to try to finish the season, and clubs with a chance of promotion remain keen.
The guidance for training published by the DCMS is aimed at allowing elite and professional sportspeople to “initially carry out individual performance training at an official elite training venue” provided they keep two metres apart from each other.
In a statement, the EFL said: “Current attention is clearly on the immediate next steps, but the long-term impact on the League and its clubs remains as stark as previously outlined, and solutions are still required to fill the financial hole left by the crisis. The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be rectified simply by a return to play behind closed doors.
“In addition, the EFL is mindful of the pressing need for clarity in a number of areas, including the practicalities and timeframes of clubs being able to facilitate a return to training. To address this, clubs have today been issued with the latest draft of the EFL’s ‘Return to Training Protocols’, so that they can prepare appropriately.
“However, until all outstanding matters are concluded, including finalising a comprehensive testing programme on matchdays and non-matchdays, the EFL board has informed its clubs that a return to training should not take place until 25 May at the earliest.”