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The shape of winter sport

Martinborough celebrate their 2019 Tui Cup victory. PHOTOS/FILE


How do you plan a winter sport competition when you lose three months, in most cases more than half the season?

With the majority of sports seemingly aiming for a start to serious competition in late June or early July and finishing by the end of September, that will give them a window of 13 or 14 weeks to complete a meaningful championship.

Any earlier start could result in teams taking the field with players not at high enough fitness levels and with little or no team preparation.

So how would I go about planning such a season?

First, I would scrap promotion-relegation.

Most premier-level leagues have some form of movement up and down between divisions. However, with most competitions comprising eight or more teams and with semifinals and finals, there won’t be the scope for teams to play a full home and away round-robin.

This would be most appropriate in football’s Central League, which has 10 teams, and requires 18 rounds to complete a home and away draw.

Of all the winter codes, home advantage seems to be more of a factor in football than other sports, and to have promotion-relegation without a full complement of games would be unfair.

New Zealand Football on Thursday confirmed the cancellation of the Chatham Cup and Kate Sheppard Cup knockout competitions, giving organisers more scope to fit in a viable competition.

For the Central League, 14 weeks would allow 1-1/2 rounds to be played, giving each team seven home and away games.

Wairarapa United’s Amber Phillips on the ball. The team finished second in the 2019 W-League.

The women’s football W-League of eight teams could complete two full rounds.

The Wairarapa local league last year was split into three divisions of six teams.

If the same follows, they could easily complete two full rounds over 10 weeks and possibly add their Knockout Cup into the mix.

In the case of the football leagues, there are no semifinals and finals, with the team with the most points winning the championship.

That is not the case with Wairarapa-Bush rugby though, with the playoffs an important factor in their championships.

One full round and a partial round giving each team an equal share of home and away fixtures would be one suggestion.

Teams could be split into two ‘conferences’ based on last season’s placings, say the first, third, fifth and seventh placed in one grouping, and the second, fourth, sixth and eighth seed in the other group.

That would put Martinborough, Greytown, Carterton, and East Coast on one side of the draw, and Gladstone, Eketahuna, Marist and Pioneer on the other.

Each team would play all teams in their ‘conference’ twice and all other teams once, giving them 10 games – five home and five away.

The top four teams would qualify for the semifinals for the Tui Cup, with the winners progressing to the final.

That would be a 12-week season, starting the first weekend of July and finishing mid-September, and allowing for some representative rugby throughout October.

Dalefield, winners of the 2019 Wellington premiership.

The Wellington Premier men’s and women’s hockey leagues, in which the top Dalefield teams contest, will also probably have to consist of one full round and a partial round.

Last year’s men’s championship had seven teams and the women’s had eight teams, so both require seven weeks to complete a full round-robin.

Hockey does though, more so than other codes, have the ability to extend their season into October or even longer because their facilities are solely dedicated to their sport.

But then that could impact on summer sport, and that’s a completely different discussion.

Netball Wairarapa, with their Colombo Road Trust House Netball Centre being used by Wairarapa DHB as a covid-19 assessment facility, has a potentially longer wait for the start of the season.

Alternative venues are a possibility, and like hockey, netball can be extended into October and even November to accommodate their season.

Good luck to all the sporting bodies sorting out the mess. I’m just pleased I don’t have to do it.

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