The Northern Ireland Football League last night issued their final plea to clubs to finish the league season this summer but it could be an uphill fight to win approval.
The 2019-2020 Irish League campaign will be decided by an independent panel on a mathematical model if clubs reject a plan for finishing it on the pitch. The Irish Football Association and NIFL aim to complete the season within the window of July 20 to August 3 with only two weeks' training in advance - provided they receive the green light from the NI Executive.
NIFL's Covid-19 Steering Group have proposed playing the two outstanding rounds of pre-split Danske Bank Premiership fixtures, taking each team to 33 games. If this proposal is rejected, the only other option presented to clubs is the adoption of a mathematical formula to determine all league placings.
That model would be developed and implemented by an independent panel, appointed by the NIFL board, and must ensure as close as possible that sporting merit is achieved as required by Uefa.
A paper will be issued to clubs to study before their responses are required by 5.00pm tomorrow.
The Steering Group will then present recommendations to the NIFL board on Friday when the Irish FA, who still plan to play out the Irish Cup, must inform Uefa of developments.
The chairmen of the 12 top-flight clubs were asked to join last night's meeting via video conference and further updates were provided to Championship and Premier Intermediate League sides.
Games would proceed behind closed doors.
With Uefa expecting clubs to be nominated for European competition by August 3, it isn't possible to play the full 38-match league programme.
But the two weeks' training is far from ideal preparation time for the players, who haven't been in competitive action since March 7 - 13 weeks ago.
Larne manager Tiernan Lynch and his Crusaders counterpart Stephen Baxter have already expressed fears over injuries.
NIFL’s two-match league proposal was viewed as the only realistic option to conclude matters on the pitch — the title race plus relegation and European places.
As far back as April, Uefa stated that if league seasons cannot be finished, national associations would need to select clubs to qualify for Europe based on “sporting merit”.
That effectively took a null-and-void season off the table.
Champions Linfield are currently four points ahead of nearest challengers Coleraine.
The IFA remain determined to play out the Irish Cup, which is at the semi-final stage, regardless of the decisions taken in relation to finishing the league season.
And it’s possible that clubs could reject the proposal to play the two league games but still agree to finish the Irish Cup.
The Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup is at the semi-final stage, with Oran Kearney’s Coleraine facing Ballymena United and Glentoran and Cliftonville contesting the other last-four tie.
August 1 or 3 are possible dates for the final at Windsor Park.
In their statement issued last night, NIFL said: “The Steering Group strongly advocates that the most reasonable, proportionate and fairest solution in the interests of the league would be to conclude the 2019-20 Premiership campaign in a condensed format with all ‘pre-split’ games being completed to ensure that each club has played each other three times.
“The only suitable alternative is to curtail the season immediately and adopt a mathematical formula to determine all league placings. Such a mathematical model would be developed and implemented by an independent panel, appointed by the NIFL board, and must ensure as close as possible that sporting merit is achieved as required by Uefa.
“The two options presented to clubs: Return to conclude the season in a condensed 33-game format (preferred option); or Curtail the season immediately and adopt a mathematical formula to determine all league placings (alternative option).”
The statement added: “Clubs are requested to return the response on the recommendations outlined by 5pm on Thursday, June 11 and following the collation of club decisions the Steering Group will present recommendations to NIFL board on Friday, June 12.”