Making dates at the fixtures meeting

The Elite League board met and made some changes that could benefit young players in the UK, but is it the start of a growing commitment? (PHOTO: Dave Simms)

It’s the time of the year the fans look forward to as they count the days till the new season.  The new fixtures schedule.

All ten Elite League teams met on Tuesday to thrash out when they will all play each other in the coming year and it’s a period that yields a lot of questions.

In my former guise as one of the two Elite League media officers, this was a time of the year where the questions used to come thick and fast from people hoping to find a little nugget of info.

“Do we have a weekend in Scotland/Belfast?”, “Do we have a double header?”, “Who do we play first?” were just some of the queries my old partner, Rob McGregor and I fielded in our duties.

There was even one or two that kept on and on wanting to know.  Another was “I heard that (insert team name here) are playing (insert opponent’s here) on the first day.  Is this true?” Nice try.

I like to think we did our best to answer the questions politely and courteously without coming across as cheeky or rude.

This was also the time of year when people wanted to know when the play-off finals weekend was.  A perfectly fair question, but in our defence, we weren’t in the room to know this and only got notification when the board wanted it announced.

Our successor will see those questions pop up and the fact there’s talk of announcing them in the next couple of weeks is already roughly two weeks quicker than our own experience.

I put a series of tweets out yesterday about what not to expect from the fixtures meeting and assuming no great changes to the practice have been made, they should still be relevant and true.

The point about a run of away games that could be harmful to form was an important one.  How many times did we get complaints bemoaning a run of games and how the league was “corrupt” because they were complicit?

Quite a few as it went, but every one of those complaints singularly missed the point that the fixtures are agreed by each and every team before being signed off.  This was not the league pointing a finger and ordering them to take it.

So, if your team is on a six-seven-eight game run away from home or over the space of a couple of weeks and losing, you know where to direct your complaints.

By all accounts, the guys in the room were happy at how it all went yesterday and I was reading back a piece I did for the league a couple of years ago with David Simms, who chairs the fixtures meeting where he spoke of the intricacies of the process.

One criticism is why this supposed outdated process continues to work in 2019 when technology would be able to do it for them.

In 2017, Simms told me: “There isn’t a computer program that can do this for us. We’ve approached the English Premier League, rugby union, cricket and even reached out to ice hockey leagues in Sweden and Germany.

Nottingham Panthers played Sheffield Steelers in the opening weekend of last season (PHOTO: Panthers Images)

“We’ve had all kinds of computer experts looking at it, but the bottom line is there isn’t a program that can factor in the variables and intricacies of the Elite League because of the availability of dates with some teams compared to others.

“You go from the arena teams, who are restricted as to what dates they available compared to others who can choose whatever dates they want.

“It’s a fine balance to meet, but it’s a stressful few weeks for everyone concerned.

People will still scoff at that now, but you can argue there are more variables to consider than what any football, rugby, cricket league have to take into account.

Whatever way, it’s a system that works fine in the Elite League and maybe one day, all this can be entrusted to technology.  After all, machines are deciding offsides and penalties in football now and that’s going well.  I think.

But, do you know, as long as each team play each other the number of times they’re meant to, then what difference does it make how it’s thrashed out?

Until then, we have the wait for the fixtures themselves and we can really start looking ahead.  And if you have any questions, please direct them to the Elite League.

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