Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why every other playoff system sucks

Many times we’ve seen a underdog team defeating a top-ranked team in the 1st round of a major tournament. Most people rejoice (except the fans of the losing team) since everybody loves a fairy tale  victory, The organizer’s are happy since it creates a lot of buzz and everybody’s happy that the sports is still not dead since anything can happen.

Let’s take a deeper look. Team A wins 63 games out of 80 games in the regular season plays Team B which won around 40 games. Team A loses the match and bows out of the tournament. Everybody is surprised for a moment, Team B probably loses in the next round since they again play a better team and are already happy with the results they have in hand [there was a reason it only won 40 games out of 80].

The above is a common format used across many competitions in the world (NBA, Cricket Tournaments, NCAA Tournament, Champions league). But, I think such upsets does more harm to the game than benefits it. Since the team who was definitely one of the better teams in the tournament is out due to having a bad day or couple of major players being out/suspended for the game.


Some organizers e.g. the NBA, try to avoid the above scenario by either keeping N (=3,5,7) no. of matches or sometimes  giving the top ranked team a home advantage or sometimes both. Playing multiple matches definitely lowers the odds of the better team losing, however, this usually leads to some boring matches in the initial part of the tournament.

Nba_format Here comes the format used by the Australian Football league, which looks like this:

800px-AFL_finals_v2 Clearly, this system has numerous advantages than the knockout system usually followed. To quote Wikipedia “Under this finals system, the final eight teams are broken up into four groups of two. Each group of two earns one extra benefit over the teams beneath it. These benefits are home ground finals and the double-chance, whereby a first-week loss will not eliminate the team from the finals.”

I think atleast some tournaments should explore this format like the NCAA basketball tournament and the Cricket world cup which have the worst structure since there is only a single match between the teams and there’s no clear home-court advantage.



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