Saturday, 28 November 2009

Bonus related play

Now that we've all finished laughing up our sleeves at Wigan following their 9-1 defeat at Tottenham last weekend, it's about time we stoked the fires of the whole freakish affair once again. To do that, I relate to you an email I received from my SPAOTP co-founder Martin Lewis this week.

He confided in me that when his wife saw the 9-1 scoreline in favour of his beloved Spurs, she said "How many points do they get for that?" When he told her it was still the standard three, she was nothing if not a little disappointed. All faintly embarrassing for her, but I assured him his wife would be spared any further ridicule on account of my not telling anyone about it.

Here in the UK, of course, there are other sports that reward high-scoring teams with the handing out of extra points. Cricket's County Championship gives batting teams an extra bonus point if they accumulate 200 to 249 runs, two bonus points if they score 250 to 299 runs and so on up to a maximum five bonus points for teams that score 400 runs or more.

The aim, of course, is to encourage teams to play in an attacking way that, as a rather pleasing side-effect, is also more entertaining for the watching audience. The question is, could football accommodate a similar system?

They say there's nothing new under the sun, and indeed the 'bonus points in football' debate is not new either. Arsene Wenger is a regular advocate of such a system (as shown by his utterances in 2005 and early in 2009) but for all the rhetoric, would it really make much difference to anything?

As usual, SPAOTP wanted to find out by doing some research of its own, specifically so that you don't have to. So here's how we think it would work. On top of the usual points system (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, none for a defeat), extra bonus points would be awarded to all teams (regardless of whether they'd gained a win or not) using the following system:

0 to 2 goals scored = 0 bonus points awarded
3 to 5 goals scored = 1 bonus point awarded
6 to 8 goals scored = 2 bonus points awarded
9 goals or more scored = 3 bonus points awarded

So let's use an example to explain things more simply. If Portsmouth beat Manchester United 3-0 (hey, it could happen), Portsmouth would earn four points in total (3 + 1 bonus point) while Man United would earn no points (as is traditional). Additionally, if both teams drew 3-3, they'd get two points each (1 + 1 bonus point).

A system such as this is entirely open to debate, of course, but using this one would have had the following effect on last season's Premier League table (see left - click for larger version).

The first thing you notice is that Liverpool would have won the title by three clear points from Man United – primarily on the basis of being the most free-scoring team in the table. As you look further down, there's little change until you reach Man City who go up three places to 7th thanks to their nine bonus points.

In the middle order there's some minor shifting around but nothing to frighten the horses before you get to the bottom two where Middlesbrough have the honour of finishing bottom of the table, rather than West Brom. All rather academic considering both teams were relegated anyway.

And that's about it. Apart from the change in teams at the two extremes of the table, there's not a huge amount to discuss unless you analyse the money gained or lost from the Premier League on account of the new positions.

But what about this season and the aforementioned 9-1 win for Spurs? Would it have sent the North London club surging to top spot in the league? Well here's the Premier League table as it looked prior to today's matches but with the appropriate bonus points added on (see right).

As you can see, Spurs haven't budged an inch. In fact only three teams have moved more than a single place thus far in the season, although Arsenal deserve a special mention for having picked up 9 bonus points already. At this rate, they'll far exceed last season's total of 13.

Once again, Liverpool are one of the main beneficiaries of our bonus points system. They'd have started today in fifth place rather than seventh, but therein lies the quandary. Does a team that's lost five of its thirteen matches deserve to be fifth in the table – largely on the back of some high-scoring victories? To put it another way, can you defend the awarding of a point to a team that loses 5-3 (as Burnley did at West Ham today) alongside a team that draws 1-1?

When you weigh everything up on the evidence of the above, one is left with a single overriding thought. Yes, the bonus points system would almost certainly encourage more goal-scoring, but the effect of the extra points gained would change very little as far as the final table's concerned.

You, however, may feel differently about the matter, and if you do, we'd very much welcome your thoughts. Leave us a comment and tell us what you think.

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