I’ve been watching lots of football. My well-behaved, subjective preference is for Football Code X, but that is immaterial, because my gripe is with any football competition involving a Finals System, whether it be Soccer, American Football, either of the Rugby codes, Australian Football, Gaelic football – perhaps even Table Football if I understood its complexities – or any other game that might exist out there in the “real world” supposedly located beyond the perimeter of the CBD.
(Actually, of this “real world” I wouldn’t know. Like all respectable economists, I strive to follow the counsel of the Gospel of Thomas, Logion 115, to be “in the world, but not aware of the world”, lest a psychological identification with the elite developed in my “intellectual” infancy at the School of Economics falls away, leaving in its place only apostasy – egalitarianism, pacifism, socialism, etc.)
Currently there are at least two things horribly wrong with the Finals System:
1. Lowly ranked teams that fail to qualify get to do nothing for the entire period of finals.
2. The Wooden Spooner evades maximum humiliation, slinking away almost unnoticed at the end of the home-and-away season.
Neither of these things will do. Players with too much time on their hands and unafraid of humiliation are a recipe for disaster. Many will use the time to do things unrelated to football. Others will start to “think for themselves” or “get ideas”, even question the system itself. For instance, is it even right that in football we have winners and losers? Are our gazillion dollar salaries really justified while some children starve and others go without iPods? No! It can’t be. Keep players active and unquestioning. Preserve the system.
This is why there is a desperate need for a Reverse Finals System involving all low-ranking teams to be run concurrently with the existing Finals System and introduced no later than immediately.
In the Reverse Finals System, the aim would be to win enough games to achieve elimination, thereby avoiding the Wooden Spoon. It could be run the same way as the Finals System (whichever system a particular competition adopts), only in reverse.
For example, in one league existing in the world, there are currently eighteen teams. The Top Eight qualify for a four-week finals series. To reach the Grand Final – the winner of which is awarded the Flag – the top four teams need to win two games from no more than three attempts, the bottom four, three wins from as many attempts.
In the Reverse Finals System, the Bottom Eight would be relegated to a corresponding four-week series. To avoid the Reverse Grand Final – the loser of which would be the recipient of the Wooden Spoon, strident criticism and acute embarrassment – the top four teams of the Bottom Eight could afford to lose twice, the bottom four only once, in as many as three games.
Simple and intuitive.
There is, however, a minor flaw with the Reverse Finals System when applied to this particular competition (and maybe also when applied to other competitions – who knows?) in that it leaves the ninth and tenth ranked teams unoccupied during the finals period, these teams neither eligible for Finals nor consigned to Reverse Finals. Players from these teams might think that they have escaped to Neverland, and admittedly I nearly gave up on the proposal myself when first noticing the problem.
These teams will play a (yes, completely pointless) best of four series to determine Ninth spot. If the series ends in a 2-2 draw, they will both be placed Ninth. (It’s obvious, really. Ten being neither a perfect square nor prime, Tenth spot must be unoccupied in this scenario.)
For those who feel that there are more pressing topics I could have broached today, consider the economic benefits of the Reverse Finals System. At the macro level:
1. It keeps players from lower-ranked teams in “good habits” and more enticing to poachers. This exerts downward pressure on player salaries in general. A ready-made nominal price anchor!
2. It maintains strong – but not overly strong – levels of playing activity across the entire competition instead of boom times for the finals cohort at the expense of a slump for everybody else. Demand stabilization par excellence!
At the micro level, there are attractive incentive properties. At the moment, with no Reverse Finals System in place, there is little reason for players to care about making finals. They know that by missing the finals they can sit around doing nothing – or worse, agitating for revolution! – and still receive an income. Reverse Finals will reinforce a protestant work ethic and a win-at-all-cost mentality for all.