The Cup Runneth Over

Rank and Vile has a nice discussion of soccer from the viewpoint of an AFL fan. He quotes a forum member from the Melbourne Victory board:

Australian Rules barrackers are baffled by the low-scoring nature of football. They are used to a game with a scoring shot every few means, where scores over 100 are not uncommon.

Football demands a completely new mindset. It is all about possibilities. It is about build-up. About attempts. A football fan gets pleasure out of watching the strategic approach towards the goals. They see the possible passes mapped out, and watch for openings to appear.

A nil-all draw can yield any number of promising build-ups and near misses. The experienced football fan will cheer and remember these as much as any high flying mark or rushed behind.

While Aussie Rules fans celebrate what just happened, football fans assess what could happen next

All true, and beautifully put. But it misses one point. Low scoring sports are inherently less fair than high-scoring sports. In a high-scoring sport, it is very likely that the better team will win. In a low-scoring sport, there’s a higher probability that bad teams will have lucky wins. Perhaps the age-old idea of widening the soccer goals would do violence to the inherent poetry of the game. But one thing’s for sure – it would make it fairer.

Then again, from the Socceroos’ perspective, we probably want as much randomness in the game as possible.

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8 Responses to The Cup Runneth Over

  1. Epic Cure says:

    Andrew, while you’re right that low-scoring sports are less equitable (and hence provide me with a defence post tonight’s match … not that I’ll need one!!) football reflects the very inequities of life, and this is part of the beautiful game’s appeal.

    Watching our clubs/national teams going down in flames on the football pitch because of some random error or misplaced header, connects with the football fan’s primal frustration at the inherent unfairness of life and the universe. Maybe that’s part of its appeal.

    Or maybe it’s just a fantastic sport and we’re relieved to finally be back on the world stage (where we should rightfully be, as such a huge sporting nation I guess).

    Now, I wonder if an essay marked out of 50 would be considered low scoring or high scoring …? (Just preparing for my next line of defence!) Certainly not as high scoring as an AFL match, right?? ;o)

  2. derrida derider says:

    Australia’s already benefited from the unfairness – there is no way we should have got away with a draw against Holland.

    Worse even than the unfairness is the high probability of a draw, which leads to the true lottery of a penalty shootout.

    I reckon soccer should just abolish the offside rule. It would open the game up and reward pace and precision long passes. Judging by the effect on hockey, goals would still be fairly rare but less so than at present – say an average of about 4 goals a game instead of the current average of about 2.

  3. Patrick says:

    …All of which leads inexorably to the conclusion that Rugby is the perfect sport!

  4. Bring Back EP at LP says:

    This is why it is the perfect game for kiddies to play.
    It breeds character to play in a game like the game against Iran where you play the team off the park yet still fail to win.

    It is the beautiful game and the world game!

    joga bonita!!

  5. supernathan says:

    > Low scoring sports are inherently less fair than high-scoring sports.

    No, they’re not. Or at least, not inherently.

    Imagine a hypothetical sport in which two teams simply sprint over 100 metres, with the team who runs quickest winning one-nil. This sport would be even low-scoring than French soccer but very fair, insofar as little is left to chance in a 100 metre sprint.

    If you glance across the odds in professional soccer, AFL and league, there seems to be little difference — there’s probably an inate preference for sporting competitions that offer a certain ratio of return-to-skill vs unpredictability.

  6. Andrew Leigh says:

    Nathan, in your example, the equivalent of the score is the time. Because we measure times in the 100m in hundredths of a second, running is a very fair sport.

    The odds don’t help us here, since they’re affected both by underlying competitive balance and the randomness of the game. So AFL isn’t very random, but has a draft and a salary cap in an attempt to maintain competitive balance.

  7. supernathan says:

    If a sport is low scoring because it’s difficult to score from an attack (as opposed to it being because there are few attacks altogether) then its only effect is to make the probability distribution function more discrete and less “smoothed out”. It’s natural to think of a draw as having denied the better team victory, but mathematically speaking it’s just as likely to have denied the WORSE TEAM victory — ie, it’s just as likely to have prevented an unfair result as to have created one.

    Imagine going back and rounding the margin from every AFL game to the nearest 20. Sure, you would create a lot of draws but the ratio of upsets to predictable-wins would remain unchanged.

  8. Stanley says:

    Hey guys, check out this AFL pictures!

    It is so bloody funny, I was nearly rolling around on the floor.

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