Here is an example of a rule that was introduced by officials, certainly with the intention of increasing the number of goals. The main purpose of this chapter is to show that other parties – the highest ones in fact – have recognised that there is a shortcoming and that they are trying to increase the attractiveness of the game by scoring more goals. Of course, one might have hoped that the purely perceived drama in a game could be increased by the efforts of both sides to go out for the three points awarded, provided that a game was tied in the final phase. However, this in itself would have only one consequence, even if not explicitly formulated: more goals would (hopefully) be scored than if, for example, the teams “resigned” themselves to a 1-1 draw in the last 20 minutes, concluded a non-attacking pact.
The basic idea was positive. However, practice shows that the impact, if any, was very small. The draw frequency has not drastically reduced, the goal average has not increased. The only remaining argument of the rule’s supporters is to say that otherwise the goal average would have been lowered (even more drastically), to the extent that perhaps the trend of decline was stopped. Here are the figures from the three seasons of the German Bundesliga before and after the introduction of the three-point rule as an example:
1993: Draws: 29.29% Goal ø: 2.936
1994: Draws : 27.21% Goal ø: 2.918
1995: Draws : 28.10% Goal : ø 3.016
1996: Draws : 35.29% Goal ø: 2.715
1997: Draws : 22.87% Goal ø: 2.977
1998: Draws : 27.78% Goal ø: 2.879
Average with two-point rule: Draws : 28.20%
Goal ø: 2.957
Average with three-point rule: Draws : 28.64%
Goal ø: 2.857
It is quite clear: the rule has not had the effect it was hoped for. The number of draws has risen, the average number of goals has fallen, and can be described as stagnation, which has more or less continued to this day. Here are the figures for the season
2010: Draws: 28.10% Goals ø: 2.830
The draws have become a little rarer, but at the same time the average number of goals has fallen minimally. Well, as I said, stagnation is the best way to put it, which can be interpreted positively, since the values have not developed adversely over a fairly long period of time. Of course, it is idle to speculate on how things would have looked without the introduction of the rule. It is, however, interesting, provided one is familiar with the
for the ineffectiveness.
You can’t control the mentality just like that. Players and coaches do not accept the rule. Of course, the media also lead the way (by setting a bad example). They have the power to continue to prey on the losers in the commentary. Provided they stick to this strategy, players and coaches will be hell-bent on defeat by deliberately increasing the risk, only to find themselves not only torn apart by the media but also finding their chair out the door the following week. Coaches continue to be sacked after the second defeat, which may simply have been caused by the conscious decision to bring on a third striker for a defender in order to force the winning goal. The player who loses the ball in forward gear and thus causes the goal to be conceded finds himself on the bench. None of the people in charge will go along with that. The idea is good, but the risk is mathematically worthwhile at best.
The coach responsible for the measure and thus for the defeat – typical representatives here would be Ralf Rangnick or Mirko Slomka – then calculates in an interview to the media representative that his team would only have needed a 33.3% chance to score the winning goal, compared to the 66.7% they conceded. As much as he would be mathematically right, it would not save his chair, which was already sawed off in advance anyway.
However, even without media influence, it would not be easy to make sense of the rule. As long as a game is tied, you have the bird in the hand. It is difficult to understand – and this is certainly responsible for the saying – how one can let go of the sparrow in the hope of getting the pigeon on the roof. Intuitively, one does not do this. The rule officials certainly did not seriously consider this psychological resistance when they invented the rule. The fact remains: You don’t want to lose, it’s as simple as that. Business as usual. Risk? No, thank you. I’m not going to risk my job just like that, am I?
3) Mind games
a. The correct deal
In the context of modern football, you have to think a little further ahead. “Calculate” would not be such a great word in the context of football, but it would be a good start here. Insofar as one gives serious thought to the profitability of the possible deal – give away sparrow, chase pigeon — one does not come to demonstrably clear results, to say the least. These days, an overly offensive approach carries a significant increase in the risk of conceding a goal. It is not without reason that the saying was once coined that the attack wins games, but the defence wins championships. Insofar as one simply plays forward, not with Rehhagel’s mentality of controlled offence, without regard for losses, it may be that the chance of scoring the winning goal is less than the mathematically required 33.3% compared to the chance of conceding one (this chance must therefore be only half as great, since one can conquer two points – from 1 to 3, but can only lose one – from 1 to 0).
Apart from that, of course, it would have to be much higher than 33.3%, since that would be the minimum value and the intuitive protection from defeat mentioned above would still stand in the way. Even if it were calculated that one would have 35% to force a victory compared to the 65% to suffer defeat, one would intuitively continue to shy away.
One should always bear in mind that for the statistics, only the games in which the winning goal is scored would have to be taken into account; for this or that. Logically, all those in which the risk was increased, perhaps on both sides, and yet nothing happens (or even both are successful), are irrelevant, do not appear in it It is still an outsider’s chance that one pursues. Its occurrence would rather surprise one. It would merely be mathematically correct due to the double number of points to be achieved. It would remain the same: one would refrain from doing it. Only from about 40% — which would be proven to a player, best of all by the coach of course — could one assume that in practice it is accepted that the risk is actually increased. For therein already lies the crux of the matter: risk mentality is obviously one that concedes a significantly increased chance of damage. In that case, one could only speak of the famous “calculated risk”.
Imagine a mathematically less gifted reporter compiling a statistic in which he proves that a team has conceded decisive goals in the closing minutes far more often than it has scored any. This scenario would be very conceivable. The correction, the rehabilitation of the coach, who then wants to explain that he consciously took this risk and that he was aware that it would be less likely to succeed than to fail, would come far too late. Those in charge have long since pulled the famous ripcord, in view of the record of horror, and have not heeded this vindication. So why should he take the risk route beforehand? The mathematical explanation would probably be beyond the comprehension of all those in charge.
b. The imagination
Here it would indeed be interesting to see what would happen if both teams behaved optimally or what would be optimal behaviour. It is somewhat comparable to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. One has to deal with this problem for a while to find access to it, so it can only be given here as a hint for the reader who is familiar with it. On the football pitch it looks something like this:
If a game is tied, there is the mathematical calculation that advises you to take the risk of going on the offensive if you have at least half the chance of forcing a goal – and thus victory – compared to the chance of conceding a goal – and thus having to concede defeat. If you think a little further, however, this is exactly the same for the opposing team. They, too, would have the same conditions. To go on the offensive and to live with the risk of defeat, trusting in the healthy relationship between these two chances.
If, however, a team, aware that the opponent correctly intends to increase the risk, simply switches to the defensive, naturally winking at the successful counterattack, then it might really have significantly increased its chance – see Prisoner’s Dilemma – of scoring the winning goal. Only this behaviour, once recognised, could also be copied again by the opposing team. What comes out? Probably what we see today: The teams are watching each other to see who makes the first mistake, who loses their nerve first, who is stupid enough to move up too far for a moment.
It’s like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Since it is a “dilemma”, the very term suggests something unpleasant. And in the case of the prisoners’ dilemma, it is only a thought experiment (which, by the way, has been tested in practical experiments because of its particularly explosive nature; if you are interested, check Wikipedia). In football it is also a kind of experiment, but a highly practical one, the effects of which we can observe every day. Is there a way out of it? How do you do it right?
4) The not quite related situation
Before offering the way out of the dilemma, however, a (not quite related) game situation can be used as an illustration. This game situation arises when one team is leading by one goal.
In this situation, too, the trailing team is in danger of exposing the defence and conceding 0:2 through a counterattack. But the two huge differences to the even score: if you have already lost, i.e. you are 0:1 behind, you can only improve your chances. At the moment, you are at 0 points. Everything is right to change that, including taking (increased) risks.
Even more serious, however, is the other difference: The leading team also has the chance to score a goal by taking advantage of a counterattacking opportunity. However, this would only be accompanied by a slight shift in the odds in their favour. One has all three points even if the score is 1:0. This means that they do not take full advantage of the situation. If the score is even, it would be advisable to move up, but not if you are leading. You’d like to, but you don’t have to, and one thing is above all: just don’t risk too much! So the leading team doesn’t.
5) The way out
Logically, the first way out is through the media. If the official side absolutely wants to maintain the rule – which in itself would not be necessary, since enough offers are made here on how the number of goals per game can be increased in a very simple way, thus ensuring the hoped-for increase in tension without seriously interfering with the rules – then of course the losers should not be portrayed as failures. This is generally true anyway, but it is particularly advisable at this point. You can see on the pitch that (both sides) are aiming for the three points. One is grateful for the exciting game, the increased offensive spirit on both sides in the final phase – and regrets the unfortunate loser in this game, gladly as the “second winner”. He didn’t do anything wrong, maybe next week or at the next attempt they will get the three points.
This is exactly where the mathematical basis would apply: one game lost, because of the increased risk, one game won, because of the increased risk. In total, THREE points from two games and not, for example, only two, for the two draws, if the risk was avoided.
The acceptance of the rule and the laws that go with it would have to be prescribed by the media.
However, it would be very easy to implement the other proposals – which of course still include fair treatment of all losers as an indispensable part of the spectacle – and return to the two-point rule. If the suggestions were followed, there would be plenty of goals anyway, and it would certainly be fairer.
6) The analysis of the rule checkers
It has often been said that the three-point rule allegedly “had no effect”, “calculated” by some statisticians, with a very strange explanation as to what they were trying to prove. The reasoning is as follows: the table images would turn out almost identically, regardless of whether they were produced according to the old two-point rule or the three-point rule.
Why this observed effect was sorted so far down the list? Quite simply: because of its complete lack of substance. Some self-appointed statistician once checked the tables for this – in other words, created them as if they were settled with two points or with three points – and found that there were only very minor changes.
Yes, even if there were – unchecked here – was that to be read off as a default somewhere? Did UEFA send out a circular to all the associations when the rule was introduced, saying that by introducing the rule they hoped that a blatant underdog would finally become champion through the greater coincidence it introduced? “We don’t want the tables to be so well-ordered any more. It gets boring in the long run.” Was that it?
No, there is no sign of that far and wide. It was about increasing the attractiveness – every lecture is gladly accepted, even from the official side –, more suspense in the closing minutes and generally more goals.
By the way: even if it had been the intention that the tables would be more random and that table movements would be easier to achieve through a higher reward for victories, the question would still be open as to how the teams would have behaved if the alternative rule had been valid. In other words, to take a table that resulted from the application of the three-point rule and simply convert it as if the two-point rule had been used would be, to put it bluntly, unfair. After all, the teams would have played the individual matches under partly completely different conditions, their efforts on the pitch would have followed completely different guidelines, which applies not only to the final rounds but to all match days, albeit in a somewhat more limited way.
Just assume, for example, that if the two-point rule applied, the second-placed team could still become champion before the last matchday, but if the three-point rule applied, it could no longer do so. The team loses, but is sure of second place anyway. Afterwards, they are told that they could have been champions under the two-point rule and that they should have tried, so that the statistics show a change that the new rule would have brought about? It doesn’t get more pointless than that.
Such a “statistic” thus provides evidence for the colloquial assessment: “with a statistic you can prove anything.” Namely also complete nonsense.
The introduction of the three-point rule was not worthwhile. It was a well-intentioned attempt that was ineffective not only because of the practical results. The fact remains that in this context the media could play to their power. Insofar as they thank both teams and the coaches for a great game after a great game that is lost 2:3 by a goal in the last minutes for one team – as a result of the increased risk because of the three points they were aiming for, but also simply because of that. That’s the football you want to see, not the cramped defence of a 0-0 or 1-1.
So, you could just as well go back to the two-point rule. It is simply fairer. There is a table with plus and minus points, the results are more comparable – even with the inevitable match failures, there would be a more readable table – and also the media comments that are not only (unpleasantly) encountered but (regrettably) nevertheless hit the nail roughly between the forehead and the ears, i.e. almost on the head, would only apply to a very limited extent: “This draw doesn’t help anyone” or “there are actually two losers here.” After all, the one who suffers and loses in this sense is always the same in all cases: the (even if it is only the neutral) spectator.
However, the rule may have had one effect: If you are far behind in the standings when the rule is in force, well away from any seasonal goals, then you can really subscribe to the following statement: “It’s quite quick to catch up with the three-point rule. Three wins and we’re back in it.” Only: what does that have to do with justice? To what extent can it be reconciled with any preliminary considerations about the introduction of the rule? It would merely be a “random” effect. And: to the team that benefits from it (it goes fast with the rule…) there is also (at least) one suffering.
8) The improvement idea
There is another way to practically improve even this actually good idea. Again, it is not only borrowed from ice hockey, but has been implemented similarly in the USA (!), and even in football, in Major League Soccer.
Three points are awarded in each game. If there is a winner after 90 minutes, he gets the whole three, the loser of course 0. If the game is a draw, each party is assured of one point. The third point is determined in extra time and/or then in a penalty shoot-out. Here, the penalty shootout is specially encouraged, not the penalty shootout. In Major League Soccer in the USA it was like this, in ice hockey it is like this and in football the introduction of the penalty with a 35-metre run-up and 6 seconds of utilisation time of the lone attacker against the equally lone goalkeeper has already been suggested elsewhere.
The risk paid off handsomely at all stages of the game. You can get a third whole point if you manage the winning goal in regulation time. But the third point is not lost for good in a draw, for either team, it is still in contention. It will still be played out, certainly adding to the spectator’s entertainment. Justice can also be seen in the standings. There are plus and minus points again. Those who win many games in regulation still have the best cards. And it would be hoped that excitement would be ensured.
However, the downside of such a regulation should not go unmentioned here: one would no longer know the exact time of the game. This could cause difficulties for the media broadcasts as well as for the paying fans in the stadium, who would prefer a time schedule. On the other hand, it has worked like this in the cup for decades. So presumably this minor problem will be accepted after a period of getting used to it? Under the current regulations, the display of injury time, which can be quite long here and there, has long since stood in the way of planning security. Extended interruptions of the game (here and there due to injuries or weather conditions) do not guarantee the fan a punctual visit to his mother’s for coffee and cake at the appointed time.
Concluding comment: it was obvious that a higher entertainment value was desired. Excitement, action, goals and fun are directly related to each other. These can only be good for the game. However, the measure of awarding three points for a win was a reach into the dustbin. There are measures that can be taken to achieve this goal much more easily without the certain injustice of awarding three points per win and only one each for a draw.