This year has been one of the closest seasons in years at the top of the table, with there being a very real possibility of Sydney, Adelaide, Geelong, and Hawthorn all finishing the season with 17 wins and 5 losses, meaning percentage decides the entire top four.
The last time something like this happened was in 1994, when North Melbourne, Geelong, Footscray and Hawthorn all finished with a winning record of 13-9, and were placed third to sixth. There was also three teams on 12-10 (Melbourne, Collingwood, and Richmond. Who do you think came ninth?)
That’s all well and good, but the question is now: what if there’s a percentage tie?
To start off with, here is the ladder as of now, before any games from today have finished:The most likely outcome for a draw, in my book, is North Melbourne and St Kilda.
Assuming that North Melbourne lost to Sydney and GWS by a score of 40-100, and St Kilda beat Richmond and Brisbane by the same scoreline, this is what the ladder would look like:
North and St Kilda are closer, but still 3% away from each other. You’ll also be pleased to note Hawthorn is no longer on top of the ladder.
What if St Kilda won their games 120-40? Surely that would help a bit?
Within 1% now! Just a little bit more will be necessary, how about making it 130-40?
Well done, we got St Kilda into the finals! What if we make it so that against GWS, North Melbourne scored 41 points instead of 40?
We are able to swap it by giving North Melbourne just one more point? So now we know that 1 point is worth around 0.06% (don’t forget about it changing for GWS).
If we keep giving each team additional points scored (notice that I’m ignoring the teams they play, as it doesn’t really matter for this), we eventually end up with this ladder:
(Sorry about the #).
This is a perfectly tied ladder, causing all sorts of headaches for the AFL. (Of course, it would be better if Melbourne won both of its games, causing them to finish in eighth, but we’ll assume they lose to Geelong, at least).
However, it’s not quite perfectly tied, and that turns out to be pretty important.
Patrick Keane, of AFL House, had a chat with Triple M earlier this year about the very same issue, and according to an article on Triple M’s website, this is what would happen:
First of all, the only mathematical chance of this occurring is if both teams finish on the exact same Points For and Points Against. The AFL will otherwise go to as many decimal places as required to break the deadlock.
We did this for you.
North Melbourne’s percentage is 0.004654274% better. That’s the equivalent of saying that, insead of the distance from Melbourne to Sydney being 878.2km, it becomes 882.3km. Apart from an extra cent worth of petrol, that won’t really matter much.
But, it matters in this case.
So let’s go all the way and assume that North Melbourne and St Kilda are exactly tied.This causes headaches for the AFL. Or it would, if they hadn’t worked it out.
They did this after the 1955 season, when Essendon finished fourth with a percentage of 130.57%, and Footscray, the reigning premiers, finished fifth with a percentage of 129.96%. Had Footscray scored one extra goal and conceded one less point in their last match against North Melbourne, they would have made the finals, that’s how close it is.
In Section 2.5 of the Australian Football League Regulations (Premiership Competition – Inclusive of Home and Away Matches), you can see the following:
(b)(i)(C) a percentage shall be calculated for each Club based on the proportion of points scored for and against each Club during the Home and Away Matches.
(c) Ranking of Clubs at end of Home and Away Matches
(d) The AFL shall maintain a Premiership Ladder that determines the position of Clubs competing in the Premiership Competition. The ranking of Clubs on the Premiership Ladder at the completion of the Home and Away Matches shall be determined in accordance with the following procedure:
(i) the order of Clubs shall first be determined by the number of Premiership Points accumulated by each Club, by placing in descending order the Club with the highest accumulated Premiership Points through to the Club with the lowest accumulated Premiership Points;
(ii) The Premiership Points accumulated by Clubs shall be adjusted if necessary and at any time, to take into account any sanctions imposed by the Commission under AFL Rule 17.
(iii) where two or more Clubs have accumulated the same total of Premiership Points, the Club with the highest percentage as calculated under Regulation 2.5(b)(i)(C) shall be placed first as between them;
(iv) Where two or more Clubs at the completion of the Home and Away Matches have accumulated the same Premiership Points and have the same percentage, the following procedure shall apply:
- (A) the position of the tied Clubs shall be adjusted by accumulating the Premiership Points awarded to the relevant Clubs as a result of the Home and Away Matches played between them and placing the Club with the highest accumulated Premiership Points, first as between them;
- (B) where the Premiership Points accumulated by the relevant Clubs remain equal, the position of the tied Clubs shall be adjusted by calculating each such Club’s percentage based on the proportion of points scored for and against each such Club from the Home and Away Matches between them and placing the Club with the highest percentage, first as between them;
- (C) where two or more Clubs still remain tied, the position of the Clubs shall be adjusted by lot conducted and drawn by the General Manager – Football Operations so that any Club drawn ahead of any other Club shall be placed ahead of such other Club or Clubs.
So, with St Kilda and North Melbourne, given North Melbourne won both of the games between the two clubs, they would go through instead of the Saints. If they didn’t, then it would go to a coin toss (broadcast live on Fox Footy?).
However, considering we now have a pre-finals bye week, it would make a lot of sense to hold a playoff game in that week, instead of a coin toss. We’ll just have to wait for all of this to happen.
See also a BigFooty thread with this being discussed.