Time to switch to a top-four finals system

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

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    Tony Popovic has been consistently chopping and changing his Wanderers team. AAP Image/Theron Kirkman

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    With eleven games remaining, the A-League’s top four is taking shape. There is little doubt that Central Coast, Adelaide United, Melbourne Victory and newcomers Western Sydney have been the four best teams to date.

    Both the Mariners and Adelaide have won 10 games each and boast two of the best attacking records in the competition.

    Melbourne Victory have hammered home the goals as well, while the Wanderers outstanding form is largely based on a stingy defence.

    Tony Popovic’s impressive Western Sydney have won half of their league games to date, despite many pundits tipping them to finish bottom of the league.

    It’s in positions five and six where the race for a finals spot gets convoluted.

    Going into this weekend’s round of fixtures, Newcastle Jets occupy fifth place and last season’s grand finalists Perth Glory are sixth.

    Perth have won just five games so far this season, the same amount as Melbourne Heart, Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC who are all within striking distance, so the question must be asked whether the Glory deserve to be rewarded with a place in the finals at the end of the season?

    The answer, based on their inconsistent form, is a resounding ‘no’ and the same goes for the Jets.

    In fact, along with bottom placed Wellington all four of the clubs currently outside the top six are still in with a legitimate chance of making the finals.

    But given that the Phoenix have so far lost half their games this season, should that really be the case?

    They’ve only won once on the road and go into Round 17 on the back of three straight defeats, so can Ricki Herbert’s team honestly say they deserve to qualify for the end-of-season playoffs?

    If they go on an 11-match unbeaten run perhaps they can, but the obvious point is that instead of demanding outstanding results, the six-team finals system rewards mediocrity.

    It’s about time that changed, not least because only two out of the previous seven grand finals have featured a team which finished outside the top two.

    On both of those occasions – in the inaugural decider in 2006 and last year’s showdown at Suncorp Stadium – the losing finalist finished the regular season in third place on the ladder.

    In other words, the teams finishing fourth, fifth and sixth have had little impact in the finals, which probably has something to do with where they finished in the table in relation to the top teams.

    It’s time the A-League did away with the six-team finals series and reverted to a top-four format.

    The playoff format was changed at the start of the season to eliminate the preliminary final but Football Federation Australia should have gone one step further and reduced the number of overall participants.

    Not only would a two-legged semi-finals series represent a better reflection of the best teams in the league, it might also help stem some of the criticism from those who insist a first-past-the-post system is the only way to decide the champions.

    A first-past-the-post system doesn’t interest enough supporters in Australia, particularly in a 10-team league, and increasingly leagues overseas are introducing playoff systems of their own.

    But as it stands there are two teams too many in the current finals system, a point made all the more glaring by the fact Newcastle are already six points behind Western Sydney in the standings.

    There’s enough time for the Jets to make up ground but then, it would still be a more exciting race if only the top four teams were involved.

    In lieu of the fact there’s no relegation, perhaps the A-League could consider introducing salary cap or marquee concessions based on where teams finish in the league table.

    At the very least they should consider overhauling the finals because as it currently stands, at least two sides in it don’t deserve to qualify.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (76)

    • Roar Guru

      January 18th 2013 @ 6:39am
      sheek said | January 18th 2013 @ 6:39am | ! Report

      Hi Mike,

      In a 10 team comp, it makes perfect sense to have only four finalists.

      Of course, the FFA prefer a six team finals series for the extra revenue & probably realise themselves four is better. But I guess it always comes down to revenue.

      A finals lineup should never comprise more than half the comp. In the A-League, sixth place probably means a negative split. That is, more losses than wins. How can a team deserve to be in the finals with more losses than wins?

      Once again, it goes back to the money.

      • January 18th 2013 @ 6:59am
        millane said | January 18th 2013 @ 6:59am | ! Report

        why would the ffa realise themselves that four is probably better…. cant the ffa be as shameless motivated by money/greed at the expense of fans, competition integrity, spirit of the game blah blah as some accuse the afl of doing


        • January 18th 2013 @ 7:24am
          Sailosi said | January 18th 2013 @ 7:24am | ! Report

          That’s why I’ve fallen in love with the Big Bash, it’s just straight up in your face commercialism. No trying to sell the myth of passion for the jersey, no trying to take your money through the backdoor with ads showing little 7 year old Johnny eating a pie at the footy with his 73 yo grandmother set to classical music. It’s just so refreshing to hear a sport say, look we exist in the hope of making money and to entertain so jump on board.

          • January 18th 2013 @ 9:00am
            Titus said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:00am | ! Report

            That is so sad.

            • January 18th 2013 @ 9:02am
              Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:02am | ! Report

              Luckily crowd figures indicate (s)he is well and truly on their Pat Malone.

              • January 18th 2013 @ 9:23am
                Steve said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:23am | ! Report

                Crowd figures and tv audiences would suggest that the BBL is every bit as popular as the A-League. I think it’s refreshing that somebody has come out and said it the way it is. What’s sad is the fact that people get roped in and conned by cringeworthy marketing campaigns and can’t see what’s really happening. I have no problem with the A-League persisting with a 6 team finals series for whatever reason they choose. If it’s commercially positive and injects funds into the sport than good on them. Pro sports franchises and clubs exist for not only fans but also their employees, just don’t sell me the BS. If you want to have 4 alternative strips I understand it’s for monetary reasons I accept this, I welcome this, if you want to have Saturday night kickoffs to attract new fans and gain greater revenue I accept this and welcome this. Pro sport clubs exist to win, entertain and make money so that they have the ability to win and entertain. So bravo BBL for your honesty, let’s hope that everybody follows. Yours in football.

            • January 18th 2013 @ 9:34am
              Sailosi said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:34am | ! Report

              How is this in any way sad. I understand why my football club does what it does, I understand why my favourite baseball club does what it does, I understand why the competiti

            • January 18th 2013 @ 9:40am
              Sailosi said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:40am | ! Report

              How is this in any way sad. I understand why my football club does what it does, I understand why my favourite baseball club does what it does, I understand why the competitiins I follow do what they do. I have no problem with this. My love for sport doesn’t differ whether I’m watching a junior team playing their first game run around or a seasoned professional display the highest skills. I just can’t stand when people criticise sporting clubs and organizations for making commercial decisions when the another is doing the exact same thing for the exact same reasons but selling BS to do it.

            • January 18th 2013 @ 9:51am
              Titus said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:51am | ! Report

              My commitment to football is about what is best for the game in this country, about making Australian teams internationally competitive, producing good young players, providing quality entertaiment and a local club to support. It is about representation for me and those that play the game.The FFA looks to make money to put back into the game to achieve these aims.

              Cricket is destroyng the game of cricket just so people can make money and is not made for sports fans but theatre goers with short attention spans.

              If you think that is refreshing, then that is sad.

              • January 18th 2013 @ 10:05am
                Sailosi said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:05am | ! Report

                My commitment to all the sports I love and support and there are many is to be able to witness children and participants from all over the world be able to choose and compete in any sport they desire. My wish is for all sporting bodies to be able to make this happen. Cricket is not destroying cricket. The BBL is not destroying cricket just as futsal, indoor soccer, arena football, 7’s rugby, beach volleyball have not destroyed their parent sports. Where does this continued myth come from that 20/20 cricket is some way destroying traditional cricket, not that I’m sure what traditional cricket is, is that cricket with two stumps, no bails and played over the course of a Sunday afternoon, is it 2 day cricket with no declarations, is it 4 day cricket with a maximum of 2 innings per side, is it 3 day cricket, is it one day cricket with each side facing a maximum of 50 overs? The average game of cricket still lasts for longer than the average football, rugby or basketball game so I’m not sure which sports are catering for those people with short attention spans.

              • January 18th 2013 @ 10:06am
                Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:06am | ! Report

                Well put Titus.
                I think anybody not trolling would find it hard to argue against the fact that the reign of FFA stacks up rather well in its stewardship of the world game in this country.. Unquestionably we are in a better position on almost every KPI than we were in 2004(the last year of SoccerAustralia).
                It’s been a rocky road at times, but a line of best fit indicates we are trending up.

              • January 18th 2013 @ 10:19am
                Titus said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:19am | ! Report

                Saloisi…..Cricket is not about slogging. That is bad cricket. It is erosion of the essential skills and turning them into something else.

                Futsal and Football are relatively complimentary. Futsal improves the essential skills of football and enhances the skills. Yet still you don’t see the socceroos representing in Futsal, they are specialised players.

                Football is the beautiful game, cricket too was once a beautiful game but it has been changed.

                People can play any sport they like and have always been able to.

              • January 18th 2013 @ 10:23am
                Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:23am | ! Report

                Futsal is a wonderful compliment to the outdoor game, it helps create players with silky touch and better close-ball control, Tom Rogic being just one notable player whose game has been enhanced by the indoor version of TBG. I would advocate more investment in Futsal one day when the FFA finds itself in a better financial position.

          • January 18th 2013 @ 10:23am
            mahonjt said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:23am | ! Report

            Wow. I am sorry.

        • January 18th 2013 @ 10:00am
          Qantas supports Australian Football said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:00am | ! Report


          • January 18th 2013 @ 10:11am
            Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:11am | ! Report

            What’s your point QSAF??

            do you need us to once again go over the difference between the official name for a sport and the nickname for the Senior Men’s National team of that sport?

            • January 18th 2013 @ 10:20am
              Steve said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:20am | ! Report

              I don’t think anybody here has criticised the performance of the FFA. I get the feeling that Sailosi is merely stating the fact that he has no problem with the A-League persisting with a 6 team finals series, if it is in fact for commercial reasons and he is also applauding the BBL and the fact that it has openly stated what its objectives are.

            • January 18th 2013 @ 10:33am
              Qantas supports Australian Football said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:33am | ! Report

              Shouldn’t you be directing your question to millane.? I was wondering why he an AFL advocate saw fit to place a line like that on the Football tab. I was wondering if he purposely left out the “Australian Rules” part to provoke Australian Football fans? Are you that slow to grasp my intent? By all means go over it again with the AFL supporters—I look forward to you reiterating the differences… Once again! The Mods prevent me to take up the fight…

              • January 18th 2013 @ 10:46am
                Qantas supports Australian Football said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

                “WE ARE AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL—–Socceroos

                Maybe I should’ve constructed the words in this manner for you to get my meaning?

              • January 18th 2013 @ 11:11am
                Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

                Sorry QSAF, I see what you were getting at now. Mea Culpa.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 18th 2013 @ 10:43pm
          Martyn50 said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:43pm | ! Report

          Should that read Australian soccer?

          • January 18th 2013 @ 10:57pm
            Titus said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:57pm | ! Report

            What’s a soccer?

            • Roar Rookie

              January 18th 2013 @ 11:43pm
              Martyn50 said | January 18th 2013 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

              I see comments about a 12 club competition. That is no garentee as every year clubs go due to owners falling into financial holes

      • January 18th 2013 @ 8:13am
        Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        I don’t have a problem with a top 6 to be honest, with no promotion/relegation, chasing a top 6 berth continues the storylines for teams longer into the season – even pathetic SFC(2 points behind Perth) are a chance to go on a Perth Glory style runlike last season and rack up enough points to partcipate. …plus we have a brand new cut-throat finals system this year that promises to be thrilling (Win + In, Lose and Out – No dead rubbers in this series).

        In 7 completed seasons can anyone say honestly that the two best teams haven’t made the Grand Final? The only finals that were consensus ‘duds’ was the old preliminary final and that’s been dispensed with. In my experience all other finals games have been exciting to watch showcase games and provide a good ‘ in’ for casual sports observers to sample our game as it puts its best foot forward.

        Let’s give it this new format a chance to play out before we start messing with it. I’ve Never understood the tinkering curse that occurs in football that means we never give decisions time to bed down and play out before we make decisions on good or bad.

        • January 18th 2013 @ 10:27am
          mahonjt said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          Agree with this. This issue as been done to death. The Top 6 keeps the table alive late into the season and I, for one, dont begrudge the F having a commercialy sound finals ystem. I want foortball to succed and we need to exploit all its properties within the Laws of the Game to do so. We willhave two more teams by 2015 in my opinion and then the Top 6 lols fine. For now, I couldent care abut the ‘optics’ – just the interest it geneates and the $$$$ without undermining the football itself.

    • January 18th 2013 @ 7:05am
      Lucan said | January 18th 2013 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      Top 6 is a necessary evil, unfortunately.

      With no relegation threat at the bottom of the table the HAL needs punters to retain interest in as many teams as possible, for as long as possible. Otherwise there’s the danger of half the fixtures for half the season being “dead”.

    • January 18th 2013 @ 7:17am
      marlie chiller said | January 18th 2013 @ 7:17am | ! Report

      When you say “perhaps the A-League could consider introducing salary cap or marquee concessions based on where teams finish in the league table.” I assume you mean let the bottom teams have more money to allow them to be more competitive next season?

      • January 18th 2013 @ 7:44am
        Lucan said | January 18th 2013 @ 7:44am | ! Report

        We allow those concessions, and you virtually encourage “tanking”.
        AFL has learnt the hard way, so other sports need not experiment with this guilt edged practice.

        • January 18th 2013 @ 8:50am
          Kasey said | January 18th 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

          If you reward teams for doing poorly, you cannot be surprised if a team deliberately loses to gain those rewards.

      • January 18th 2013 @ 8:50am
        pete4 said | January 18th 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

        Off topic but interesting article I read yesterday where the head of NBA talks about financial fair play in football. He summed it up:

        “We deal with that issue through the salary cap and through revenue share. But then the EPL punishes failure and the NBA rewards it. If you fail in the EPL, you get relegated. If you fail in our league, you get the first pick in the draft”

        • January 18th 2013 @ 9:20am
          MV Dave said | January 18th 2013 @ 9:20am | ! Report

          Interesting Pete…having a league system strong enough for clubs to handle P and R is a real feature of the big Football leagues.

        • January 18th 2013 @ 10:12am
          whiskeymac said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:12am | ! Report

          is there relegation in any US sports though?

      • Columnist

        January 18th 2013 @ 10:06am
        Mike Tuckerman said | January 18th 2013 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        marlie chiller – I actually meant it the other way around, as in if you finish in the top four you receive some sort of incentive for doing so.

    • January 18th 2013 @ 7:48am
      Hardwick said | January 18th 2013 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      A top 5 series like they used to have in the league and AFL would work well. 4 weeks long, so it suits the commercial needs of the league, plus the higher ranked side gets home ground advantage. This gives the teams at the pointy end of the ladder just reward for strong seasons. A home and away semi-final series would give no advantage the sides finishing 1 and 2

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      • January 18th 2013 @ 7:58am
        pete4 said | January 18th 2013 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        I agree Top 5 finals series is the better option

      • January 18th 2013 @ 8:51am
        nordster said | January 18th 2013 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        Top five means a prelim final which in football cups is odd as a losing team progresses the previous week. For first and second they are advantaged as the draw is seeded and they get to progress to the final four (semis) …with top six anyway. I guess top four give them home ties second leg. I prefer the cutthroat nature of knockout formats…feels like a real cup.

    • Roar Guru

      January 18th 2013 @ 8:10am
      langou said | January 18th 2013 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      As others have pointed out, the top six is a financial decision and probably something that is necessary at the moment. Keeping as many teams as possible in finals contention ensures crowds stay at reasonable levels

    • January 18th 2013 @ 8:16am
      Roger said | January 18th 2013 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      Or we could just hold out until the comp expands to 12 teams. Shouldn’t be more than a few years away.

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