The Differential Difference

Though there are numerous differences between the various football codes in Australia, two that have always struck me as arbitrary are AFL's awarding of 4 points for a victory and 2 from a draw (why not, say, pi and pi/2 if you just want to be different?) and AFL's use of percentage rather than points differential to separate teams that are level on competition points.

I'd long suspected that this latter choice would only rarely be significant - that is, that a team with a superior percentage would not also enjoy a superior points differential - and thought it time to let the data speak for itself.

Sure enough, a review of the final competition ladders for all 112 seasons, 1897 to 2008, shows that the AFL's choice of tiebreaker has mattered only 8 times and that on only 3 of those occasions (shown in grey below) has it had any bearing on the conduct of the finals.

PC v FA.png

Historically, Richmond has been the greatest beneficiary of the AFL's choice of tiebreaker, being awarded the higher ladder position on the basis of percentage on 3 occasions when the use of points differential would have meant otherwise. Essendon and St Kilda have suffered most from the use of percentage, being consigned to a lower ladder position on 2 occasions each.

There you go: trivia that even a trivia buff would dismiss as trivial.