Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ask FRB: What's the Stupidest Structure Ever?

Dear FRB: What's the stupidest element of a sports structure you've ever seen?

Behold the Colombian Cup, 2008 and 2009.
As you study the structure, you can almost hear the interior monologue of whoever devised this miscarriage:

"O.K., we start with 24 teams, so let's divide them into groups of four, just like the Champions League. They'll play the other teams in their group home and home, and the top two in each group will advance, just like the Champions League, the most popular club football competition in the world."
"Now the 12 remaining teams will be paired up for a Champions League-style two-leg knockout round cutting the field to six. Another knockout round cuts the field to three. Then ... uh oh.

"I've got three teams left. That's a problem. I guess I could go back to the beginning and tinker with the structure, so this doesn't happen. No, I've already spent three or four minutes on this, I'm not going back. I've got it, we'll let the best losing team in the round of six advance, too. Now we've got four teams and we're all set."

No. No. That's ridiculous You don't let a losing team advance in a knockout round.  Imagine Tennessee advancing to the Final Four because it only lost the regional final to Michigan State by 1. Or the Ravens getting into the A.F.C. Championship game by virtue of hanging tough in a loss to the Steelers in the previous round. 
Not only that, but the Colombian Cup's method of determining the "best loser" wasn't even right. Let's look at the three losers in 2009. Deportes Quindio tied both its games, 0-0 and 2-2, but lost on penalties. (There's no away goals rule in this competition, or Quindio would have advanced). Atletico Bucaramanga won 1-0 and lost 2-0. And Santa Fe won 2-1 and lost 3-1. Now who's the best loser?
I think we're all agreed that it's Quindio. They played their opponents on equal terms in both games and only lost because of the lottery of penalties. So they get to go to the semifinals, right?
Nope. Incredibly, Quindio is considered the worst loser!
The first tiebreaker for best loser is points. With two draws worth 1 point each, Quindio has only 2 points, while the other teams have 3 because they won one and lost one. So Quindio is out.
Margin of victory is the next tiebreaker. Both Santa Fe and Bucaramanga lost their total goal series by one goal, so that's even. The next breaker is total goals scored. Santa Fe wins that one, 3 to 2, and as a result gets to skulk into the next round with the three real winners.

So who went on to win the next two rounds and take the 2009 Copa? Of course, it was Santa Fe. Display that Cup with pride, boys!

Thankfully, the organizers saw the error of their ways and threw out the format after two years. In 2010, the top two in each group were joined in the knockout stage by the four best third place teams, giving us a nice factor of two for the knockout stage.
And Santa Fe lost in the quarterfinals.

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