So you can’t win for losing?
Sure you can, in the long run.
NASCAR this week became the latest sport to change its structure in an effort to keep fans engaged and sell the product. Races will be broken into three stages, and points will be awarded to the top 10 finishers in each. The hope is that drivers will be motivated to compete hard in the chase for in-race points and make the sport more exciting.
From a pure sports standpoint – one winner per contest – the new NASCAR system is counterintuitive.
“It’s like counting after a boxing match the winning rounds for the guy who got knocked out in the seventh round,” said Daniel Durbin, director of the University of Southern California Institute of Sports Media and Society. “It doesn’t make a lot of rational sense in terms of the winning and losing of the event itself, but presumably the long-term assumption would be this will keep better drivers in the hunt longer for the postseason.”
The concept is similar to Olympic sports (skiing, bobsledding, etc.) where points are earned throughout a competition and the big winner at the end is the one with the highest total, or the Tour de France, which can be won without winning a single stage.
John Bloom, a Shippensburg University associate history professor specializing in sports, noted the difference in soccer cultures in the United States and Europe. Major League Soccer, for example, has a playoff system where 12 of its 20 teams qualified this year. One of them was the Seattle Sounders, who won just six of their first 20 matches and won the MLS Cup, too. In England, the top team in the Premier League is the champion – no playoff necessary – and the bottom three teams are relegated to a lower league the next season.
“In terms of the playoff structures in American sports, so much is based on television revenue, and they want to milk as much television revenue as they can,” Bloom said.
A look at some other sports and how a loss today doesn’t mean you won’t win a championship tomorrow:
The National Hockey League in 1999-2000 broke with its two-points-for-a win, none-for-a-loss tradition and started awarding one point in the standings to the loser of a game that goes to overtime. Previously, one point was awarded to each team in the case of an overtime tie. The change was made to motivate teams to play more aggressively on offense in overtime – and go for two points – rather than play a defensive style that would secure the one point from settling for a tie. Shootouts started in 2004-05.
The Los Angeles Kings capitalized on the system in 2011-12. They amassed 15 points from overtime and shootout losses, enough to push them into eighth place in the Western Conference – the last playoff spot. They ended up winning the Stanley Cup.
Golf’s FedEx Cup
With casual golf fans tuning out in August after the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour in 2007 started the FedEx Cup to provide a big finish to the season.
Points are awarded based on a golfer’s finish, with majors worth slightly more. At the end of the regular season, the top 125 advance to the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs, where points continue to be accumulated on a different scale. The field of competitors is trimmed as the playoffs continue.
Each golfer in the top five controls his destiny, winning the FedEx Cup if he wins the final event, the Tour Championship. However, each of the 30 golfers who make the Tour Championship has a mathematical chance.
One victory in a playoff event, where four times the points are available, would move a player up a lot. In 2009, Heath Slocum came out of the regular season No. 124, won the first playoff event and moved up to No. 3.
It’s conceivable that a player who didn’t win a tournament all year could still win the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize. It almost happened last year with Paul Casey. He was at No. 59 after the first playoff event, moved up to No. 10 after a runner-up finish in the second event, and up to No. 5 after another runner-up finish in the third one. Had all four players ahead of him in the standings faltered at the Tour Championship, Casey would have needed to finish only second to win the FedEx Cup.
The old Continental Basketball Association used a seven-point system to determine standings from 1983 until the league folded in 2009. One point was awarded for each quarter a team won, and three points went to the winner of the game. A team could outscore the opponent in each of three quarters, lose the game and earn three points to the winner’s four. The idea was that the chance to earn quarter points would keep players and fans engaged in blowouts.
This meant that a team could be higher in the standings than a team with more wins. In 1990-91, a 25-win Grand Rapids team finished second in its division ahead of 27-win Pensacola. Grand Rapids, however, had 191.5 quarter points and Pensacola had 189. The quarter points allowed Grand Rapids to make the playoffs. Pensacola stayed home.
AP Sports Writer Anne Peterson and AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.
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