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Day 48: The Worst Way to Decide a Title?

September 25, 2010

I’m still trying to process what went down at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds last night.  This picture says it all:

After a grueling 80 minutes of some of the most physical activity you’ll ever see in an Australian Rules Football contest, top-seeded Collingwood and last year’s runners-up St. Kilda reached the end of the 4th quarter tied at 68-68.  What an awesome way to end the season: extra footy, added drama, intensified tension specificall for St. Kilda who had not won a title since 1966.  I was pumped.

So why were 100,000 Australians so disappointed?  When I rewatched the last few minutes, I realized I should have caught a seemingly throwaway statement by a commentator:

“What are ya doin’ next week?”

Get this…

The Australian Football League’s rule for tied scores at the end of regulation isn’t extra time or sudden death or shootout or alternating possessions or anything you’d normally associate with a satisfying end result.  It’s a replay.  A freaking replay.  As in, “DO-OVER.”  The whole thing.  Another 4 quarters, same time, same place, one week from now.

That’s enough to make you scratch your head.  The way it’s handled, though, it a logistical nightmare.  Feeling good about paying $300 or so for your ticket to the MCG?  Too bad that ticket stub is worthless; you’ll have to buy a brand new ticket for next week.  That whole week of festivities leading up to the game?  There’s no do-over parade, just a week of anxiety and frustration.  The most mind-boggling part?  They STILL awarded a Grand Final MVP and will do so AGAIN after next week’s replay.

It’s really unfortunate because I’ve tried so hard to pump up the sport as a logical alternative during the Year Without Football, doubly disappointing because the entire game up to that point really was awesome.  Say what you will about Bud Selig’s All-Star Game tie, at least that game didn’t impact a championship AND he didn’t decide “Okay guys, rest well and we’ll start all over again tomorrow night!”

I understand the concept of replays is common in sports originating from the British Commonwealth, but at least when a replay is required in the F.A. Cup, it’s not in a semi-final or final.  Those are decided by extra time and penalty kicks.  You’ll be guaranteed a winner that day.

Is this the worst way a championship has ever been decided?  It’s definitely not as controversial as the 1972 Olympic basketball final between the US and Soviet Union.  But a championship replay makes less logistical sense than having a deciding game in the World Series delayed in progress due to weather.  The 2010 Stanley Cup Final was confusing because we weren’t sure if Patrick Kane’s Game 6 overtime goal had been scored, but it was decisive and conclusive.

The Australian Football League will have a champion by this time next week (the league announced they’ll have added time if the same thing happens rather than force a third game), and the fans of that club will be able to add a unique chapter to their team history due to the nature of the victory.  As someone on the other side of the world with no dog in the fight simply in it for the experience, it’s tough to walk away with the sense that the best team that day will be the same club that wins a do-over one week later.

Collingwood’s club song makes reference to “Oh, the Premiership’s a cake walk.”  There’s nothing about deciding a champion by negating the efforts of a championship game that will be nearly as satisfying.

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