Any fans of Major League Baseball out there know what a wild, unbelievable month of September just came and went, particularly for the teams in the National League. The New York Mets were ahead of the second place Philadelphia Phillies by 7 games with 17 remaining and blew their seemingly insurmountable lead in one of the greatest all-time choke jobs in American sports history. Entering yesterday, the final day of the season, the Mets and Phillies had the same record (88-73). The Phillies victory over Washington, coupled with the Mets loss to Florida, gave Philadelphia the NL East division title and a spot in the playoffs. New York was left on the outside looking in, a game short of winning the division and a game short of being tied for the Wild Card. If the Mets would've won, there would've been a 4-team tie for 2 playoff spots, leaving a complicated tiebreaking scenario that has no place on a soccer blog.
"Hurry up, Michael, get to the point here." OK. Colorado will host San Diego in a one-off, winner-take-all game tonight to determine the Wild Card winner and the last playoff spot that comes with it. This is the proper way to break tie when the stakes are meaningful; an actual game (or games) between the team (or teams) that are tied.
The situation was different at the end of the 2006-2007 Premiership season, but the stakes just as high. Sheffield United and Wigan finished the season tied on points (at 38), yet it was Sheffield United who got relegated. We all know the reason why; the Premier League uses goal differential, of all things, to break ties in determining the higher-placed team. GOAL DIFFERENTIAL!!
This is a problem. When the stakes are that high, when there's that much money involved, something as semantical as goal differential simply shouldn't be used as the determining factor. Who cares how many goals a team scored and allowed over the course of the season?? Teams play different styles to fit their personnel. Some teams aren't ever going to score a lot of goals, though they can still be successful (Bolton), and some teams are going to give up some goals because they play an attacking style that causes them to be caught out at times (Tottenham). The way a team plays shouldn't be used to break ties; no, meaningful ties should only be broken by a playoff system.
It just isn't fair that Sheffield United were relegated and Wigan weren't, even though they had the same number of points. In 38 games, each team worked hard to accumulate their 38 points and at the end of the day, their respective destinies weren't even determined on the field.
Here's my solution for this, and it's an easy one. The meaningful ties, and by that I mean 1st-2nd place (champion), 4th-5th place (last Champions League place), 7th-8th (usually last UEFA Cup place), and 17th-18th (safety/relegation spots, should meet and determine their standing on the field, where it counts. Teams that are tied for those spots would play either a one-off game at a neutral venue or a home-and-home (two-leg) series to break the tie. In the single game format, it'd be the standard 90 minutes of regulation, followed by two halves of 15 minutes (golden goal) if necessary, then PK's if it's still tied. In the two-leg style, the ridiculous "away goals" system would be thrown out. Most goals wins. If it's tied after 180 minutes, then the 30 minutes of extra time and PK's would be employed.
Multiple-team ties would be a bit tougher to work out, but it's still feasible. Head-to-head results would be used first. Example: Team A, Team B, and Team C all finished with 68 points (3rd and 4th place in the Premiership last year). Team A took 4 points from their two games against both Team B and Team C, so they go straight through to the playoff game (or games). Team B only took a point from Team A but they won both games against Team C, so they would meet Team A in the playoff and Team C would come away as the worst-placed of the three teams based on their results against the others.
No more of this goal differential stuff, that's rubbish. It doesn't represent the better of the tied teams, it's just a useless stat. Last year, Bolton finished in a UEFA Cup spot with a negative goal differential. Does that mean they weren't a good team?? Get rid of the goal differential-to-break-ties-system!!