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September 21st, 2002


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04:57 am - Sweepies
No matter how bad a day you've had, somebody else has had a worse one.

Last Saturday, I bought the first birthday card deliberately aimed at gamers that I had ever seen. Actually, it was so impressive that I bought a couple of copies of it. I shall say no more in case I end up sending you one of them.

Great Britain are off to a pretty wobbly start in the Davis Cup tennis and are getting pasted in the athletics World Cup. Heck, we may even end up finishing behind Spain, who only take part as hosts because they have a nine-lane track and get relegated out of the European Cup Super League more often than not.

Closer to home, I'm tempted to go to 40 miles up the road to Jarrow, my Dad's old home, to watch the decathlon taking place there next weekend. I have since learned that there exists such an event as a double decathlon, which incorporates 20 events (with a total of over 15 miles of running) into two days' competition. The events are all very familiar except the 200m hurdles. The world championship attracted 26 starters (23 finishers) including a Finnish gentleman over 70 years old who posted an extremely respectable score of 9585. Admittedly, this score is adjusted for his age. Heck, extracting the ten decathlon performances from his weekend alone, ignoring the fact that he's running another 20,000 metres over the weekend and pretending he's a spring chicken gives him a decathlon score of 1968, which is still not too shabby. Jaakko Yli-Suomu, you are the hard bastard of the day. Goodbye.

Double decathletes aside, I have a new favourite sport - australian rules football.

While the action and fitness of the athletes, their famous good humour and refined style, plus the game's free-flowing and frenetic nature, are considerable factors in the sport's appeal, naturally, the real killer app is the fact that the sport is governed by a competition with a needlessly complex structure. (Oh, and "Essendon Bombers" is a fantastic team name in anyone's language.)

Imagine, if you will, a straightforward league competition between sixteen teams. Over the regular season, they play each other 22 times, so it is neither home-and-away nor home-or-away. (I'm guessing it's a historical artifact from the fact that it was a twelve-team Victoria state league from 1925 to 1987.) We then take the top eight teams from the league - the "ladder" - and then have an end-of-season play-off competition.

Now with eight teams participating, you might think that the obvious move is to have a straightforward single-elimination knockout. Alternatively, you might choose to split the eight into two sections of four on conference or geographical grounds. If that's not enough, you might - just might - want to consider a double elimination mini-tournament.

No. Not Aussie Rules Football.

Aussie Rules' playoff structure can only be described as "remarkable". It's sort of double knockout for the top four teams and has needlessly large numbers of matches. All of these matches are referred to as finals: Qualifying Finals, Elimination Finals, Semi-Finals, Preliminary Finals and the Grand Final. (In that order. No, eight of these finals aren't, in fact, final.) I could explain it in text, but it's far easier if I just show you the diagram which it took me about an hour and a half to prepare:

   #1--Port-Ad-\
               |
  /---=== QF 1 *---------------------Collingwood-\
 /             |                                 |
 | #4-Col'wood-/                                 |
 |                                               |
 |        #6-Melbourne-\                         |
 |                     |                         |
 |                EF 1 *--Melbourne-\            |
 |                     |            |       PF 1 *------------\
 |        #7-Kangaroos-/            |            |            |
 |                                  |            |            |
 |                             SF 2 *---Adelaide-/            |
 |                                  |                         |
 |                                  |                         |
 \                                  |                         |
  \ /--> loser of QF2------Adelaide-/                         |
   X                                                       GF *---------
  / \--> loser of QF1-------Port-Ad-\                         |
 /                                  |                         |
 |                                  |                         |
 |                                  |                         |
 |                             SF 1 *----Port-Ad-\            |
 |                                  |            |            |
 |        #8--W.-Coast-\            |            |            |
 |                     |            |       PF 2 *------------/
 |                EF 2 *---Essendon-/            |
 |                     |                         |
 |        #5--Essendon-/                         |
 |                                               |
 | #3-Adelaide-\                                 |
 \             |                                 |
  \---=== QF 2 *-------------------------B-Lions-/
               |
   #2--B-Lions-/


"Remarkable".

I am told that the trend for these intricate play-offs comes from Rugby League, whose needlessly fiddly play-off system is... well... relatively restrained by comparison. (I might explain it some day. Not soon, though, as it would be really anti-climatic.) But, heck, the Tokyo subway map is relatively restrained by comparison to that.

Naturally I end up doing what I always do - what every sports geek always does - when there's a competition in which you only like/know one team. You shout for your team (come on you Bombers!) and when they get knocked out, you root against the team who beat them. Successive eliminating teams gain alternately positive and negative polarity of favour until you eventually conclude that you're happy or unhappy with the final outcome.

So I think I'm shouting for the Brisbane Lions at the moment. Watch this space!

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:September 21st, 2002 02:01 am (UTC)

Wibble ?!

(Link)
Full marks for the ASCII art there... I think I almost understand that playoff system now. It's crazy !

I've often thought Aussie-rules football was much better than the pathetic game that passes for football round here. The best bit is that there's no wussing about, just a bunch of random (and often very camp looking) blokes kicking the stuffing out of each other and generally wanging the ball about. Throw is some random weapons and you'd pretty much have GW's Blood Bowl !
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 21st, 2002 09:15 am (UTC)

Re: Wibble ?!

(Link)
To be honest, I suspect it's about as good as a "single elimination with a second chance for the top four" system can be, subject to common-sense principles like higher-seeded teams should have somehow easier routes to the final and so forth. Then again, maybe the "single elimination with a second chance for the top four" premise is inherently... kooky.

I didn't spend an hour and a half on the art just for this entry, actually. The subject of Aussie Rules board games (conclusion: no good ones) came up on a mailing list, which turned into a discussion of the Aussie Rules finals. It did take about an hour and a half to rationalise the textual definition of the system and the AFL's own, very poor, description of the procedure to come up with the diagram.

The violence in Aussie Rules does seem remarkably good-natured compared to that of association and rugby football, let alone that of games which encourage violence so much that they put the players in protective gear to that end. Would it be excessively churlish to point out your previous comments on a similar matter? ;-)
[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:September 22nd, 2002 02:46 am (UTC)

Re: Wibble ?!

(Link)
Not excessively churlish at all - highly relevant. The key distinction here is between what makes a good sport and what makes a good spectator event. I don't have the slightest intention of playing Aussie Rules myself and the gameplay side of it doesn't seem to have much to recommend it... but it's a lot more fun to watch than soccer.
[User Picture]
From:lambertman
Date:September 21st, 2002 04:44 am (UTC)
(Link)
The AFL does indeed rock. I miss it - over the years, it's had a habit here in the States of slipping off of one channel (not long after I get it) and ending up on a more obscure one.

Roughly, ESPN --> espn2 --> Prime Network/Fox Sports Net --> Fox Sports World.

FSW's on digital cable, and Christa holds a moratorium on us getting digital because we watch far too much damned TV as it is. Can't even tempt her with daily access to Changing Rooms...yet... :)
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 21st, 2002 09:30 am (UTC)
(Link)
When there are so many sports channels in the world, you would have thought that there would be a niche market for one which went out of its way to give prominence to some of the lesser-known sports.

That said, I'm guessing that Aussie Rules is relatively well-known for a lesser-known sport - off the top of my head, perhaps it might be at the tail end of the top fifty by some appropriate global criterion. One day, I would love to compile such a list and try to conclude which is the 47th best sport in the world. (Sumo? Snooker? Darts? Kabaddi? Tug of War? Handball? Poker?)

Aussie Rules is played around the world... well, there are organised competitions in about ten different countries. American Australian Rules Football has a particularly cool URL and branding.

Possibly the most conceptually... er, conceptual development in sport is International Rules Football, by which Australian Rules Football teams can compete against Gaelic Football ones. I am not sure whether this Interfooty combines the good elements of both codes or the bad ones. It's very... concpetual, though.
[User Picture]
From:lambertman
Date:September 21st, 2002 12:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It used to be that these oddball sports would have quitea bit of airtime on ESPN back when it was the only sports channel on cable. Now that there's so much competition, the nets feel like running a minor sport is too costly (although Fox Sports Net has taken a shot at Major League Lacrosse this year - that's pretty cool).

So, it's original programming. ESPN's thrown everything against the wall to see what sticks - documentaries, reality shows, et al. Most bombs, although 2 Minute Drill held on for 3 tournaments (I so wish for a 4th) and discussion show Pardon the Interruption has skyrocketed. Fox Sports Net plays shocking-moments=on-tape show You Gotta See This! and sports-dudes-behaving-badly comedy/interview show The Best Damn Sports Show, Period virtually all the time when there are no actual games.

A small-sport network, NewSport, folded extremely quickly in 1995. A good idea that just couldn't find the advertiser dollars or cable channel space (back in the old days of 50-channel cable systems :) )

I would love to find some curling on the telly. Hell, I might even watch cricket.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 21st, 2002 12:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It somehow seems counterintuitive that when there's so much competition, sports nets would stick to what they know is safe but for which there is very much competition when it would be possible to be relatively different relatively easily.

Hadn't heard of NewSport before - thanks for the tip-off. What sort of things did they feature, do you know? A search reveals that the Wayback Machine has some of their old pages archived but it's a site discussing a network (or, rather, a series of regional channels) branded SportsChannel - presumably after NewSport folded.

Curling and cricket are really slow viewing :-/ Curling's particularly annoying when one team decides just to knock the other team's stones off the ice. Legal, sensible in many cases, but very dull.

Lastly, I was going to brag "Well, at least we beat the Germans by half a point in the Athletics World Cup" but it seems that the IAAF disagree with British TV coverage and it looks like the Germans beat us. Colon apostrophe hyphen open bracket.
[User Picture]
From:lambertman
Date:September 21st, 2002 06:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Aye, but the rub is that college basketball and its 300+ Division I teams guarantees that somewhere, at any time, there's somebody that wants to see a certain team on their TV.

I was only able to see NewsSport's recap show during its preview window on Intro Television. Indeed, on retrospect, the station may not have survived long enough to reach its official launch (similar to "Game Net," the would've-been competition for GSN). If they did, I assume they did a lot of women's college basketball and volleyball - those sports tended to lead their recap show.

SportsChannel was not related, BTW, and predates NewsSport. It was the original network of individual local cable sports channels (with both shared and exclusive programming) that was later bought and turned into Fox Sports Net. Prime Network (including its Indianapolis affiliate, PSN) was sort of affiliated with that group as well, but went out of business before the FOX purchase of SC.

AOL was planning a sports channel to replace the failed CNN/Sports Illustrated; they were going to rely heavily on NBA basketball (which also airs on ESPN, ESPN2 and TNT this year). I really don't know what other "major" sports they could've gotten the rights to, so "minor" sports probably would've been part of the equation (although ESPN owns the rights to the Championships of all those events). I'm guessing the idea has been postponed.

Maybe there's some way we could create Slamcricket! SMELL THE 18-34 DEMOS, BABY! :)

I don't mean this in a mocking tone, but of how much importance is the Athletics World Cup to the average Briton? I know track and field are huge business over there, but would this be akin to a national tragedy?

(The rest of the world would probably be surprised at how little the USA cared about looking like jackasses in the World Basketball Championships here last month.)
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 22nd, 2002 06:26 am (UTC)
(Link)
Cricket is actually a pretty tough game for a non-contact sport in the first place. The ball is mighty hard and there's a reason why it's fairly heavy on the safety gear. The 18-34 demo attraction comes from putting the teams in outfits rather than the traditional test match white ("pyjama cricket", they call it) and from some very nifty tech in place to see whether the umpires' calls were correct or not. Not really much place for trampolines in cricket, alas.

Athletics World Cup is frankly small beer. It's probably fair to say that most people don't care about athletics outside the big four events: Olympics, World Championship, Commonwealth Games and European Championships. The coverage yesterday on BBC 2 will have been doing well if it got an average audience of more than 1 to 1.5 million, which is a fairly typical audience for non-football TV sport. My grumbling is the preserve of the sports fan/grumbler.

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