The points deduction lottery
Posted by John Beech on May 13, 2011
As we move towards the end of the season and the state of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ begins to harden, I am, as usual (here are my earlier findings on this topic), looking more closely at how the deduction of points impacts on the particular clubs who are promoted or, more typically, relegated.
The impact (or lack of it) can be five-fold:
- No impact even to a club at the top of the table. A classic example is that of Arsenal who were still Champions of the old Division 1 in 1990 in spite of having three points deducted.
- Points deduction results in a club failing to be promoted, as happened to Leeds United in 2008, when a 15 points deduction moved from a guaranteed promotion spot into the play-offs (where they failed to gain promotion).
- The position of the club is so ‘mid-table’ that the deduction of points is irrelevant other than to their final position.
- A club is forced into relegation because of the points deduction.
- The deduction of points is irrelevant because the club was going to be relegated anyway, as was the case when Portsmouth were ‘punished’ with a ten points deduction last year.
You can see where I’m going with the reference to ‘lottery’.
It’s too early yet for a systematic survey, but some examples are all too apparent already. Plymouth Argyle have been relegated because of their ten points deduction (1), and St Albans have been relegated anyway (2), although by a narrow margin. Their fans must look enviously north of the border to Dundee, where, in spite of a massive 25 points deduction (3), the club has managed to escape relegation. Their fans may not necessarily see this as ‘a lucky escape’ however, as, without the deduction, Dundee would have finished a single point behind champions (and automatically promoted) Dunfermline.
The most interesting case is one in which no points have been deducted – that of QPR. A disgracefully slow investigation finally concluded with a massive fine but no points deducted for 7 alledged breaches of FA financial regulations (4), five of which were found ‘not proven’. As QPR finished the season as Champions, and 8 points clear of the play-off places, any points deduction would have proved highly contentious to whichever set of fans affected. The saga may yet continue, as Swansea, who would have been automatically promoted had QPR been deducted nine or more points, are, at the time of writing, undecided as to whether to mount a legal challenge (5), preferring to wait until the full judgement is published.
The use of points deduction as a sanction is unarguably dysfunctional. The real question is whether it is the ‘least bad’ alternative. Certainly alternatives need to be explored, and thought given to whether it is possible to distinguish between offences that affect performance on the pitch and more technical financial or administrative offences which have no impact on sporting performance.