One of the big headlines that came out of the New Era announcements was the possibility that losing bonus points could be introduced to Super League, with the news that there will be a uniform points system across the professional game, choosing one of the two existing systems.
Q. Will bonus points continue to be awarded in both the Championship and League One?
A. With annual promotion and relegation restored, there is a recognition that all teams need to use the same points scoring system. The sport currently operates two scoring systems with two points for a win and one for a draw in Super League, and three points, two for a draw and one for losing by 12 points or less in Championship and Championship One. One of these will be adopted across all three competitions from 2015.
A consultation process is currently underway to see which would be the best option: the process will take into account the views of players, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, commercial partners, other stakeholders in the game and, most importantly, the fans. Leeds Metropolitan University are undertaking a piece of research to obtain the views of fans from both Super League and Championships that will feed into the decision-making process which is expected to come to a conclusion before the end of this year.
The SLP view
When discussing the New Era Q&A in Episode 28 of SLP Mark and Tom were broadly of the same mind over Bonus Points.
I disagree with a system that incentivises defeats and incentivises draws. Two points for a draw is too much. I would go the opposite way, I would further incentivise victory, I would go three points for a win and one point for a draw like football. By rewarding close defeats with a point there is a risk that teams will shut up shop to keep the point rather than open it up and go for the win. If there is more at stake for a victory that team is more incentivised to play attacking and aggressive rugby, which gives a more entertaining prospect.
Mark fleshes out his own view in this blog:
In my opinion, if it's one option from the current two systems, then bonus points have to go. The rewarding failure argument is one that resonates with me. This is professional sport where you shouldn't need a collective pat on the back for not losing terribly.
What it also does, and this may sound silly, is it devalues and dis-incentivises winning. Under the bonus point system winning is worth less. Don't get me wrong, I get that it's still worth more than a close loss or a draw, but not by as much. In Super League a win is twice as good as a draw, but it's only a third better in the Championship. You have less reason to push for a win. Okay, you'll still get something if pushing for the win ends up in a loss, but that's half as good as what a draw gets you so it might be more rational to play safe. The facts don't indicate this has actually happened as draws are still rare but the more professional clubs may come up with a more calculated approach to the way points are awarded.
My point is the aim - the incentive, the purpose - of professional sport should always be to win. Association Football, where draws are more common due to scoring values being lower, introduced 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw to incentivise winning. Draws in rugby league are far rarer an outcome so we shouldn't need that extra incentive, but the aim of the game should not be discouraged either.
The way I see it is this bonus point concept is a 'market' solution to the real issue here rather than an egalitarian and long sighted solution. What I assume the RFL want to achieve is closer games. Bonus points are an artificial way of doing this by focusing only on outcomes. Doing it this way means spending no time, money or effort on solving the real problem, one I almost always come back to - that of an inequality of inputs, i.e. the disparity in funding, resources, expertise etc. that exists between professional clubs in our sport.
Uncertainty of outcome needs to exist before the game starts because of an equal position the competing teams start from. Luck, human error and moments of inspiration will then provide the entertainment to get a close outcome at the end of the game, rather than the hope of not losing too badly creating some sticking plaster excitement that hides the extent of the ills from plain sight.
Also, if the mantra is every minute matters then why should it only matter for losing teams? Why stop at losing bonus points. If you’re 40-0 up at half time the second half won’t matter much for you if you your ability to earn competition points is pretty much done for the day. Even your points difference advantage is eroded in value by your competitors possibly losing their games by close margins and still getting points for that. You’d need winning bonus points too. It could get complicated, particularly when we’re looking to bring in new audiences to the sport. The last thing we need is to make it even more complicated.
The other thing to consider obviously is the award of these losing points could at some point have an impact on who plays in what league. The research below will show that hasn't really happened yet, and the funding disparity between the Championship and Championship 1 isn't such a gulf at the minute that this will have really been a big issue. That will not be the case when the new era kicks off. Serious funding differences between the leagues that we have already discussed will exist, making bonus points a massive candidate for the next big storm in our sport if they are retained. If losing and drawing gets greater relative reward to winning and that does someone out of serious prestige and money then this will be about more than just whether or not a few more games appear to have been closer through the season.
My opinion therefore is that we shouldn't use bonus points. They only artificially suggest a greater level of competition, they genuinely do reward mediocrity or failure, they have the potential to turn possible new fans away and they could create more negative feelings amongst clubs and fans in our sport than already exists. RFL, if you take this route, you've been warned.
The wider supporter's view
What about the wider views of the Rugby League paying public? You said this to us on Twitter:
Alan Cale @shoddynmungo - There should be a reward for staying competitive, but winning should always be worth going for. I know they will choose one existing scheme but how about 4 for a win, 2 for a draw and 1 for being within 12
kev critchley @wembley98 - Keep the bonus points. This system is keeping the Championship relegation battle predictions alive
Justannie @annieandmorris - Yes bonus point, simple as.
IAN GATWARD @gatwardian - I think just straight 2 points for win 1 for draw, forget losing points.
London Faithful @LondonFaithful - Oxford have won 2 more games than London Skolars but sit 1 place below them due to London having 8 bonus points. Big problem with the bonus point system.
Paul Campbell @PaulCampbell980 - We don’t need a bonus point, get rid
Scott Quibell @ScottQuibell85 - Keep the bonus point! Super League doesn't know what it's missing
Mark Stevo! @markstevo72 - No no no no losing deserves nothing.
Mark Butler @markbutler1978 - I understand the need for try BPs in Union to encourage try scoring but incentives for defeat in either code baffle me.
Paul Marshall @pdmarshall – Don’t want it, encourages negative play with teams trying to keep up instead of win and rewards losing which just isn’t sport
David Walker @DavidWGWalker - Keep it simple or else it puts off newcomers. I've no idea how RU Premier points work & don't care enough to find out. SIMPLE!
Clare North @ClareNorth - Hate it. Rewarding losers. How British.
Wigan Rugby Fans @WiganFaithful - I’m against it because it means that were playing with different rules to NRL
Gary Ormiston @GaryOrmiston1 - I’ve said before it gives off a false league standing
An interesting or quirky point to note, all those expressing an opinion in favour were Sheffield Eagles fans, following a side having seen bonus points in operation. Most of those that disapprove primarily follow Super League sides and have not lived under the system, so to speak. If the RFL do want this, and there is a suspicion that they do more than the clubs do, then it wouldn't be surprising if Owlerton was inundated with clipboard carrying research students sometime soon!
What the stats say
We wanted to present the opinions before we gave some factual basis to this consideration of bonus points. By now you'll all have probably seen a few mock ups of what changes to league standings would be seen with/without bonus point systems. We'd like to say we at SLP pioneered in this sort of research. We think we did get it out there first on one of our shows, but really it's something anyone can work out and the work of others is not invalidated by us possibly getting there first!
We wholly expect that the Leeds Met research group will have looked at the same sort of stuff that has been trotted out by us and others in terms of the impact bonus points have had on league standings. They'll find three-quarters of final placings don't change, and the pivotal spots are rarely influenced, by how you count your points from recent experience in the Championships.
Between 2007 and 2013, inclusive, there have been only 18 positional changes in the final Championship league standings comparing what things would be like under the 3/2/1 system and the 2/1/0 system. 77% of league positions didn't change. In this period, the top and the bottom spots were never affected by position changes in the Championship.
A similar position is seen in Championship 1 (where we only had data from 2009). 12 changes mean 76% of all league positions didn't change depending on what point system is used. Again, no change in the top spot was seen and what will be the play off positions were hardly affected either.
In Super League, where we're looking from the other side as no bonus points were used, there would be more positional changes depending on which system you use. 32 changes that means a smaller proportion of positions would stay the same, at 66%.
What we hope the RFL researchers will also consider is not how well the bonus points have actually achieved their objective - to give an outcome of closer, so in theory more exciting, games. We will now present our (admittedly slightly limited and straightforward) analysis of this objective.
We could only get reliable data going back to 2004 for the Championship. We have full results for three seasons before bonus points and seven completed seasons up to 2013 since. We have full Super League data dating back to 1996 inaugural summer campaign but we're only using from 2004 for consistency. Although the bulk of our data came directly from the RFL we hope they have had more long ranging records to provide the Leeds Met team with to allow them to make more robust conclusions. (If anyone wants to send us full results from the semi-professional ranks dating back to the start of Super League we would be very grateful!)
For this we took the 12 point margin bonus point achieving results to be close and games that ended with a margin of greater than 24 points to mean they weren't close, they were big defeats.
Looking at the Championship in isolation first, in the three seasons shown where bonus points weren't used 38.7% of games would actually have seen one earned if they were on offer. 28.6% of games in that three year period were defeats of over 24 points. Over the seven bonus point seasons themselves, 42.5% of games have earned a bonus point and 30.1% of games have ended with a wide margin between the teams. This supports the theory that the bonus points system leads to more games finishing close on the scoreboard, which is it's main aim surely. However, somewhat of a contradiction is that more games have finished up with a one-sided scoreline since bonus points came in, compared to before. This indicates that bonus points may not necessarily be the most useful way to produce competitive games.
As you can see, a higher amount of close games and a lower amount of big defeats have been seen proportionately in Super League than in the Championships over the ten year period looked at. This is despite bonus points being used in seven of those ten Championship campaigns. It suggests that Super League, in general, has always been a more competitive league than the Championship has been.
Incidentally, on Super League, during the ten years shown above five were a 12 team competition and five were a 14 team competition. In the 12 team years 2004-2008 we saw 45.8% of losses end as a 1-12 point margin and 25.6% end with 24+ point margins. In the 14 team years 2009-2014 those numbers were 41.3% and 28.1% respectively, indicating that the 12 team league will result in more close games in itself .
(2014 numbers so far would make the 14 team figures look even worse comparable to the 12 team numbers above - the one caveat to that is 2013 and 2014 have both seen more draws than in any other Super League season, although the average draw proportion in the two periods is pretty much the same.)
Thanks for reading and we hope this has provided an interesting insight into the impact of bonus points. Keep you views coming in. Don't forget to listen to our show with new episodes released every Tuesday during the Super League season. All the links you need to expand your SLP involvement are in the sidebar.