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Mathematical law suggests playing remaining football league games makes little difference


As doubts grow about the viability of playing out the rest of the Premier League season amid the coronavirus pandemic, a number of methods to complete the campaign have been put forward.

football graph

But academics at Leeds Beckett University (LBU) say that playing the remaining games will make little difference to current standings because leagues follow mathematical laws.

There is a 94% probability that clubs' current positions in the table will stay the same come the end of the season, even if matches were resumed, according to research by Dr Alex Bond, a Senior Lecturer in the Carnegie School of Sport at LBU.

In fact, analysis of England’s top four divisions over 22 years from 1995 to 2017 shows that there is usually “relatively little change” in a club’s position after just 10 matches of the season.

Dr Bond (pictured) argues that a decision on how the football league is concluded for the season should be based on performances up to now.

He proposes that it makes little sense to risk contravening social distancing given the minimal changes in league positions and the season should end as it currently stands, rather than using a model to predict the results of what the remaining games will be.

image of Dr Alex Bond

Dr Bond said: “Whilst we can discuss and debate these different methodologies, in reality there are unlikely to be many changes to where clubs now finish the season.

“Of course, the blind optimists will attest to their team’s capacity for Lazarus-like rejuvenation. This is a minimal – but double-edged – probability; clubs can also do worse.

“Given this pattern, to me it makes little sense to risk contravening social distancing for something that changes so little. I am not proposing cancelling the season altogether and calling it void, that's unfair and against what football stands for. But why not use the mathematical laws governing leagues instead?

“Playing the remaining nine games will make little difference to current standings; instead, following the mathematical laws inherent in leagues can save the lives of unknown numbers of football fans, staff and front-line workers.”

In England, the Premier League's Project Restart is in motion with plans being drawn up to play the remaining 92 games of the season behind closed doors at neutral venues.

It comes as UEFA, European football's governing body, imposes a May 25 deadline for leagues to present full plans to get going again.  

But that decision could be made by considering the research by LBU academics which shows the first 10 games of a club's Premier League campaign determine the final position with a 77 per cent probability.

For example, the fact Manchester United were in seventh place in the table after 10 games means that there is only a 14% chance of them getting fourth spot and qualifying for the Champions League this season.

In terms of the battle for survival, the findings show that the club at the bottom of the Premier League after 10 matches - which this season was Watford - historically has had a 54% chance of being relegated.

“Understandably, nearly every stakeholder will want the season to conclude for many different reasons,” Dr Bond added.

“The main driver is money. Ensuring broadcast revenues is a priority because knife-edge financial models dominate football. I get it, but it is time to choose the safest option.”

 

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