Three Grand Finals A Fairer Deal – Stats Say Otherwise

Thursday, November 15 2018 @ 03:52 pm ACDT

Contributed by: Wesley Hull


Here’s a new argument to get your collective and individual teeth in to.

Since 1987 when the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears entered the then VFL, interstate teams have reached the grand final many times. All but one of those games has been played at the MCG. Currently, fuelled further by Caroline Wilson’s recent comments on 3AW’s Sportsday program about the subject, Adelaide Crows coach Don Pyke and outgoing Sydney Swans Chief Executive Andrew Ireland are two strong voices pushing the idea.

It seems that the rationale is about fairness and removing “home” advantage for Victorian clubs, and by playing three grand finals for a best of three result this will be reduced. But the idea is fraught with inconsistencies. Not only that, but sheer statistics make a case against the idea. The clubs, AFL, sponsors and businesses would undoubtedly welcome three major events each year. Think of the money raised.


But that might be all it is – a money grab – and not an equaliser as suggested by advocates of the change. A look at the data over the past 31 years shows the following:

1. Since 1987 there have been 32 grand finals contested (including the drawn final in 2010)
2. Interstate (non-Victorian) teams have been involved in 20 of those grand-finals
3. Of those 20 grand final appearances, the non-Victorian team has won 12 times
4. Of those 20 grand final appearances, the non-Victorian team has lost 11 times
5. On three of those occasions the grand final has involved two non-Victorian teams

That raw data already suggests that the chances of an interstate team winning a grand final at the MCG is just slightly better than 50/50. If a grand final is genuinely supposed to be a 50/50 contest (two teams, like heads and tails) then the VFL/AFL grand finals in the era of interstate teams is right on track for that.

This quells the argument somewhat that there is a Victorian advantage. Even if you completely remove the three contested grand finals which featured two interstate teams, you still have a nine to eleven result favouring Victorian teams – not exactly a domination.

As Wilson noted in her discussion on 3AW, the noise surrounding perceived Victorian advantage dissipated somewhat after the West Coast Eagles won the 2018 flag against Collingwood.

Don Pyke questioned the fairness of the existing (and long-standing) tradition to play grand finals at the MCG – now locked in until 2057 – and has lobbied for change. Some believe it was his sour grapes response to losing the 2017 grand final. But others believe that the 2017 result – where Adelaide had a better record across the season than Richmond – proved that the current system is flawed and unfair.

However, history has shown that more than once in the AFL/VFL era a team that has performed best across the season stumbles at the final hurdle. History tells us that is what happens when the best team ON THE DAY wins. It also makes a mockery of a finals series at all in that any unfairness could potentially be removed by awarding the premiership to the team that wins the minor premiership. Finals were brought in to take the top four, five, six or eight teams after the home and away season and allow them to gladiatorially fight things out for a last team standing result.

It is an interesting argument on both sides, and one that will no doubt be resolved in due course. But a best of three tournament (like Rugby League’s State of Origin) to decide the premier is only needed if there is unfairness.

And the statistics above do not support that argument.

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