When Sports Rules Go Awry: How TheConversation led to a collaborative paper

Whilst looking through Conversation articles I came across an article entitled “When scoring an own-goal is the only way to win” by Liam Lenten.

By coincidence, I had just read another article about an analysis of sporting rules from the perspecive of Operations Research, written by a good friend of mine – Mike Wright from Lancaster.

The two articles had some similaraties and, after reading Mike Wright’s article I was already planning to write a follow up. Reading Liam’s Conversation article I posted some comments and he was kind enough to respond.

One thing led to another and we agreed to write a paper together.

I am pleased to report that this article (“When Sports Rules Go Awry“) has just been accepted in the European Journal of Operational Research.

The abstract of the paper reads:

Mike Wright (Wright, M. OR analysis of sporting rules – A survey. European Journal of Operational Research, 232(1):1–8, 2014) recently presented a survey of sporting rules from an Operational Research (OR) perspective. He surveyed 21 sports, which consider the rules of sports and tournaments and whether changes have led to unintended consequences. The paper concludes: “Overall, it would seem that this is just a taster and there may be plenty more such studies to come”. In this paper we present one such study.

This is an interdisciplinary paper, which cuts across economics, sport and operational research (OR). We recognize that the paper could have been published in any of these disciplines but for the sake of continuity with the paper that motivated this study, we wanted to publish this paper in an OR journal. We look at specific examples where the rules of sports have led to unforeseen and/or unwanted consequences. We hope that the paper will be especially useful to sports administrators, helping them to review what has not previously worked and also encouraging them to engage with the scientific community when considering making changes.

We believe that this is the first time that such a comprehensive review of sporting rules, which have led to unexpected consequences, has been published in the scientific literature.

When Sports Rules Go Awry is really a review of where sporting rules have been introduced by sports administrators, but which have led to unintended consequences. For example, when it is sensible to score an own goal. The paper has several tanking (the act of deliberately dropping points or losing a game in order to gain some other advantage) examples.

We hope that the paper will be of interest to anybody who likes sports, as well as sports administrators.

It is pleasing to note that TheConversation was instrumental in making this paper happen. If it were not for them, I would have been unaware of Liam’s work. The paper may have still be written (either by Liam or me) but it would not have been as good as the paper that has now been accepted.


If you are interested, you can see my Conversation articles here and Liams articles are here.


This post also appeared on the University of Nottngham blog pages.

Football Fixture Scheduling: Are all clashes equal?

In a paper published in JORS:

  • Kendall G. (2008) Scheduling English Football Fixtures Over Holiday Periods. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 59(6), pages 743-755 (doi:10.1057/palgrave.jors.2602382)

I investigated if it was possible to produce superior fixtures for the Christmas/New Year Period with respect to minimising the distance that is traveled by supporters on two particular days.

One of the issues that the underlying model had to capture was that certain teams could not play at home on the same day. For example:

  • Manchester United and Manchester City
  • Liverpool, Everton and Tranmere
  • Chelsea and Fulham
  • Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich
  • etc.

Teams that are paired in this way are called pairs (even though there might be more than two teams involved). A problem arises as it is not possible to eliminate all the pair clashes. That is, some paired teams have to play at home on the same day.

In the JORS paper, all the pair clashes were treated equally (e.g. Manchester United and Manchester City playing at home on the same day is not considered any more, or any less, important than Liverpool and Tranmere playing at home on the same day).

I am not sure if any given pair clash should be considered more (or less) important than any other, but I suspect so.

One of the things I plan to do is analyse the past few seasons fixtures and gauge if certain pair clashes are allowed more than others. Then I will use this evidence to weight the clashes during the process of searching for a good set of fixtures.