Head to head

“C’mon! Let’s go for percentage!”  A cry often heard around the terraces or screamed at the television. Percentage is a means of improving your position on the ladder. Win big against the weaker teams and limit the damage if you are to lose against a better team. At the end of the season percentage is the final decider of positions on the ladder: differentiating between any teams who have the same number of premiership points.


With the two expansion teams as the easy beats, any team drawn to play against either or both of Gold Coast or GWS on two occasions gets a double win. There is a great likelihood that they register the win; there is also the opportunity to give the percentage a lift. Already we have an unfair fixture. Use of percentage as the differentiator for ladder position is a double whammy. Positive for those with the benefit of the uneven fixture. Double negative for the less fortunate.


With eighteen teams and only twenty-two games to be played by each team, it is not possible to even out the games. However, it is possible to take out the second factor of unfair percentage. It is something I have seen used in many sporting fixtures and events. Instead of using percentage, use head-to-head results. If two teams finish a season on the same number of championship/premiership points, use only the results between those two teams to decide the final order. If three or more teams are on the same points, use the scores from the games between the equal teams.


If this method was to be used for the ladder as it currently stands, there would be some significant changes.


Current Position

Net Points

New Position



minus 1


West Coast


minus 61




plus 57




plus 5


St Kilda


plus 3




minus 63




minus 48




plus 62




plus 46



Obviously, this is as the ladder currently stands. The head-to-head results are only applied to those teams which are currently level on points. At the end of the season, it will be completely different teams. Percentage could still be used throughout the season to provide an indicative ladder. There will be great interest in the final round to work out who could end up on the same points, and therefore, what games will be used to provide the final positions on the ladder.


The side benefit to this arrangement would be that higher level teams lose the incentive to give the bottom teams a shellacking – margins in such games won’t count towards the final position on the ladder. The AFL wouldn’t see their new babies copping their weekly hidings. And at the bottom end of the ladder, it will be the head-to-head results which decide the wooden spoon.



About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.


  1. Dear Andrew , Interesting concept and would change the smacking of poor performing team. I wonder if we would still want the big scores just for the feeling of success that’s judged by scoring more than the other. The more you score the more successful you may feel


  2. A good start but my preferred option would he opponent winning percentage.

    That way you get a benefit from playing a tougher schedule. So for the Hawks for example who play Collingwood, West Coast, Geelong, Sydney and Port Adelaide Twice there opponent winning percentage would be higher than teams like Essendon and the Swans who get two cracks at the bottom 4 sides.

    Like you said the big issue is the double win, your way eliminates that, but this way also rewards a team with a tougher schedule for getting to say 13 wins without the benefit of 2 GWS or Gold Coast games.

  3. Peter Flynn says

    I’ve heard a proposal whereby 2 teams play for 4 points only each season.

    It means that if you score Gold Coast twice, each win is worth only 2 points.

    I haven’t studied what this would do to the current ladder.

    While it does even things up, it messes with cliches etc.

  4. Andrew Fithall says

    Flynny – If you think I am going off to work that out – you are mistaken.

    A good example of the head-to-head approach is provided by the Melbourne Associated Public Schools (APS) football this year. The championship is decided by ladder position at the end of the season. Currently St Kevin’s is undefeated and Xavier has had one loss. The two teams meet in the last game on 4 August. If neither loses a game between now and then, the result will all hinge on that final game. Winning margins against other teams totally irrelevant. If St Kevin’s win, they take out the prize as undefeated champion. If Xavier win, they are equal with St Kevin’s, which means the head-to-head result is used as the decider. Therefore, whichever team wins the final game will take out the championship.

    With the current AFL ladder and the ramifications of a head-to-head (which – of course – won’t be implemented) there are still a lot of games to be played. The current teams 2 to 5 on the ladder have had only three games amongst themselves so the data is sparse. The head-to-head approach would make future matches between teams competing for places on the ladder even more meaningful.

  5. Hey Andrew, just thought I would chime in with the observation that
    North only just scraped through up on the Gold Coast.
    It was a hard-earned four points (thanks, P Flynn!).

  6. Andrew Fithall says

    Smokie – and that is the point of this method. North can be happy they got the four points. It is unlikely they finish the season on the same number of premiership points as Gold Coast, so the margin will be irrelevant.

  7. David Downer says


    It’s definity worth a look. If the AFL can readily alter on-field rules in adapting to a “changing landscape”, surely this could be considered.

    They currently go to head-to-head records in the rare event that points and % (to the second decimal??) are equal? Maybe now it should be the other way around, given that vastly “changing landscape”.


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