Supriya Ghosh

Argus finals system

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The Argus finals systems were a set of related systems of end-of-season championship playoff tournament used commonly in Australian rules football competitions in the early part of the 20th century. The systems generally comprised a simple four-team tournament, followed by the right of the top ranked team from the home-and-away season to challenge for the premiership. The systems were named after the Melbourne newspaper The Argus, which developed and supported their use.

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First Argus system

In 1901, the Victorian Football League first adopted the "Argus system", after issues had emerged with the fairness of the system which had been introduced in 1898.

The initial Argus system was, in effect, a simple four-team knock-out tournament, played as follows:

  • Week One: the First Semi-Final was played between 2nd vs 4th, and the Second Semi-Final was played between 1st vs 3rd.
  • Week Two: the final was played between Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2
  • The winner of this match became the Major Premier for the season.
  • First amended Argus system

    The immediate complaint about the Argus system was that all four of the qualifying teams had a statistically equal opportunity to win the premiership. It was commonly thought that the club which performed best during the home-and-away season deserved an enhanced opportunity to win the premiership.

    Consequently, the VFL re-introduced a provision which had existed under the 1898 system: after the simple knock-out tournament was completed, the team with the best win-loss record for the season would have the opportunity to challenge the winner of the knock-out tournament to a Grand Final for the premiership.

    This variant of the Argus system was played as follows:

  • Week One: the First Semi-Final was played between 2nd vs 4th, and the Second Semi-Final was played between 1st vs 3rd.
  • Week Two: a final was played between Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2
  • If the winner of the Week Two final had the best record in the league across all matches, including all finals up to and including Week Two, then that team became the Major Premier for the season. In these cases, the final in week two has retrospectively become known as the Grand Final.
  • If the winner of the Week Two final did not have the best record in the league as defined above, then the finals progress to Week Three.
  • Week Three: the Grand Final was played between Team with the best record vs Winner Final
  • The winner of this match became the Major Premier for the season.
  • It is important to note that under this variant of the Argus System, the right to challenge did not automatically go to the minor premiers, i.e. the team which was ranked highest after the home-and-away season. If the minor premiership had been decided by a close margin, then any losses sustained during the finals could have cost the minor premier its right to challenge or even transferred it to another team.

    An example of how this could have happened occurred in the 1906 VFL season: entering the Final, Carlton had an overall record of 15–3, and Fitzroy had an overall record of 14–4, but Fitzroy had a superior percentage to Carlton. Had Carlton lost the Final against Fitzroy, both teams would have had a record of 15–4, but Fitzroy would have been ranked above Carlton with its superior percentage, and Carlton therefore would have lost the right of challenge, meaning that Fitzroy would win the premiership. As it happened, Carlton won the match, giving them a record of 16–3 compared with Fitzroy's 14–5, so Fitzroy had no right of challenge, and Carlton won the premiership. Many Carlton players and officials erroneously believed that they would have had the right to challenge had they lost the Final; this confusion led to Carlton lodging a complaint with the VFL, and was justification for further amendments to be made in 1907.

    Second amended Argus system

    The second version of the amended Argus system was used by the VFL between 1907 and 1930, except 1924. This is the most widely known variation of the Argus system.

    The structure of the finals was mostly the same as the first amended Argus system, except that the right to challenge was given to the Minor Premier, as defined by the team on top of the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season. Additionally, it became conventional for the two semi-finals to be played on separate weekends, extending the duration of the finals from two or three weeks to three or four weeks.

  • Week One: the First Semi-Final was played between 2nd vs 4th.
  • Week Two: the Second Semi-Final was played between 1st vs 3rd.
  • Week Three: a final was played between Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2
  • If Minor Premier won the Week Three final, then that team was immediately awarded the Major Premiership. In these cases, the final in week three has retrospectively become known as the Grand Final.
  • If the winner of the Week Three final was not the Minor Premier, then the finals progress to Week Four. The final in week three became known as either the Final or the Preliminary Final.
  • Week Four: the Grand Final was played between Minor Premier vs Winner Final
  • The winner of this match became the Major Premier for the season.
  • This variation of the Argus system was introduced into to the VFA in 1903, four years before it was used in the VFL, and was used by that competition until the 1932 season. The system was used in amateur football until the end of the 1956 season.

    Round-robin Argus system

    For the 1924 season only, the VFL trialled a new format, in which the finals were played as a four-team round-robin, but including the Minor Premiers' right to challenge. At the end of the home-and-away season, the top four teams qualified for the finals tournament.

    The finals were played over three weeks (with a provision for a fourth week), under the fixture:

  • Week one: 1st vs 3rd; 2nd vs 4th
  • Week two: 1st vs 2nd; 3rd vs 4th
  • Week three: 1st vs 4th; 2nd vs 3rd
  • At the conclusion of the first three weeks, if the Minor Premier had finished on top of the round-robin ladder, then that team automatically won the Major Premiership, but if another team won the round-robin competition, then the finals progressed to Week Four.

  • Week Four: the Grand Final was played between Minor Premier vs 1st Round robin
  • The winner of this match became the Major Premier for the season.

    In the sole VFL season that the system was used, no Grand Final was ultimately required.

    Criticisms

    After having utilised four variations of the Argus system for thirty years, three clear drawbacks had emerged:

  • Firstly, the uncertainty regarding whether there would be three or four finals had resulted in the attendances at the semi-finals exceeding the attendance at the Grand Final in nine of the 29 VFL seasons that the format was used.
  • Secondly, the minor premier was now seen to have too much advantage through its right to challenge to the point where losing the second semi-final could be seen as a preferable route to a premiership, as the loss allowed for a week's rest, while a win would require playing the following week.
  • Thirdly, there was a clear financial benefit to the clubs involved for a Challenge Final to be played, as it resulted in an extra match with extra gate takings, and it was a common perception that clubs would contrive results to achieve this, which had led to concern amongst fans and officials that the Semi-Finals were not genuine contests.
  • To correct for these, the VFL introduced a new system, the Page–McIntyre system, in 1931. Most notably, the Page–McIntyre system removed the Minor Premiers' right to challenge, with the Minor Premier and the second-placed team receiving the advantage of a "double chance" that permitted either team to lose one match (excluding the Grand Final) without being eliminated. All leagues using the Argus system eventually migrated to the Page-McIntyre system.

    References

    Argus finals system Wikipedia


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