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Would a "PLAY-OFF" system sustain the league?

Click on the "envelope" for a bigger view

Scribed this on the back of an envelope. 

Please don't be confused by those "arrows" and the hideous handwriting (it was a scribble-on anyway), allow me to explain with some help from the "wiki" pages on the subject. 

As you can see for yourself on the top of the envelope, I scribbled "Top 8 (AFL)", while on the lower half of it, you should notice the words - "Super League (RL)"

With SAFFC very likely to wrap up their unprecedented "fourth-peat" (their fourth consecutive league titles) in days to come, I wonder what's the point of carrying the regular league fixture since there's nothing more to fight for (except for the remaining prize monies)? 

Since there's no relegation/promotion format in the league set-up, the rest of the pack are merely fighting for their pride to complete their fixture, thus there's absolutely no reason for fans to pay to come and see some meaningless games. 

Having said that, I came to realize some sporting leagues around the world have been adopting some kind of "play-off" system for those top teams as a "reward" for doing well at the end of their regular season (completion of the fixtures). 

This is why I would like to borrow examples from both the AFL (Australian Rules Football) and Super League (Rugby League)'s play-off systems to see if they could fit into our league system. 

The AFL "play-off" format (text borrowed from "Wikipedia")

  • At the end of the 22 rounds, the top eight teams compete in the four-week AFL Finals Series. 

  • In the first week the top four teams play in Qualifying Finals (1st vs 4th & 2nd vs 3rd), the two winning Qualifying Final teams progress directly into a Preliminary Final in the third week, with the other four teams playing in Elimination Finals (5th vs 8th & 6th vs 7th). 

  • In the second week the two losing teams from the Qualifying Finals play the two winning teams from the Elimination Finals in the Semi Finals.

  • The winners of the Qualifying Finals play the winners of the Semi Finals in the preliminary finals.

  • The two winning Preliminary Final teams play in the Grand Final in the fourth week of the finals. The Premiership winning team is the team that wins the Grand Final.

The Super League "play-off" format (till 2008) (text borrowed from "Wikipedia")

  • Week One
    * Elimination Semi-final A: 3rd vs 6th
    * Elimination Semi-final B: 4th vs 5th

  • Week Two
    * Elimination Final: Winners of Elimination Semi-final A vs Winners of Elimination Semi-final B * Qualification Match: 1st vs 2nd

  • Week Three
    * Final Qualifier: Losers of Qualification Match vs Winners of Elimination Final

  • Week Four
    * Grand Final: Winners of Qualification Match vs Winners of Final Qualifier

What do we learn from it? 

Like the American sporting system, the AFL operates on a "franchise" system (correct me if I'm wrong as this is based on my observation) while the Super League in England will implement a "Licensing" system in their coming season. 

Both league formats don't have the "promotion/relegation" system, so year in and out it'll be the same teams pit against each other, which is something similar to our own S.League format. 

Let's face the fact that it's absolutely impossible to implement the "promotion/relegation" format in the league setup, given the unfavourable climate local football is facing now and the lack of a sizable fan population, so why not give a thought of having something that might just work for us? 

A Suggestion (Please refer to the chart below, before you proceed on)

Click for a bigger view

With the completion of the regular season (the current format we having), the team that finishes at the top of the league ladder will be declared the "minor premiers" (a similar term used in AFL, depicted as "1st" in the above chart). 

Together with teams that finished at the second (2nd) to sixth (6th) position of the standing, these six teams will enter the next phase of the season - THE PLAY-OFF (based on the discontinued "Super League" play-off format)

Being the "minor premiers" will entitle itself to some form of advantage, that is it will be awarded a trophy, cash monies for that achievement and a "bye" in the qualifying stages (as illustrated on the chart above) where they will only play against the team finished at the second position of the standing in Week 3. 

The winning team of this fixture - the "minor premiers" and the "2nd" will be one of the finalists in the "Grand Final" that ultimately decide the league champions. 

While for those remaining teams (3rd to 6th positioned), their fate in this post-season stage would definitely be tougher as compared to the top 2 teams since they will have to endure some grueling "knock-out" fuels against their opponents before they can proceed further. 

The Conclusion 

The whole idea of this "playoff" format, is to avoid having those "meaningless" fixtures after the league champions are declared with a few more rounds of matches to play. 

This system should be served as an incentive to those "top-tier" teams to fight for a better position in order to avoid those teams they would not want to meet in the early stages of the "play-off". 

And most importantly, as the league authority has no plan of implementing the "promotion/relegation" system in anytime near future, the "play-off" should help to inject some form of excitement we would normally see in those relegation dogfights. 

Just a thought here.

(P.S: Thought of posting this suggestion days later, but decided it's time to let it out)


  1. What you are talking about is the same as what is happening in the A-League, maybe one suggestion: how about studying the Dutch and MLS playoff models?

    But if a playoff is to become a reality, then something has to happen: scrap the League Cup and lump the Singapore Cup into a televised mid-season festival (including many foreign teams just to spice up the competition. Otherwise too many things spoil the broth for the organizers, teams, players and officials, media and most importantly the fans or casual onlookers.

  2. Hi Gary,

    Exactly, this "play-off" thing is something that is a very BOLD as it's about using a locally unfamiliar method to decide the league champions..

    Yes, it's something along the line of "A-League"'s system, but I'm using the "Super League" (of a discontinued English Rugby League competition format)instead.

    Thanks for your prompt input

  3. bro, nice research... but you could possibly follow MLS,NBA,NFL.. the way the play is like normal, top tier fight for playoffs.. then singapore should really have a draft system. just like american. this is to prevent great talents from JC/Poly to go to waste, some can even come straight from B division. Studying football leagues does not create more "something"... i dont know the word... but by expanding the resources available in small but important leagues... its better.

  4. The AFL is not a franchise system - well, not exactly.

    The AFL was orginally the Victorian Football League, set up in 1897 as a breakaway from the Victorian Football Association. All the clubs up until 1982 or (87) were actual member based clubs started organically.

    When the league went national, there were some teams that were added that are essentially franchises. Finals football works for Australian Rules for a couple of reasons.

    1) Teams do not play each the twice during the season, therefore there is a need for a playoff system for equity's sake.

    2) Draws are very rare for an Australian Rules match, therefore it is very easy to get a tie at the top of the standings at the end of the season.

    3) Australian Rules needs finals to see the game at its best. A month of intensity which can't be sustained through the slog of the regular season.

    For Australian soccer, there have been finals for the past 25 years or so nationally. This works towards the New South Wales soccer way of doing things, which always had finals. Victoria did not have finals until the early 1990s - many fans down here don't like that system.

  5. i prefer the "Super League" concept which involve top 6 teams qualification as it is more suitable for our s.league 10-12 teams league format.

    One thing to highlight is that if we stick to 12 teams league format, then i don't think it's meaningful to go thru 33 games per season. Maybe a 27 games aka 2.5 rounds per season concept is enough as there are playoff to play for.

    last thing to take note as what Gary has point out about league cup & Singapore cup. in this case, we could move the league cup to pre-season tournament and Singapore Cup as the end of the season playoff big event.

    Maybe we could have the AFC Cup spot as a reward for winning the Singapore Cup at the end of the season.


  6. Hi Pohui, Frankie here.

    Commenting on the system given by you, I think the rationale for the loser between the 1st and 2nd to play the winner from 3rd to 6th place is a way of ensuring that there will be an advantage for the second place team. That should be kept, instead of eliminating the loser of 1v2 straight away.

    And I do see the playoff syetem being better than the current one that sees the team playing triple round robin. Playing triple round robin only makes the gap between the top and the bottom clubs bigger. This is because the better clubs always win and bottom clubs always loses, baring those few upsets, and mathematically that would mean a wider gap.

    Still, that only solve one-half of the problem at the top, but the other half at the bottom remains to be address as there is no relegation dogfight. The match between Sengkang and Balestier that the latter won last night would have generate more interest and of greater significance if there is a promo/rele system, but now it can only attract less than 1,000 to attend it.

    As to whether the league can be revitalise by the playoff system, I will say it's one of the ways to make things more exciting. But if the poor marketing and half-hearted execution of plan, and official media filled with part-time journalist, the league will continue to look unprofessional and not attract many people.

  7. As an avid AFL follower, I can say that finals football is clearly the best month of the year. The bottom teams are weeded out and only the top teams get to play-off for the ultimate prize.

    I think this would work for the S-League. It would add intrigue and ensure the last few weeks of the season are the most exciting. Of course, there has to be an incentive for the league position at the end of the season. In the AFL, the top 8 teams (out of 16) make the finals and the the top 4 receive a double chance meaning if they lose their first finals match, they still get to play the following week. Perhaps a similar concept could be introduced to the top 2 teams in the S-League.

    From an economic point of view, the playoff system would be good for Singapore football. Think about the interest and drama that only knock-out football can create! Anything can happen and the unpredictablity is sure to attract more fans.

    The only drawback I can think of is that a playoff system does not always result in the 'BEST' team winning. In the 2008 AFL season, Geelong were the dominant team throughout the season but ultimately lost on the final day to Hawthorn. You could say Geelong's dominance wasn't rewarded but Hawthorn handled the high pressure occasion better probably deserved to win the cup.


  8. The plan may work but for me, the most impt is the team for ACL playoff

    It must be the team who finished top of the league in regular season for we cnnt send a 'lucky' team rather than a consistent team

    The ACL spot is too impt as good results can mean second team in ACL playoff or extra spot in AFC Cup in future

    Also, the prize $ given to regular season champions cnnt be worse than S-league champions via the playoff

  9. Hi "Anonymous",

    Having a "draft" system in the S.League is something I always dream of, ideally those talented boys being groomed by the tertiary institute that will equipped them with the necessary paper qualification and improve their game in a competitive school sporting environment.

    Hi "Paul" and "Ammar",

    Nice of you guys to share your insight from an Australian's perspective, I share the same view that "finals"series of AFL bring the best out of each teams, as it's a "DO-OR-DIE" battle.

    Hi "Frankie",

    The whole idea of the "play-off" is to spur each team "not to miss the boat that can carry only 6 passengers", the minnows should fight till the very last minute to ensure they, too, can "book that late ticket" inboard.

    Yes, I agree that loser of the "1st-2nd" game should be given a lifeline and somehow some elements of the "AFL" play-off might just fit into it.

    Hi "Happy",

    Yes, we can't just simply send a "lucky" team to the ACL play-off, but whether that team is "lucky" or not it's very subjective till the thing happens..

    I would like say thanks to all for your valuable inputs at this stage, although conflicting views are something that is inevitable, let's look at the bigger picture rather than in a narrow perspective.

  10. IMO, i quite like the 1st season of sleague where the season was split into 2 series. Something like what the Jleague was. And then, at the end of the season, the winners of the two stages play a final to decide the overall winner.


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