• Top Tens

Top 10 sporting gimmicks

Alex Perry
December 11, 2013
Germany's Oliver Bierhoff scores football's first Golden Goal at an international tournament © PA Photos
Enlarge

The recent announcement that the final race of the 2014 Formula One season will have double points available has been met with widespread criticism - including champion Sebastian Vettel, who describes it as "absurd", and our own EPSN F1 team who regard the change as a gimmick.

With that in mind, ESPN.co.uk has come up with a Top 10 list of other rule changes, formats and gimmicks in sport - some of which have left the majority scratching their heads.

10. Super Tie-Break

In some tennis tournaments, especially those including junior players, a "super tie-break" is used instead of a deciding third-set.

Super tie-breaks are the same as tie-breaks, but instead of playing first to seven points, the competitors play first to 10. The Super Tie-Break was introduced to ATP doubles events in 2006, in an effort to get more of the top singles players back into doubles and also to satisfy broadcasters.

Rather hilariously - and we are absolutely not making this up - there is also a "super-duper tie-break", which sees players play to 12 points.

9. Golden and Silver Goals

FIFA has, it seems, forever been searching for an alternative to ending matches with penalty shootouts.

Eventually, along came Golden Goal. The theory was simple: If the teams were level after 90 minutes, extra-time would go ahead as usual - with two halves of 15 minutes each. But if a team scored in this period, the match would be over.

The system was actually used in the Cromwell Cup, the world's second ever football competition, in 1868 in a match between Sheffield sides The Wednesday and Garrick. It didn't last long, as extra-time periods became dull affairs with both teams usually too tired or nervous to attack.

But FIFA didn't get the memo (or telegram) and decided to reintroduce the Golden Goal in 1993. It was used in European Championships and World Cups between 1996 - two successive Euros finals were decided by Golden Goal, for Germany in 1996 and France in 2000 - and 2004 when it was abolished.

Even worse, in 2002 UEFA introduced the Silver Goal, in which the team leading at half-time of extra-time would win. Only one match in a competitive competition was settled by this method, when Greece scored a 105th-minute winner against the Czech Republic in the Euro 2004 semi-finals.

8. Penalty Shootouts: US Style

But unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're some sort of sadist), penalty shoot-outs remain the best way of settling a match. But did you know the North American Soccer League, a precursor to the MLS we know and love today, settled matches with ice hockey-style penalties?

Shootouts were the same as they are today, but the attacking player started from a penalty spot some 30 yards from goal and were handed five seconds in which to score.

Here's an example from a game between the Chicago Sting and the Detroit Express. (We didn't make those names up. Promise.)

7. Shot Clock

Imagine basketball without a shot clock. Would any team in the lead ever have any onus to shoot? Why not just keep the ball until the game clock ran out? This is exactly what happened in 1950, when the Fort Wayne Pistons attempted just 13 shots all game in an effort to limit the Los Angeles Lakers, and then the Rochester Royals and Indianapolis Olympians managed a six-overtime game that had just one shot per overtime period.

It took until 1954 - yes, four whole years! - for the shot clock to be firstly invented and then adopted by the NBA. Attendances immediately increased, as did TV interest, and the effect was universally acknowledged as saving the NBA. So next time somebody moans about basketball being too end-to-end for their liking, at least you know why it happened.

6. The Duckworth Lewis Method

Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis' mathematical formulation designed to calculate the target score for the team batting second in a limited overs match interrupted by weather or other circumstances may be generally accepted as the most accurate way of setting a score, but it is full of loopholes.

Writes Indian cricket journalist Rahul Jain: "The D/L method's exempli gratia does not take into account that the team batting second may have used up more (or less) of the power play overs in the proportion of the total number of overs bowled than the team batting first. The D/L method also assumes that in a typical inning the scoring rate always accelerates first slowly and then more rapidly."

Jain adds: "This reminds one of the values most commonly found in Victorian England where people tended to categorise and stereotype everything from skin colour to run rates."

Quite.

5. Penalty Shootout: Rugby Style

The way it works: Five players are designated to take kicks on goal from the centre of the 22-metre line, with sudden death introduced if the scores are level after those. Sound familiar?

First introduced to rugby union at professional level in May 2009, Leicester Tigers beat Cardiff Blues at the Millennium Stadium in an historic Heineken Cup semi-final when, with the scores at 26-26 after extra-time, the match headed to the dreaded shootout (yes, it's called that in rugby, too).

And it was Jordan Crane who secured his legacy in the pub quiz pantheon by landing a sudden death kick after Martyn Williams had missed for the hosts. Tom James had already fluffed a chance to win it for the Blues following Johne Murphy's miss for the Tigers.

Within 24 hours Derek McGrath, the chief executive of European Rugby Cup, promised a review into the future of the system.

Albeit a cruel way to end such a pulsating match, it provided incredible spectacle. But don't just take our word for it:

Interestingly, England were one kick from Jonny Wilkinson's boot and 26 seconds away from going through the same wringer in the 2003 World Cup final. Which no doubt would've gone well given our national football side's expertise in penalty shootouts and major competitions down the years.

4. Kick-ins

Remember that Premier League game between Stoke and Arsenal when then Potters midfielder Rory Delap bombarded the visitors' penalty area with a series of cannon-like long throws?

Well, after said match, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger suggested throw-ins be replaced with kick-ins. Blinded by the fact Delap can presumably kick a football as far as he can throw it, Wenger's idea was met with the derisory sneers it fully deserved.

If Wenger had been paying attention some 20 years or so previously, he would know that kick-ins is something that FIFA had already taken to an experimental level at the 1993 Under-17 World Cup and then the subsequent season in England's seventh-tier - the Isthmian League.

Of course, the idea was a farce from the very start as these games became 90-minute long goalmouth scrambles as teams resorted to hoofing the ball from the touchline at every opportunity.

And aside from devaluing corners, the rule that a player cannot be deemed offside from a throw-in also applied to kick-ins. You can just imagine the carnage.

3. SPL split

Around the turn of the millennium, Scottish football chiefs realised they had a problem - only two teams could win the SPL, which made it incredibly dull viewing for the fans of other teams in the league (we're paraphrasing - that particular realisation still hasn't occurred). Faced with a desire to increase the number of teams in the league but still prevent an overly long season, they hatched a plan. Well, actually, they borrowed a plan from Switzerland.

The 12 teams in the league would face each other three times, so 33 games for each team. They would then "split" the league down the middle - the top six would continue playing for the title, the bottom six would continue playing to avoid relegation. It would total 38 games, only two more than a 10-team, playing-each-other-home-and-away-twice league produces. Bingo!

It has been a roaring success, of course. Now only one team can win the SPL, many others are hanging over a financial abyss and the SPL no longer even exists, it is now the SPFL. And Scotland still haven't qualified for a major tournament since 1998. Well done everybody.

2. PowerPlay everything

Seems every single sport has tried a shortened version in one way or another. In football, we have the highly successful 5-, 6- and 7-a-side games which are all close in popularity to their full-scale sibling, at least in terms of participation. Then we have Twenty20 cricket, which is also immensely popular with cricket fans - apart from a few of those pesky traditionalists, of course.

But what about those that weren't so successful?

Before T20 took off, cricket briefly tried to popularise a game called Cricket Max - in which each side would bat two innings of 10 overs on a field marked with trapezoidal zones which, if hit, would double the score earned from that particular shot. Batsmen could also not be out LBW, while there were four stumps at each end of the wicket instead of three. Oh, and if the final ball of an innings is hit for six, it counts as 12 runs. We can't help but wonder why it is now defunct - for a start, it's nowhere near Victorian enough.

In golf, they attempted their own T20 with PowerPlay. Rather predictably, it ended up the same way as Cricket Max. The idea was simple. Nine holes, with two holes on every green. Players scored points when holing out, depending on how many shots they've taken, while they were allowed three "powerplays" in a round in which they could score double the amount of points. Sounds exhilarating. It really wasn't. It just turned out to be confusing (even more so than regular golf) and a bit dull (even more so than regular golf).

Talking of dull, snooker's boring, isn't it? Well, not to people that like it. So why try and jazz it up? Rather expectedly, a collective derisory snort could be heard throughout the sporting world when snooker's governing body announced the imaginatively-titled Power Snooker.

In the (open quote) exciting (close quote) version of the game, matches lasted 30 minutes with the balls being continuously re-racked, with a 20-second shot clock. The player with the most points at the end of the match was the winner.

The initial Power Snooker tournament was held at the O2 and won by, you guessed it, Ronnie O'Sullivan. Afterwards, promoter Barry Hearn said that "Power Snooker will emulate the success of Twenty20 cricket as a new, alternative form of a well-established traditional game."

He was wrong.

1. The Europa League

Yes. We are considering a whole competition as essentially being a gimmick. See if you can keep up...

The Europa League kicks off at the beginning of July and has to get through four two-legged qualifying rounds before mid-September when the group stage kicks in.

The qualifiers, who by this point have played eight matches, are then joined by automatic entrants and the ten sides who fall at the Champions League play-off round.

The 12 groups of four see each team play each other home and away and the top two from each group go into the last 32.

Wait… 32? Yes, because each team that finishes third in the group stage of the Champions League drops into the Europa League. So, if you've done the maths, a qualifying team could get through a whopping 14 matches in the Europa League, only to face a failure from Europe's premier cup competition in the Round of 32.

In the first of the knockout phases, teams from the same group and same country cannot be drawn against each other, but from then on it's a free draw all the way to the final which, astonishingly, is a 90-minute match made up of two halves, with extra-time and penalties used if required.

The mind boggles at how the most powerful people in European football sanctioned such a farcically baffling concept for a competition. You'd think they would just declare the losing finalist of the Champions League as winner of the Europa League.

Chelsea won the 2013 Europa League after falling at the group stage of the Champions League - the competition they were defending © PA Photos
Enlarge

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexPerryESPN

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
RECENT POSTS