In many horse races at Cheltenham next week we will see ability handicapped to engineer balance. Can manufacturing outcome uncertainty in horse racing be exported elsewhere?
Below is a table of the 2020 Six Nations matches that considers the counterfactual world where balance was constructed. The handicap is imposed on the home team and is inferred from betting odds, that define a point where each nation has an equal probability of winning. In this world, the average score difference would reduce from about two converted tries to one converted try. The fixtures marked in blue are the ones which would have seen an alternative outcome.
Since Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000, they have only won 12 times (and drawn once). There is a clear balance problem with all of their fixtures. Their highest finish has been 4th and they have placed last 16 out of the 22 years. Under a handicapped model, the matches against Italy would represent a far more interesting sporting spectacle. While football round robins (UEFA European and World Cup qualification) are also afflicted with the same balance issue, applying a handicap system might be trickier given the scoring system and weight of goals in football.
Would Irish fans be more likely to tune or attend if they knew they had to make up a 28-point head start against the Italians? It does sound more exciting. Then again, there is evidence that sports fans savour the crushing win.