The 2017 Six Nations Championship starts tomorrow. Scotland host Ireland at 2.25pm with the winners claiming the Centenary Quaich. The match is the first of fifteen fixtures that will be screened over the coming six weeks, with the culmination of the tournament on Saturday the 18th of March.
The final set of fixtures are interesting from the point of view of the economist. Despite this tournament following a round-robin format, the final three matches kicked-off at the three different times. This is important as it could impact upon the incentives that exist for teams competing to win the tournament.
Consider the 2015 contest. Going into the last round of fixtures England, Ireland and Wales were all tied on six points each, having won three and lost one match each. If all three teams won their final fixture (each were playing Italy, Scotland and France respectively), the tournament would be decided by points difference.
Prior to kick-off in the first game on Saturday the 21st of March 2015, England had a points difference of +37, Ireland +33 and Wales +12. Had all three games kick-off together, no problem would exist.
The games started at different times however. Wales and Italy started at 12.30pm CET (UTC+1). The Welsh winning margin was 41 points. This left the principality on a score difference of +53 meaning Ireland would have to beat Scotland in the 2.30pm GMT (UTC+0) game by at least 21 points to have any chance of winning the tournament. The Irish managed to win by a margin of 30 points, ending Wales’s chances of lifting the trophy.
Attention then turn to Twickenham and England versus France. With Wales eliminated, and Ireland on +63, England knew a winning margin of 27 points would see them crowned 2015 Six Nations champions. What followed against the French was the 2nd highest scoring game in Six Nations history! The game ending 55-35. Only England versus Italy during the 2001 tournament has seen more points scored, with the scoreboard reading England 80 – 23 Italy. The winning margin of +20 wasn’t enough for the English and Ireland were crowned champions.
To avoid possible problems like this organisers have instituted necessary rule changes. This year’s tournament will see the introduction of a bonus point for the first time. A country scoring four or more tries during a match will receive an additional point. Countries losing by seven or fewer points will also receive a bonus point. Furthermore, three bonus points will be awarded to a country completing a Grand Slam (wins all of its five matches) to ensure that they will also be crowned champions.
These rule changes are motivated by incentives and a very welcome change. Kendall and Lenten (2017) provide a lovely overview of when sports rules go ‘wrong’ across various sports and should be consulted for further reading.