Fun with Math: How a Little Rule Ended Chelsea's Season

Adam RosenfieldContributor IMay 22, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 06:  Didier Drogba of Chelsea lies on the ground frustrated during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on May 6, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

For as simple as the great game may look on a 52” HDTV, one of the quirkiest rules in sports belongs to the game of soccer (or football, depending on which country you are viewing this article from).

In light of the recent debate due to the finish of the Barcelona-Chelsea match, the Away goals rule has been a much talked about topic on message boards around the world.

What essentially happened was a goal by Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta in the 93rd minute of the Champions League semifinal propelled Barcelona to a 1-1 tie with Chelsea and helped to secure a spot in the Champions League Final against Manchester United. Mind you, the week before, Chelsea and Barca played to a 0-0 tie in Spain.

So, what exactly is the Away goals rule? The Away goals rule states that the team that has scored more goals “away from home” in the advent of a tie will win if the scores are otherwise tied after the home-and-home legs.

The rule was created to encourage more teams to be more aggressive away from their home pitch. It first appeared in 1965, when Budapest Howard FC beat Dukla Prague in the second round of the UEFA Winner’s Cup. Beforehand, ties were settled with a playoff on neutral ground.

For a quick explanation of the rule, I bring to light an example of how it is used. The 2003 Champions League semifinal was played between A.C. Milan and Inter Milan. The games were played at the clubs’ shared stadium, San Siro. The first leg ended in a 0-0 tie, and the second leg a 1-1 tie. By virtue of there being the away team in the second leg, A.C. Milan was declared the winner.

Now, I know what all you non-soccer fans are away goals rule? But why?  The answer is quite simple; home-field advantage means more in soccer than in any other sport. In a sport where goals are few and far between, statistics show that playing at home makes a huge difference.

According to an Oct. 11, 2008 article published in The New York Times, teams in the English Premier League teams who were playing at home averaged 0.57 more goals than their opponent over the past seven seasons.

For some clubs, like Everton, Newcastle United and Fulham, the goal difference was higher, from 0.71 to 0.85. Looking at the stats, as well as seeing the crazed fans in some stadiums (especially some of the Eastern European leagues) it makes sense to see why the Away goals rule was implemented.

An interesting note pertains to the usage of it in other leagues. In CONCACAF, the away goals no longer serve as a tiebreaker in the advent of overtime. The rule was not used in CONMEBOL before 2005; rather, a penalty shootout was the method used to break ties.

As a sports fan myself, I think this rule makes for more interesting games. With soccer awarding three points for a win and a point for a tie, the away goals rule allows for a more exciting game, and away teams better prepare for what they will face, knowing this rule is in place.

Although home-field doesn’t seem to be as big in MLS, it might be necessary for pure excitement purposes. In a sport that runs a distant fifth, sixth, or seventh in the American sports hierarchy, this rule could serve to ignite some fire into otherwise listless teams (including my own favorite team, FC Dallas).

Think about this: What if the rule was implemented in other sports, with some modifications? What about in college football, rewarding those small schools who play at schools like Texas, Ohio State, Florida, USC, and Oklahoma? What an interesting game that might make for!

I don’t exactly know how the rule could be applied, but if a team from a smaller conference could get extra points for point differential or by the way they play, maybe the University of North Texas could win a game or two!

Or maybe not.