Promedios - The Argentine relegation system explained

Olimpo players celebrating their 0-2 win at Boca Juniors
that put them one point clear at the top of the Clausura
and one point clear of the relegation zone.
One of the classic benchmarks of a good football knowledge is the ability to explain the offside rule. To me this is setting the bar way too low, the offside rule is pretty easy to understand, after spending a few minutes reading up on the offside rule you would have to be as thick as Andy Gray to fail to understand it. For me the real benchmark of footballing knowledge is the ability to comprehend the notoriously complicated "promedios" (points averaging) system used in Argentina and other South American leagues to determine relegation.

On Sunday 20 March 2011 Olimpo recorded their first ever win against fallen giants Boca Juniors with an impressive 0-2 away win at the once intimidating Bombonera stadium. This result lifted them to the top of the Clausura 2011 table on thirteen points from six games and also saw them climb out of the relegation places for the first time since they played Boca Juniors in the corresponding fixture of the Apertura in September 2010.

For people that are used to the classic home and away round robin European style season with standard relegation for the bottom few teams that is used in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and most of the other major European leagues the concept of being both one point clear at the top of the table and one point above the relegation zone is rather confusing. Probably the most unusual outcome of the "promedios" system was the relegation of Talleres de Córdoba at the end of the Clausura 2004 tournament despite their managing a 3rd place finish in the Clausura and finishing with the sixth best points total over the season.

The system that gives such unusual outcomes is actually fairly simple. A team's standing in the relegation table is determined by dividing the number of points obtained over the previous three seasons by the number of games played over the last three seasons. This means that at the end of the season most teams have their points tally divided by 114 (3 x 38 game seasons) with the exception of promoted teams who have their smaller points tallies divided by the fewer games that they have played. The benchmark for survival is usually around 1.2 points per game, only 3 sides have finished in the bottom four places with an average of better than 1.2 (Lanús in 2001-02 with 1.245, Argentinos Juniors in 2005-06 with 1.224 & River Plate in 2010-11 with 1.238).

I am going to use the "promedios table from the 2003-04 season (below) to illustrate some of the key issues.

Team Average Points Played 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04
River Plate 2.008 229 114 84 79 66
Boca Juniors 1.947 222 114 68 79 75
Quilmes 1.578 60 38 N/A N/A 60
San Lorenzo 1.526 174 114 57 56 61
Racing Club 1.500 171 114 68 53 50
Vélez Sársfield 1.464 167 114 48 66 53
Colón de Santa Fe 1.421 162 114 56 57 49
Banfield 1.403 160 114 48 48 64
Arsenal de Sarandí 1.368 104 76 N/A 49 55
Newell's Old Boys 1.324 151 114 51 49 51
Gimnasia de La Plata 1.298 148 114 64 46 38
Independiente 1.280 146 114 41 61 44
Rosario Central 1.280 146 114 40 62 44
Lanús 1.263 144 114 51 51 42
Estudiantes de La Plata 1.210 138 114 51 43 44
Olimpo de Bahía Blanca 1.184 90 76 N/A 51 39
Talleres de Córdoba 1.166 133 114 30 44 59
Atlético de Rafaela 1.131 43 38 N/A N/A 43
Chacarita 1.105 126 114 47 41 38
Nueva Chicago 1.026 117 114 48 41 28

2003-04 was unusual in the fact that the two worst performing teams over the season were also the two sides to suffer automatic relegation. In most seasons one of the worst performing teams survives relegation because they have a bank account of points from the previous two seasons to fall back on. This effect can be seen in Gimnasia's comfortable 11th place positioning despite having five fewer points in 2003-04 than Atlético Rafaela who finished in a relegation playoff position despite earning 43 points over the full season. To put this in perspective Westham's total of 42 points in 2002-03 is the highest ever achieved by a side relegated from the English Premier League and many sides have survived with an average of less than one point per game, Hull City survived with only 35 points in 2008-09, a total that would have meant certain relegation in Argentina. In 2007-08 Olimpo were automatically relegated in 19th place with 42 points.

The promedios system is notoriously hard on newly promoted sides because the majority of the established sides have this bank account of points to bolster their average if they have a fairly poor season. Many critics claim that this effect is exactly the reason it was introduced in the first place. The evidence backs this view as the "promedios" relegation system was only brought in to protect the "big five" most popular and richest clubs after San Lorenzo were relegated in 1982. The first beneficiaries of the Promedios system were River Plate and Racing de Córdoba who remained in the Primera División at the expense of Racing Club de Avellaneda and Rosario Central who would have survived under the old system.

Often when a side relies on previously acquired points from preceding "good seasons" for survival, they find themselves in big trouble when the next season starts because the good points tally from three seasons ago is discarded. This is the situation that Talleres found themselves in at the beginning of the 2003-04 season, they were lumbered with only 74 points from their previous 78 games and had to fight hard to try to avoid relegation. The Córdoba outfit romped to a 3rd place finish in the Clausura tournament and only five teams in the whole league acquired more than Talleres' total of 59 points over the full season, however their two previous poor campaigns dragged their average down to such an extent that they found themselves facing and losing a relegation playoff against Argentinos Juniors.

At the beginning of the 2010-11 season River Plate found themselves in a similar situation having endured two of the worst seasons in their history in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Even though they finished with the 6th highest points tally in 2010-11 they ended up suffering the first relegation in their 110 year history after a 1-3 aggregate defeat against Belgrano de Córdoba in their relegation playoff.

Olimpo's rise from rock bottom of the promedios to a position of safety in the space of only six games illustrates the one big advantage that newly promoted sides have; greater mobility. For a newly promoted side the three points from a win is worth 0.078 points at the end of the season (3 divided by 38) while three points for an established team is only worth 0.026 (3/114) in the final relegation standings. This means that a good run of form can still potentially save struggling Primera División new boys with half a dozen games or so remaining while an established team on the same average would be resigned to relegation.

This mobility is also a double edged sword, a poor run of form can see newly promoted sides plummet down the table as seen with All Boys in the Clausura. they began the tournament with 1.368 (26/19) points per game but only one win in their first six games has seen their points average drop dramatically to 1.200 (30/25) while fellow Clausura strugglers Boca Juniors who had also only obtained four points from their opening six games saw a much smaller decrease in their points average, from 1.400 (133/95) to 1.356 (137/101).

Once you get your head around the concept it is fairly simple in principle but the difficulty really kicks in when you are trying to working out relegation permutations. Unless you have been blessed with a mathematical mind capable of easily working out which of 76/69 or 113/107 is higher, you either need to get out a calculator or rely on someone in the media to work it out for you.

As I have shown it is easy to understand the principle but one unnamed computer game manufacturer famously failed to take into account the fact that promoted teams have their points divided by the number of games that they have played and just divided all the points totals by 114 at the end of the season, meaning that in their computer game a promoted team that won all 38 of their matches to obtain the maximum 114 points would almost certainly be relegated with a points average of only 1.000 points per game.

If after reading this you can now understand and explain the Argentine relegation system and already have a decent understanding of the offside rule, then by my estimation you are entitled to claim that you have a good knowledge of football.

6 comments:

  1. I generally follow MLS and a few European leagues, so after reading a blurb about River's precarious position and looking at the current table I was mighty confused. Thanks for the insightful post. :)

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  2. So when can a relegated team move back up? When is the next time River Plate may be promoted?

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  3. @solitarymuser - The promotion system fron B Nacional is much simpler than the relegation system in the Primera.

    At the end of the 2011-12 season the top 2 will be automatically promoted while the 3rd & 4th placed teams will face promotion/relegation playoffs against the 18th & 17th placed sides in the promedios table.

    So to answer your question. If River could only return to the top flight if they finish in the top 4 at the end of the 2011-12 season.

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  4. and what about following scenario:
    River is promoted straight away, so in 2012/13 they are again in Primera. And, at the end of this season (12/13), how will their (relagation table) points be counted? Only from 2012/13 divided by 38, or sum 2010/11 + 2012/13 divided by 76 (2x38)?

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  5. Teams that earn an instant return to the Primera don't have their earlier points tally carried over so if River (Quilmes, Huracán or Gimnasia) win promotion in 2011-12 they would begin 2012-13 with a clean slate, however teams that are relegated after only one season in the top flight begin the new season in Primera B Nacional with their promotion points in the bank meaning that Quilmes will be nearly immune from relegation from Primera B in 2011-12 while River Plate, Huracán & Gimnasia could be looking at another relegation if they have a poor first season in Primera B.

    Regards

    ReplyDelete