Who Needs A League Title?: Making the EIHL Conference System Work

Once again, as we come towards the end of the season, there’s a lot of discussion over the way the Conference system works in the EIHL. Only a few years after clamouring that the old league system meant that the big arena teams were having to play too many games to half-empty arenas against smaller teams, and saying they wanted to see more “rivalry” games. Now they’ve got that, the bigger teams are complaining that they a) see the same teams all the time and b) that the smaller teams are actually at an “unfair” advantage if one of them gets any stronger since they’re in a “weaker” conference.

So…first thing…is playing weaker teams more often disadvantaging the Erhardt teams? To work this out-let’s take the EIHL table this season, and look at the percentage of possible points they’ve gained both within their own conference and cross-conference:

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF WHERE EIHL TEAMS HAVE GAINED LEAGUE POINTS THIS SEASON:

TEAM POINTS GAINED V OWN CONFERENCE (%) POINTS GAINED CROSS CONFERENCE (%)
BRAEHEAD CLAN (G) 47 of 56 (83.4) 20 of 38 (52.6)
SHEFFIELD STEELERS (E) 29/52 (55.7) 35/40 (87.5)
CARDIFF DEVILS (E) 34/56 (60.7) 28/34 (82.3)
NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS (E) 35/56 (62.5) 23/38 (60.5)
BELFAST GIANTS (E) 31/56 (55.3) 24/38 (63.1)
FIFE FLYERS (G) 32/56 (67.1) 12/38 (31.5)
COVENTRY BLAZE (E) 18/60 (30) 26/32 (81.25)
HULL STINGRAYS (G) 29/56 (51.7) 13/28 (46.4)
EDINBURGH CAPITALS (G) 25/54 (46.6) 14/36 (38.8)
DUNDEE STARS (G) 17/56 (30) 11/35 (30.5)

It’s interesting to see from this that while Braehead have undoubtedly benefited from playing more games in the Erhardt Conference, Nottingham (one of the loudest critics of the Gardiner as the “weaker” conference) have actually gained LESS points from them than they have from their own,  and Dundee’s (the worst team in the league) proportion is also about equal-in fact, they’ve got more points v Erhardt than Gardiner teams!

Then of course there’s Coventry, who appear to be in the “wrong” conference by a spectacular margin in terms of equality. Sheffield, too, have benefited massively from cross conference games for their league position to be where it is.

Clearly, the conference system, while achieving its aim of making games more competitive for teams in general, has still slightly skewed the league, although it is interesting to see that the loudest critics in the Erhardt aren’t necessarily those who would have benefited the most from an “even” system (I’m looking at you, Corey Neilson).

The main problem with the EIHL isn’t how it organises its season into conferences-it’s the fact that despite the skewed games, the league champion is defined by the total efforts of both, which means that a team that runs up the points against one conference will always benefit in the standings. This time round, Braehead, Sheffield, Cardiff and Coventry have effectively gained their league position by lopsided results against each conference-indeed Coventry are only still in the playoff hunt on the strength of their cross-conference results…compare their record cross conference and the gap between it and their own to the teams around them,

The EIHL needs to move away from emphasis on the “regular season title” towards a playoff-based system, rather than a separate competition. It also needs to move away from such a disparity between in-conference and cross-conference play. At the moment teams play double the amount of games v their own conference, plus Challenge Cup games, plus playoffs…it’s frankly ridiculous.

So…how do we solve this?

The first thing we do is change things around. Rather than 4 and 2, we go 3 and 3…so teams play in-conference 6 times, out of it 6 a season. That keeps the league season the same length.

The Challenge Cup changes, though. Currently, there are 8 group games played just to eliminate two teams. That’s ridiculous. There’s simply no need for that amount of CC games for what is, essentially, a third-tier tournament. With the CC groups essentially being the same as league groups, it also leads to epic fixture fatigue.

So, how do we streamline the Challenge Cup? We move it to the beginning of the season as a curtain-raiser, played midweek in the following format (this format isn’t mine, incidentally…it’s the brainchild of Liam McCausland, ex of the Frozen Steel blog):

Trouble is, that’ll likely never be implemented, due to the EIHL’s fetishization with at least 3 guaranteed CC home dates which are now lost.

So where do those spare three home games go?

They go into the playoff first round. The playoffs are conference-based, with team records against their own conference determining whether or not they make it to the PO quarter-finals. The winner of the regular season gets a league title more fairly determined but smashing your own conference rewards you with an “easier” playoff first round game-the seedings work 1st v 4th, 2nd v 3rd.

Oh yes-that PO first round game? It’s a best of five, home and away…the team that finishes higher in the table gets the decisive fifth game if necessary. They’re played in double-headers over the next two weekends, with a fifth game (if required) either midweek before the PO weekend or the Saturday before. Winners of those series make the weekend, losers go home.

Seedings at the PO weekend are then determined by league positioning, and that functions as normal.

Granted, this plan isn’t perfect…and it’ll likely never be implemented because of the way the finances will work (and as we all know, the bottom line rules all in the EIHL even at the expense of a fairer, more logical system)…but admit it, it wouldn’t half make the EIHL season more interesting for all concerned, wouldn’t it?

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