Economist lambastes NHL rule changes
: Jason Abrevaya, an associate professor of economics at the Krannert School of Management and a specialist in econometrics, has been researching the effects of the NHL's new rules designed to cut down on tie games
"Generally speaking, American sports fans don't like ties," Abrevaya says. "After the game is played for two or three hours, they like to see a winner."
Among major sports, hockey is the only major professional sport in which ties pose a significant dilemma, Abrevaya writes. In the NHL, roughly one out of every seven regular-season games between the 1995-96 and 1998-99 seasons ended in a tie.
"Prior to the 1999-2000 season, the NHL awarded teams two points for a win, one point for a tie and zero points for a loss," Abrevaya says. "The total number of points accumulated by a team dictates final standings, making the playoffs and seeding."
Before the 1999-2000 season began, the league instituted two rule changes:
1. A team that loses in overtime receives one point.
2. Overtime is played with four, rather than five, skaters (plus the goalie).
"The rule changes had the intended effect of reducing the number of ties in overtime games," Abrevaya says. "Before the rule change, 71.1 percent of overtime games ended in ties. After the rule change, only 55.5 percent of overtime games ended in ties."
In econometric terms, the change is considered statistically significant.
There also was less willingness to settle for a tie and more aggressive play, with a 37.5 percent increase in shots on goal in overtime (5.46 shots on goal in overtime versus 3.97 shots on goal before the rule change).
Abrevaya says from a marketing point of view, this is good for the league.
"A sports league's main objective is to increase and maintain demand for its product by providing excitement and enjoyment to its fans."
The unintended consequence, though, was that there was a 12.1 percent increase (19.8 percent before the rule change and 22.2 percent with the new rules) in the number of overtime games.
"All else being equal, the potential for the available larger pie makes an overtime game an appealing outcome for teams," Abrevaya writes.
Abrevaya is most interested in the incentive effects of the changes for teams.
"There is a perverse incentive for teams to play to reach overtime," he says. "Had the likelihood of reaching overtime remained constant, a more desirable drop in the percentage (from 14.1 percent to 11 percent) of ties would have been achieved."