Do the play-offs reward sporting excellence?

General view as both teams prepare to kick off in front of half empty stands during the FA Cup, Semi Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 13, 2013. See PA story SOCCER Millwall. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

General view as both teams prepare to kick off in front of half empty stands during the FA Cup, Semi Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 13, 2013. See PA story SOCCER Millwall. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

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Sheffield United: James Shield’s Inside View

But do the end of season play-offs reward sporting excellence? The answer is a big fat ‘no.’ So that’s why football, which will doubtless take issue with rugby league’s decision to brand itself ‘The Greatest Game’ can still learn a thing or two from the 13 man code.

Timing, as Danny Cipriani once said, is everything. Exactly why your’s truly is proposing a revamp of the system now.

Sheffield United, who once again must try and negotiate the most perilous route towards promotion, entertain Preston North End tomorrow knowing they can finish no higher than fourth in the League One table. But with so little to choose between the division’s leading teams is it fair that, barring being forced to play the second-leg of their forthcoming semi-final away from Bramall Lane, Chris Morgan’s charges might not find themselves at any discernible disadvantage to say, Doncaster Rovers or Brentford who are above them in the rankings?

Again, the answer is ‘no.’ Which is why it would be a good idea to introduce a more draconian handicapping system into the method of deciding which club eventually clinches promotion.

Now, before the conspiracy theorists start screaming bias, there’s nothing more I’d like to see than United succeed at Wembley. My fingers are crossed. The lucky pants have been washed and ironed. Indeed, allowing greater leeway to the highest placed clubs could have positively benefited United last season when they finished third.

And in truth, with United actually posting more formidable results on the road since August - where they average 1.65 points per outing compared to 1.54 at home - it could be argued that whoever they are paired with the forthcoming knockouts might carry a greater burden. A situation, most objective observers would agree, seems a bit daft.

So why not extend the process, like rugby league, and schedule a series of single contests rather than double headers en route to Wembley with the ‘best’ sides allowed a second chance if they are beaten but those towards the bottom of the ladder none?

The calendar dictates it won’t happen. But it probably should.

*Twitter: JamesShield1