We’ve seen the first postseason brackets released under the Utah High School Activities Association’s new Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) system, and there are a couple things that jump out from the football and girls soccer postseasons.
First of all, the metric that factors in a team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage generates rankings that are mostly accurate. However, just as importantly, such numbers can’t account for the good old-fashioned eye test — or, in some cases, even a region championship.
There are a number of glaring examples in the football brackets that were released Saturday morning — perhaps none moreso than in Class 3A, where No. 2 Juab is seeded behind its Region 14 rival, No. 1 North Sanpete. Juab didn’t just beat the Hawks — they blew them out 28-5. The Wasps’ only loss was to Class 5A No. 1 Salem Hills on the road. So, you have a team that went undefeated in its region, and undefeated against all the other opponents it faced within its own classification, yet it’s seeded behind a team that it beat convincingly head-to-head.
No. 4 Manti has a similar — if slightly weaker — argument when it comes to No. 3 Grantsville in Class 3A, having beaten the Cowboys 12-7 early in the season. The Templars also have a couple convincing wins over larger-classification schools in Class 4A Crimson Cliffs and Class 5A Payson, while Grantsville only has one such victory — a one-point nail-biter over Class 4A Tooele.
In Class 4A, Stansbury’s potential second-round opponent, Mountain Crest, is also a victim of the new system’s limitations. The Mustangs finished second in Region 11, including a 6-0 win over third-place Green Canyon. However, Green Canyon is seeded fourth, while Mountain Crest is 11th.
Beyond not putting enough, if any, value on the results of region play, another one of the weaknesses of the RPI is that it doesn’t account enough for quality of competition. Mountain Crest’s overall record is 4-6, but the Mustangs are 4-1 against Class 4A opponents. Their other five games were losses to Class 5A Salem Hills, Wasatch, Box Elder, Bonneville and Bountiful.
So, why play a challenging preseason schedule, if it’s just going to knock a team down in the playoff bracket later? Let’s hope it doesn’t, but there’s the potential that we might see some traditional rivalries go by the wayside if this isn’t tweaked before next season. There’s no real benefit to the smaller schools for beating a bigger school (ask Manti), but the cost of losing to a larger school is far more than it should be (ask Mountain Crest).
Further complicating things is the fact that Wasatch and Salem Hills are in the same region, as are Box Elder, Bonneville and Bountiful. Those teams had a combined record of 27-22, or a winning percentage of .551. If you take out the games those teams played against each other, in which they went a combined 4-4, their record is 23-18, or a winning percentage of .561. So, Mountain Crest’s RPI score suffers because their opponents happen to play in the same two regions, and, thus, beat up on each other by default.
Using RPI to seed state tournaments is a good idea, in theory. Something had to be done to correct the imbalance in the old region-based system. But, it’s obvious that RPI alone, at least in its current form, isn’t the answer.
There needs to be some sort of reward associated with a region title — at very worst, a region champion deserves a top-eight seed and an opening-round home game, with nobody from their own region seeded ahead of them. Head-to-head results need to be taken into consideration, and there needs to be a greater reward, or at least less of a punishment, for playing opponents from larger classifications.
Perhaps RPI can be used as a tool for a selection committee, rather than the be-all, end-all criteria. Have a representative from each region come together and seed the brackets for their respective tournaments, using the RPI as a starting point and allowing for adjustments that reward region titles.
The RPI was a step in the right direction by the UHSAA. Let’s hope they keep moving that way.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He is looking forward to the state football playoffs, RPI or no RPI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.