Since 2010, the Oregon School Activities Association has been wreaking havoc on high schools around the state. The system the OSAA has been using to determine what teams make the playoffs in all team sports is now in its fourth year. While in basic principle the system makes complete sense, the results have been subpar at best.
The OSAA rankings use a simple computer formula to rank all the teams in the state by division. A teams RPI is the overall combination of two different statistics based on each teams record and the record of the teams they played. Forty percent of a team’s ranking is based on the team’s weighted winning percentage. This is simply the team’s winning percentage with a slightly higher boost in the percentage for winning on the road instead of at home. The other sixty percent of the formula is opponent’s winning percentage. This is the combined winning percentage of the teams any team has played, not including the games against the original team.
This system looks good in theory, but it has been proven to have many flaws. The first major flaw in the system is the fact that how much you win is less important than who you play. While this keeps a team from loading their schedule, it also means that teams like Ashland’s football team can drop in the rankings when they keep winning. Another key issue is the fact that teams are undefeated and blowing out teams who may be slightly worse can be ranked below teams with multiple losses, or teams can be ranked ahead of teams that they lost too.
Ashland’s football team shows just how ridiculous these rankings are. Even though they are 9-0 and one of two undefeated teams in the state, they are ranked fifth. The team ranked just two spot ahead of them is 7-2 (Springfield). Not only do they have two more losses than the Grizzlies, Springfield also lost to Ashland 28-34. Oregonlive.com has a poll of 24 members of the press from around the state who rank the top 10 teams in 5A. In this poll, Ashland is ranked third and is only behind 9-0 and unanimous number one Sherwood, and a team whose only loss is to Sherwood in West Albany.
This two spot difference may seem pointless, but it truly is a major issue. As Ashland looks towards the playoffs, it has accomplished its first goal of being in the top eight of the OSAA rankings. The top eight teams get an automatic spot in the playoffs. The 9-24 ranked teams must play in a play-in round. In this round 9 plays 24, 10 plays 23 and so on. Because Ashland stayed in the top eight, they will get a bye week and they get to host a playoff matchup.
As we look to the future, there is no obvious solution to fix this system. There are a couple options. First, the OSAA could revert to the old system. In that system two teams from each conference make the playoffs. The major issue with this is the fact that there could be three great teams in a conference, but only two can make it. You could also add a human element to the poll, similar to the BCS system currently used in the Division I college football. The third basic solution would be to just weight the computer system differently, therefore winning would still be the most important factor.
The best solution would most likely be a combination of the second two fixes. By making the computer rankings better, and adding a human poll into the formula, all sports would benefit with rankings that don’t come out of left field. Until changes are made, all we can do is win the games we play because to be the best you have to beat the best.