Change The Playoff System
This has been an unusual year for high school in New Jersey. Much of it centers around the new playoff ranking system. They still have the old power point system, but that only accounts for 40% of the ranking.
What is new is the introduction of the Born Power Index, which is 60% of the ranking.
Combine the 60% for Born and the 40% for power points and that is how teams are seeded for the playoffs.
Until recently, the Born system was mysterious, but WCTC’s Mike Pavlichko had an article that cracked the code last week.
The Born system is based around numerical rankings, the differences in those numerical rankings between two teams that play one another, and how they fare against that spread or difference in that particular game.
One thing that bugs many, including me, is the teams who play one another get one point for every six points the margin of victory exceeds the spread: the winner adds one point, while the loser subtracts one point. If the spread is 10 points and a team wins by 22, the winning team gets two additional points and the losing team loses two points. Therefore, a team is encouraged to add points in a game they have already won, which can and has resulted in a “rub-it-in” touchdown at the end of a game. That is running up the score, something I do not like.
The last scenario happened at the North Brunswick-East Brunswick game last week when North Brunswick scored at the end of the game to win, 36-0. In many instances, teams would be content with a 30-0 lead and simply run out the clock. This time, needing points for playoff seeding, they elected to score a late touchdown against a struggling team.
In addition, one of the original intents of expanding the playoffs to five groups was to ensure teams with 6-2 records made the playoffs when they were unable to so with four groups. What do we have now? A 7-1 Delran team on the outside looking in this weekend, as they failed to make the playoffs. The schedule can be debated, but a 7-1 team deserves to be in the playoffs.
In all, 32 teams with losing records are competing in this weekend’s playoffs – 26 in the publics and six in non-public. That’s 32 out of 185 playoff teams this weekend: 17 percent. Add another eleven teams with 4-4 records and there are 43 teams with 4-4 records or less; in other words 23 percent of teams in the playoffs are no better than .500.
Two leagues, the Shore Conference and the West Jersey Football League, stacked their league schedules in anticipation of the new playoff system. One, I knew this in the summer when doing team previews, examining team schedules, and realizing how tough they were. Two, an article in the Courier News addresses this. Teams with losing records because of this probably come from Brick Memorial, Shawnee, Middletown North, Hammonton, Winslow, Vineland, Timber Creek, Sterling, and others. In addition, Timber Creek added two tough independent games: 10-0 Central Catholic of Toledo, Ohio and 9-0 New Rochelle in suburban Westchester County in New York. Regardless, 1-6 Middletown North does not belong in the playoffs.
In addition, the way the system is set up is not fair to teams who are bordering the two sections in both North and South.
In the north, Hasbrouck Heights was moved from Group 1 Section 1 to Section 2 because of Pompton Lakes winning a tiebreaker to qualify as the last team. Pompton Lakes is 4-4, while 6-2 Brearley and 5-3 Dunellen are out of the playoffs (both of who are well south of Heights). Scott Mahoney and his staff do a very good job, but this is a rebuilding year for the Cardinals, playing many sophomores in the lineup. They did not beat any team with a winning record, while Brearley beat a 6-2 playoff team in Bound Brook, lost to 8-0 New Providence in overtime, and lost to 5-3 Dunellen by four last week. Dunellen beat 6-2 Brearley and 5-3 South River.
It isn’t fair to Hasbrouck Heights to think they will be in Section 1, only to find out at the last minute that they are in Section 2. Pompton Lakes was 2-4 two weeks ago and not expected to be in the playoffs, but the last two weeks changed things.
In the South half of Group 1, we have Paulsboro and Woodbury in the Central section because 3-4 Schalick, 2-5 Woodstown, and 2-7 Overbrook are south of them on the map. Look at a map of South Jersey: both Woodbury and Paulsboro are south of the Walt Whitman Bridge. Paulsboro is almost directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia’s airport. Schools such as Salem, Penns Grove, Schalick, and Woodstown will always be in the South, but schools such as Paulsboro and Woodbury are sent off to the Central.
I think a new playoff system of seeding teams is needed, but this addresses only part of the problem.
A big factor with having average and below average teams in the playoffs comes from expanding the playoffs from four groups to five.
When there were four groups, people complained there were 4-4 teams making the playoffs. Occasionally, a team with a losing record might have made the playoffs, but it was rare, if ever. With four groups, the public schools had eight teams per group, times four groups per section, times four sections. That brought a total of 128 public schools qualifying for the playoffs. Some groups did not have enough teams with 4-4 records, making the figure a little smaller.
Since 2012, the state expanded to five groups. This brought the number to 160 schools making the playoffs. That gave us at least 32 teams making the playoffs, the majority not worthy. The result was teams with losing records making the playoffs. One of the first things I heard coaches complaining about was the groups being watered down and they are correct. The playoffs are supposed to reward the best and they still do, but too many average and below average teams are qualifying for the playoffs and that needs to change.
Another factor is there are now three groups of Catholic, or Non-Public, schools and there used to be four. There are 34 teams in three groups and 25 are in the playoffs. The reward for teams such as 4-5 Bishop Ahr, 2-6 Gloucester Catholic, 4-5 Morris Catholic,and 5-4 Immaculate Conception are getting severe beatdowns by DePaul, Hudson Catholic, Holy Spirit, and St. Joe’s (Hammonton), respectively. There is a good chance that all four of those games will be on running clocks this weekend. The teams on the losing ends of these games are much better off playing consolation games. At least 3-5 St. Mary chose not to participate in the playoffs, saving them from what seems like their annual beating from St. Joe’s (Hammonton).
There are also numerous public school pairings this weekend that are duds, but I trust those reading this to know which ones they are.
This is my solution: find a way to positively change the playoff seedings and to reduce the number of groups in the playoffs. The quantity will be lower, but the quality will be much higher. This will also mean better matchups in the first round of the playoffs.
Intentions were good in the new playoff system, but mistakes should be corrected. We all make mistakes and we’re not perfect. This also is not an attack on Bill Born, personally – his system has its purpose, just not for seeding the playoffs and I have analyzed his system in the past to compare some teams.
In the end, I just believe there has to be a better way.