What's in Numbers? Power rankings doing its job - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

What's in Numbers? Power rankings doing its job

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Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 5:40 pm | Updated: 1:09 pm, Thu Oct 11, 2012.

It’s hard to fault local football coaches for being wary of the new power points algorithm.

It was only a few months ago when a flaw was detected in the old formula which had ramifications on every sport, leaving deserving teams out of state tournaments and helping undeserving teams get in.

While the Arizona Interscholastic Association never admitted a mistake, it subsequently passed rare in-season legislation which tweaked the formula for the spring.

In September, the algorithm created by MaxPreps was adopted, but that hasn’t eased any concerns.

The coaches are worried because there is no clear outline of the formula for public consumption. Previously, they could find a resident math wizard and map out how the seedings would likely shape up come playoff time. Now, that looks impossible.

Furthermore, many are now wondering whether point differential plays a role in the formula.

Do coaches have legitimate gripes after the adventurous spring power points debacle? Of course.

However, let’s break down this new algorithm before this reaches code red:

• It’s hard to stress this enough, but there is absolutely no way margin of victory plays a role. The AIA has explicitly stated multiple times that point differential is not a factor: “Running up the score is not a part of the algorithm. In no way would the AIA Executive Board or the Power Rankings Committee support unsportsmanlike behavior in terms of running up the score on an opponent for the benefit of a school’s seeding.”

Plain and simple, using margin of victory would be a disaster. Teams would be encouraged to keep in their starters and the AIA’s “Victory with Honor” mantra would be a punchline.

Even a cutoff wouldn’t work. If teams were rewarded for winning by, say, 21 points or more, it would lead to the exact same problems. Team A is ahead by 17 with 45 seconds left? Well, it has to try to score that meaningless touchdown, passing on every play as time ticks down despite the outcome already being wrapped up.

Using margin of victory is simply not feasible at the high school level.

• Despite all the grumbling, the algorithm sure seems to be working. Desert Ridge, Mountain Pointe, Hamilton and Brophy are this week’s top four teams in Division I’s power rankings, and it’s tough to argue those aren’t the four best teams right now. While some may say Hamilton and Brophy should be at the top, they have each lost two games. That’s not the formula’s fault.

In Division II, Ironwood Ridge, Centennial, Marcos de Niza and Salpointe are the top-4, and they are the four top-ranked teams in the Tribune’s latest poll.

In Division III, we know Queen Creek (No. 5) and Saguaro (No. 7) are too low, but the Bulldogs’ schedule has been weak so far, and the Sabercats have two losses, so the computer’s rankings again make sense.

• While the algorithm does look good, it’s hard to understand leaving out forfeits. The rationale put forth by MaxPreps Director of Business Development Mike Wilkes is that a forfeit doesn’t contextualize what would have happened on the field. But, realistically, does anyone other than a heavy underdog ever forfeit? It doesn’t seem fair to punish the other team by not giving it a victory. It might not have a huge effect on the rankings since forfeits are rare, but those results should be added.

Despite that quibble, the new algorithm is slotting teams where logic says they should be.

The East Valley, for instance, currently has the top 12 seeds in Division I. A few specific team seedings may not pass the “eyeball test,” but that’s a separate issue. The computer can only control inputted factors.

The old CalPreps power points system is seen as the gold standard among coaches for its postseason accuracy. The funny thing is, that formula wasn’t public, either, but no one cared because the seeds were mostly correct.

Thus far, the MaxPreps algorithm seems to be on a similar path of legitimacy.

Whether the formula is public or private, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

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