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Power rating alters playoff picture

Wins, losses and league standing have generally been a staple of the state playoff system here in Oregon, but a new twist will be added this school year.

In an effort to eliminate potential early-round matchups involving the perceived top teams in each sport, the Oregon School Activities Association is instituting a power rating model months in the making.

"It was challenging," said Stacy Morgan, a veteran coach and teacher at Grants Pass High who was part of the OSAA's power rating subcommittee. "I'll tell you that not everybody agreed, and that's a good thing any time there's change going along. I don't believe change for the sake of change is a good thing, but if you're changing for the right reason — and in my opinion that's what we did — then this is a good thing."

The committee researched power rating models currently used at the high school level in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Alaska and Minnesota. They also broke down the Colley rating system and Rating Percentage Index (RPI) systems used by the NCAA for basketball, women's soccer and Division III football.

Sporting a folder with more than 500 pages of information, Morgan said that no stone was left unturned in trying to develop an appropriate mathematical formula to rank teams for the final state playoff bracketing.

"We used some of all of them," he said of developing the OSAA's version of an RPI system.

The group was given a list of seven parameters by the OSAA before beginning the process, from developing a system that does not factor in score differential to one that dedicates a point structure for wins and losses based on home, away and neutral-site games. Also factored in are out-of-state and junior varsity games, playing up or down in classification and winning percentages.

"The whole thing is meant to be very transparent," said Morgan, who has coached baseball, basketball and football at GPHS.

What evolved was an RPI model for Oregon that takes into consideration a team's weighted winning percentage based on the location of the contest, the opponent's winning percentage and the opponent's opponents' winning percentage.

To formulate your team's RPI figure, 25 percent is gleaned from your team's winning percentage (including weighted figures for location), 50 percent involves your opponent's winning percentage and the final 25 percent stems from the success rate of the teams on your opponent's schedule.

In all sports, a 1.2 weight is granted for wins on the road, a .8 weight for wins at home and a 1.0 weight for wins at neutral sites. Ties will receive half the weight of a win, depending on the location factor.

In a nutshell, a win these days isn't just a win. Big victories (i.e. on the road or against a quality team) mean more toward a higher ranking than stomping an overmatched squad to the delight of home fans.

"We as a committee thought that a home win is not as big as a win on the road, and I think everybody agrees with that," said Morgan. "Beating Roseburg at home is nothing like beating Roseburg at Roseburg in any sport. Especially in our area, there are some tough places to play and if you win there, it ought to be worth a little more."

The committee also wanted to see teams recognized for playing in tough leagues, as well as put a system in place that rewards challenging schedules and penalizes those who go the cupcake route.

"Just because you win your league doesn't mean you're a good team," said Morgan. "It makes a big difference if you're playing good teams than if you're playing crappy teams."

It also will obviously help if the teams you're playing take a similarly challenging route in order to boost the portion of the equation that involves your opponents' opponents' winning percentage.

Injuries, suspensions or even illness — depending on the size of program — could also be factors, and not just those suffered by your own team. Say you beat a good Roseburg team, as per Morgan's example, and the Indians subsequently lose their starting quarterback or key players that sends them into a tailspin. Your power ranking is likely to take a hit as well.

"Any number of things could help you or hurt you," added Morgan. "It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out and whether any of that matters or not."

Games versus JV programs or alumni teams and jamborees will not be used to calculate a team's rankings, while games against out-of-state opponents will only affect a team's weighted winning percentage because compiling the other two elements for the RPI simply would be too involved. Forfeits will be counted as a loss for the team having to forfeit and a win for the opposing team, but cancellations won't be factored into the ranking system.

Endowment games and contests against teams with independent status will be included in the ranking system.

Most importantly, a team's ranking will not be affected, positively or negatively, for playing up or down one classification level — a must to ensure that the newly formed hybrid leagues can create complete schedules.

The only team sport that the RPI system put a special emphasis on is volleyball, where pool play results from tournaments will not be included and there is no weighted difference to winning a best-of-three tournament match than winning a best-of-five regular season match.

In general, tournament play will be considered a neutral site except for contests played by the tournament host at its home venue. Contests in baseball and softball, however, will not carry a neutral site designation, regardless of tournament or regular season status because of the advantage of the home team batting last.

Power rankings will be compiled throughout the season until the cutoff date for each sport and be available at the ScoreCenter (www.osaa.org/scorecenter).

All teams have a chance to advance into the state playoff bracket, be it by automatic berths or through play-in contests. Each classification and respective sport has its own system to determine how many teams advance to the bracket stage, but once there, the power rankings will be used to fill out the state playoff bracket.

In 6A football, for example, 32 teams advance to the bracket stage and will be placed in four eight-team regions by virtue of their RPI rankings.

Generally, the power rankings should allow top teams to advance through the brackets in each sport. One of the negatives is that coaches can't do advance scouting of potential first-round playoff opponents because there are no predetermined matchups, outside of play-ins, prior to the bracketing.

"I think this is going to knock the first- or second-round matchups between North Medford and Lake Oswego or Clackamas and Roseburg right out of the window because the better teams will be separated," Morgan said, referring to last spring's baseball setup for the top-five programs.

"That was the whole statement by the committee, that there has to be a better way," added Morgan, noting odd early-round matchups have factored in through the years in all team sports. "We needed to take things into account to get the better teams in the end, and not just ones with more favorable draws."

Morgan said the power rating system will be reviewed after the school year and any tweaking will be done then, but the committee has received favorable feedback on installing such a system.

"In all states, except Illinois, there was far less confusion and far less arguing because of it," he said of power rankings. "In Illinois, because it was their first year doing it, they were still getting out the bugs. But it still solved most of their problems."

Morgan was the only Southern Oregon representative on the subcommittee, but he felt strongly that all classifications and sports were represented and all voices were heard in the face of such a daunting task.

"It was really interesting to see how the OSAA makes decisions and understand that it was a collaborative effort and not just something that was mandated," said Morgan. "They really did care about the cross section of thoughts of people that were on our committee before they made the recommendation to the executive board."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com