"Win and get in."
"Just win, baby."
Those are two theories to ascribe to when it comes to qualifying for the postseason in any sport, at any level. If you're good enough, and you win enough, you'll make the playoffs, and have a chance to be a champion.
That has not always been the case in high school football in New Jersey, where there are wide discrepancies talent from school to school, whether they be public or private. With geographic conferences still reigning, some schools are grouped in with those they have no business being with, whether they be much larger or smaller, much more or much less loaded with talent. Examples are schools like Bernards and Spotswood, grouped in sections where the schools they compete against for playoff spots are playing larger schools, while they themselves play smaller schools due to the conferences they're in. That leaves them often wanting for power points.
So, coaches and athletic directors around the state decided it was time for more change.
The result is a playoff formula that nobody will be privy to.
On May 9th, the NJSIAA's Executive Committee gave final approval to the N.J. United Proposal, a plan cobbled together by what its supporters say is a plan that received input from and addressed the needs of schools of all kinds, from all corners of the Garden State. On the surface, it's simple. Each team's ranking is made up of 60% power points (which have been used for decades) and 40% the Born Power Index (new this year, but it's been around for decade). In each of the five groups based on school size, the top 16 teams in the northern and southern half of the state make the playoffs. They're then divided geographically into groups of eight, and the playoffs begin.
While power points have become infinitely more complicated over the years, the formula was always explained in the Football Regulations published in August before each season begins. That will remain the case... for power points.
The Born Power Index will remain a mystery.
I've spoken on a number of occasions with NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois, who is in charge of football. He says he cannot reveal William Born's proprietary formula. "It's his," says DuBois.
I've exchanged emails with Born, who first said he couldn't talk about his formula until it became official. When it did, he had been recovering from eye surgery and promised a conversation this week. Today, he emailed me to say "I just returned from a meeting at The NJSIAA in Robbinsville. I was advised to refer you to Mr. Jack Dubois for any and all questions concerning NJ United Playoff Plan." When it was explained that DuBois said he couldn't talk about the formula because it was Born's, he replied: "I'm sorry, but I was told to refer you to Mr. Dubois. I won't be discussing my formula."
So, it would seem we're at an impasse. And it's not good for high school football in New Jersey.
The playoffs were instituted in 1974, and the way teams were chosen has - to the best of my knowledge - always been transparent. That's all gone by the wayside now.
Are the coaches in New Jersey happy with this? Maybe.
Do they know about this fact? It's possible. But I think it's unlikely.
I don't think high school football coaches in New Jersey realize in May what they'll find out come late September, when the first playoff rankings are revealed publicly (which only one outlet, Gridiron New Jersey, will have access to, because they'll be the ones doing the "official" calculations for the NJSIAA). I don't think they realize they will no longer be able to do their own calculations, to advise them who to scout, who to seek game film on, who their opponents might be in the playoffs.
No student-athlete, coach, administrator, fan or media member will have access to this information, which will only be published by one source. None of them will know the criteria on which their teams are being judged.
Sure, win and you're in. But many teams don't, and they'll have no idea on their own where they stand.
More on the Born Power Index
The Born power Index has been around for 54 years. High School Football teams in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are tracked.
How does it work?
The website explains: "The Born Power Index is an ever changing mathematical evaluation of a team's relative strength against similar competition i.e. a team indexed at 60.0 has been consistently 10 points per game stronger than a team indexed at 50.0 leaning more heavily toward most recent encounters. The index includes a blowout factor that rewards teams for doing well against stronger opponents and discourages running up the score against weaker teams."
The wesbite also boasts that the Born power Index has a winning percentage of 80.88% when it comes to "predicting" the outcome of games. That's achieved by looking at the ratings of each team. The better the rating, the more likely a team is to win. So, if Piscataway has a better rating than Sayreville, and beats Sayreville, that's a "win" for the Born Power Index. According to the website, it's record is 1460-345, but it's unclear what time period that refers to.
What's interesting is a look at North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5, where in 2017, Westfield won its third straight state sectional title by going undefeated for the third season in a row, beating Bridgewater-Raritan in the final for the third straight season as well.
While the following ratings and rankings (overall position in New Jersey) are the end-of-season numbers, here were the Top 5 teams:
- Westfield - 81.6, rating, #40 in NJ
- Piscataway - 82.2 rating, #38 in NJ
- Bridgewater-Raritan - 88.7 rating, #19 in NJ
- East Orange Campus - 61.5 rating, #133 in NJ
- Elizabeth - 72.2 rating, #84 in NJ
Even the final ratings and rankings don't match up with what happened. In the semifinals, Bridgewater beat Piscataway, and Elizabeth (which had upset the fourth seed in the opening round). If the Born Power Index leans "more heavily toward recent encounters," how did Westfield end up as the 40th best team in NJ when it won a state sectional final over the 19th ranked team by a final score of 20-7? Sure, Bridgewater was undefeated heading into that championship game as well. But the final rating and ranking doesn't seem to match up.
So, what's the criteria?
Looks like it will remain a mystery.
Unless someone else speaks up.