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by Mike Pavlichko

“You are what your record says you are.”  -Bill Parcells

After a Cutoff Weekend like no other in New Jersey High School Football, the dust has settled, and teams are getting ready for their opening round playoff games.  Or their meaningless “regional crossover” (consolation) games.

But don’t get me started on that foolish concept.

What “consolation” is a regional crossover game to a team like like Bayonne?  The Bees finished an outstanding 6-3, but missed the playoffs in North Group 5 because they were one-tenth of a Born Power Index point short under the new playoff system that combines traditional power points with a team’s BPI.

Sometime on Monday, coach Jason Acerra will have to stand in his locker room and say something like this to 43 ticked off 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds:  “Sorry guys.  You won 6 games.  But it wasn’t good enough for the playoffs.”

They’ll wrap up their season with a home game against 4-4 Perth Amboy Thursday.

And they’ll do their best to win and show up the powers-that-be in high school football in New Jersey, going 7-3 for the season.  In ten years, when researching some mundane stat, some Jersey Journal reporter who’s just out of his J-school diapers will look at 2018, and ask, “How did they end up 7-3, but they didn’t make the playoffs?”

And we’ll have no answer for them.

We can sit here and argue all day about what other teams don’t have six wins, but played a tougher schedule (or didn’t).  But that’s not important.

At the end of the day, the topic at hand is this:

New Jersey introduced a playoff formula that takes into account margin of victory. 

The supporters and boosters and rah-rah types who championed the Born Power Index said, “Just win.  It will all work out.”

What they should have said was “Just win by a lot.  Or don’t lose by so much.  And keep your fingers crossed.”

Coaches from High Point to Hightstown had to keep their fingers crossed.  And their toes, too.  Because the formula for the Born Power Index was not revealed to them.

Only a select few, including at least one, and maybe a handful of coaches in the North Jersey Super Football Conference, were really aware of how it worked.  They knew the kind of teams they should schedule, and how much they had to win or lose by to make the playoffs or earn a top-seed.

But that’s still not the most important issue.

Nor is the fact that the system wasn’t truly vetted.  They’ll say it was, but if that were the case, I wouldn’t be typing away on my laptop like this at 11 pm on a Monday.  (Well, I would, but I wouldn’t be doing this.)

In a world where coaches, parents and teachers are trying to instill values of sportsmanship in their student-athletes, a system was set up in which teams that reached the Magic Blowout Number of 35 points were rewarded.  And teams that didn’t were often penalized.

I don’t have Bill Born’s formula for the Born Power Index.  But I developed my own that got me the same results with such accuracy that I was able to alert him to at least a half-dozen mistakes he made over the course of the season.

To his credit, he unflinchingly and gladly corrected those errors.  And didn’t hesitate to tell me when I was wrong.

I appreciated both instances.

At the end of the day, the question to ask yourself – if you are a coach, parent or administrator – is this:

Should point spreads and margin of victory be a part of high school football playoff.

After his team’s big win Friday night over New Jersey high school football’s best answer to Michigan and Alabama, Ridge head coach Bill Tracy put it best:  “Anyone that’s going to put a point spread on a high school athletic contest, should not be involved in high school athletics.”

So I’ve got a suggestion to use as a starting point.  This was the brainchild of Piscataway assistant coach John Thompson, who deserves all the credit.

He’s Dan Higgins’ power points guru.  He’s the guy who I bounce my power point numbers off of every Cutoff Weekend, to see if I have them right.  He’s the guy who does the same to me to see if he’s right.

He suggested a simple formula.  Keep the Born Power Index, but use it to determine the value to another team if they beat you or defeat you.

I took it a step further, and incorporated it into the traditional power points formula, replacing the “group points” component with a scale based on a team’s Born Power Index number.  Instead of group points awarded where a Group 5 opponent is worth 5, and a Group 4 opponent is worth 4, and so on, you’d get points based on a team’s Born number.  If you play a team in the 80s and win, you get 8 “Born Bonus Points.”  Play a team in the 60s, you get 6.

So, here’s my three-point plan for fixing the state’s playoff system.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than the mess that happened this weekend:

  1.  Scrap the UPR and the Born Power Index component, but go back to traditional power points.  Use the average, rather than the total, which began this year.  Replace the group point component with “Born Bonus Points.”  The system has now become transparent again.
  2.  Eliminate or drastically reduce the non-public multipliers.  How about this idea:  Give a team that beats a powerhouse non-public the normal residuals but double the “Born Bonus Points” (if they’re a 70, give them 14 instead of 7).  If you lose to one of those teams, instead of just getting the normal residuals, you also get the “Born Bonus Points” (a loss to a 4-win team that’s a 70 now gets 11 instead of 4).
  3.  Eliminate sub-.500 teams from playoff contention.  This may or may not be popular.  Or it may be an even split.  But being in the playoffs is a reward for a good season.  Westfield’s not a bad team.  But they’re 2-6.  Even their coach, Jim DeSarno, knows they’re not a playoff team, and told me so this week.  This also would potentially give very strong teams like top seeds and second seeds much needed byes.  Under the new season calendar, a team that plays 9 regular season games and goes all the way to the overall group championship (which will become a thing sooner than later) would play 14 straight games.  The NFL doesn’t do that.  Let’s reward the best teams with a bye in the first round.  And we’ll avoid some of the 8-vs.-1 game mismatches we often see.  You could also make an exception for a 4-5 team (since it’s a odd number of games and a small sample size) and/or a 3-5 team that played a non-public multiplier, but only in cases where there are not enough .500 teams to fill a bracket (if you choose not go the “bye” route).  This would be similar to how college football chooses bowl teams.

The best part about the plan is it keeps the Born Power Index as a measure of the strength of an opponent, but doesn’t encourage running up the score.  Your Born number has no value to you, only to your opponent.

In fact, a lower Born score is better because it would give your opponents fewer points.  But I don’t know any coach who would try to win a game by just 7 points.

I’ll be honest.  I like the Born Power Index.  I think it’s a great measure of a team’s strength.  But that doesn’t always equate to a good team, and wins and losses.

I’ll say again for those who won’t hear me, or don’t want to listen:  this won’t be perfect.  Someone will have a gripe.

But that’s sports.  Sports are meant for debate.

In the highly controversial North Group 5 – where a 3-win team and three 2-win teams made the playoffs, doing all of the above would result in a bracket filled out completely with teams that are .500 or better, with another still being left out.

Inotherwords, there are 17 teams with .500 or better records in North Group 5. This would get 16 of them in.

The UPR system only got 12 of them in.

And the order of the teams would be more accurate as well, according to record.

Here’s how they would look:

NORTH 1 – GROUP 5 STANDINGS
Team Northing Record PP Avg.
1 RIDGEWOOD 778520 6-2 17.88
2 CLIFTON 742019 6-2 15.13
3 NORTH BERGEN 717175 6-2 14.38
4 MONTCLAIR 723754 5-4 13.22
5 LIVINGSTON 709106 5-3 12.75
6 HACKENSACK 745799 4-4 10.75
7 KENNEDY (PATERSON) 756570 5-3 10.63
8 PASSAIC 734778 4-4 9.63
NORTH 2 – GROUP 5 STANDINGS
Team Northing Record PP Avg.
1 PISCATAWAY 621621 8-0 20.75
2 UNION CITY 705770 7-1 20.00
3 UNION 679982 7-2 18.11
4 RIDGE 676265 7-1 17.38
5 ELIZABETH 665466 6-2 14.63
6 EAST ORANGE 701896 6-2 14.63
7 BAYONNE 669204 6-3 11.67
8 PERTH AMBOY 614417 4-4 9.13

“You are what your record says you are.”

Truer words have never been spoken.