For the first time since the 2018 season ended, high school football coaches in New Jersey will gather to discuss what they want to see changed in 2019.
And after a year of uncertainty, one thing is certain: little will be the same.
Monday night at Rutgers University's Hale Center in Piscataway, the New Jersey Football Coaches Association will hold its Super 100 meeting. But the membership will also discuss "firm points of emphasis" that the NJFCA plans to present to the United Committee, the group that came up with all the playoff changes enacted by the NJSIAA last year, and which will help decide what changes to make for 2019.
The points of emphasis are included in an information packet emailed to NJFCA members this week, and obtained by WCTC Sports.
The 2018 season was highly controversial due to a massive overhaul of the formula used to determine playoff qualification and seeding. The United Power Ranking combined traditional power points with the Born Power Index, a formula that ranks teams based on how they perform against teams of similar strength.
But unlike power points, that formula was not revealed to the public. Analysis by WCTC Sports uncovered that the Born Power Index included a margin of victory component that rewarded teams for winning by larger score differentials by giving them an improved overall rank, and higher seeding in the state playoffs.
Born had countered that his formula did not include so-called "spreads" - the difference between two teams' ratings - even though his website promoted that it could accurately predict about 80% of all matchups by looking at which team had a higher ranking, with the spread indicating how much a team would win by. Born later changed that section of his website to "projection" before deactivating the feature entirely.
According to the information packet, there are three "firm points of emphasis" the NJFCS has devised, based on "the overall pulse of our state coaches as a result of emails/texts/phone calls that members of our EC (Executive Committee) have fielded since September."
They are, verbatim:
- Point spreads no longer used to rank teams for playoff seeding
- A transparent formula that will be shared with our state coaches
- Historical data having less impact on rankings
Addressed individually, there was much outrage among administrators, coaches, parents and fans when the margin of victory component was uncovered by WCTC Sports. Based on our observations, it appeared that teams rose or fell in the Born Power Index based on how well they did against the "spread," the difference between the BPI ratings of each teams.
The spread in a game where Team A has a rating of 90 and Team B as a rating of 80 would be 10. If Team A won by more than 10, it would go up. if they won by less than 10, they would go down. And Team B would go in the opposite direction, by the same amount.
Those who have seen the formula say it's not the one WCTC Sports used, but the results are the same. In fact, when WCTC Sports did its own calculations, it occasionally found errors in Born's calculations. He was notified of the potential errors, and as it would turn out, always got the same numbers we did.
As it turned out, margin of victory - whether against the spread or not - mattered.
This first point of emphasis suggests that "spreads" no longer be used to "rank teams for playoff seeding." That would potentially keep the door open to use the Born Power Index - which technically does not include the spread, but does include margin of victory - in other ways.
One such way would be to use a team's BPI to determine its point value in the existing power point system. For example, if Team A above were to beat Team B (rated an 80), they might receive an 8. If Team A beat Team C rated a 75.6, they would might receive a 7. There could be variations on this concept, but that's the general idea. One possibility is to simply add that component to the current power points system, which includes points for wins, group size, and residuals for wins by a team's opponents, depending on whether you beat them or lost to them.
Using the formula in this way would not encourage larger margins as it did this year. That's because a team's power point total would not be dependent on its own BPI, rather the BPI of its opponents. In fact, the opposite would be encouraged; Team B would want to keep its Born rating as low as possible, lest Team A receive more power points for beating it.
On the second point, there's virtually no disagreement in coaching circles. Few skippers this season had any idea where they would end up in the playoffs at any point during the season, until WCTC Sports revealed what it believed to be the formula.
But many coaches would likely say, in addition to transparency, keep it simple.
Power points grew somewhat complicated, but every coach had someone on staff who could do the math - whether in their head or with a basic Microsoft product - and figure out what teams needed to win or lose in any scenario imaginable.
For most coaches this year, that was a nearly impossible feat that took too much time even when it could be deciphered. The United Power Ranking formula simply had too many variables. It wasn't just wins and losses, but how much a team won or lost by.
As for the Born Power Index, NJFCA President John Fiore has said many times that the BPI was used this year on a handshake deal, adding that if the NJSIAA wanted to continue with its use, it would likely purchase it, then reveal the formula. The big question here is really whether the Born Power Index can be used at all, overcoming any distaste for the formula's margin of victory component.
One big issue with the Born Power Index was its use of historical data. The BPI a team starts the year with is the same one it ended last season with. Born himself said in an appearance on "Friday Night Football USA" before the season started that "the snow falls deeper in some parts of the state than in others," an inference that some schools just have better football programs historically than others.
The idea that historical data is used turned off many coaches and other high school football observers. But any mathematical formula that does what Born's does has to include some historical data, or early season numbers would be way off. If everyone started with the same number, a close win for Piscataway over South Brunswick (two generally good teams) in Week 1, for example, coupled with a big win by JP Stevens (a .500 team this year) over Monroe (which won only one game), would make JP Stevens a slight favorite over Piscataway in Week 2. Those who know Central Jersey high school football know that simply wouldn't be the case in real life.
They key part of this point of emphasis is that the coaches seem to want it to have "less impact" - not "no impact" - on rankings. Just like with the first point, that would indicate a willingness to utilize the Born Power Index, albeit in a different way.
Will the Born Power Index remain?
WCTC Sports analyzed BPI numbers from the start of the season to the end. The average increase in Born Power Index through 2018 was 9.6 points. The average drop was 11.2 points.
Used in the reverse manner - as described above - both the first and third points of emphasis by the NJFCA could be achieved.
Point spreads have never been part of the Born Power Index. That's 100% accurate. Margin of victory, however, is.
But used in the reverse way as described above, the margin of victory component would be diminished, and a team winning by more points would have no influence on its own power point and playoff standing.
And including it in that way would lessen the impact of historical data. A team's BPI doesn't generally change more than 20 points in either direction (with an average of around +/- 10).
Let's take Elizabeth, for example. They were 6-2 this season. Simply adding in the Born number would have given them a power point total of 153, with an average over 8 games of 19.13 points. Let's assume only one of their opponents saw a change in their Born rating (though in reality, some would go up, and others would go down). If Bridgewater had dropped from a team in the 80s to a team in the 60s, Elizabeth would have lost only 2 power points, falling from 153 to 151. And their power point average would have been 18.88. That's a 1.3% drop in both.