OPINION: Why keeping the Born Power Index is a good thing

by Mike Pavlichko

All that trouble I caused, and now I'm in favor of the Born Power Index?

You betcha.

When the New Jersey Football Coaches Association meets tonight at Rutgers to talk about its Super 100 team, the coaches in attendance also will be asked about changes they want to see for the 2019 playoffs.  So far, the NJFCA has three "firm points of emphasis" it wants to see the NJSIAA address moving forward.

WCTC Sports got a chance to see those three points in an information packet emailed to NJFCA members last week.  They are:

  • 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

All of that would seem to discount ever using the Born Power Index again.  Especially after deep analysis by WCTC Sports - frankly, this reporter - showed that larger margins of victory were rewarded by better playoff seeding, a reveal that outraged many coaches, athletic directors, and parents.

But a close read of those three points suggests they leave the door open to use the BPI, but in a different way.

The first point says coaches don't want point spreads used to "rank" teams, but they could be used in a different way that encourages better sportsmanship.

The second clearly addresses that the Born Power Index formula was never revealed - not to coaches, administrators, not anyone - leaving teams in the dark about how a win or a loss would affect playoff standing.  But folks like NJFCA President John Fiore have said the plan was ideally to purchase the formula if the coaches liked it, then make it public.

The third and final point is that historical data has less impact on the ratings.  That says less, not none.

All of that seems to leave the door open for use of the Born Power Index, but in a different way.

One idea being talked about informally is to use the BPI in some reverse fashion, and that's an idea I fully support.

Humor me for a moment.

The two biggest complaints about the power points system have been in regards to group points and residual points.  (Multiplier teams are a whole other story.  They're part of this, but let's just deal with one controversy at a time.)

First, a quick primer on traditional power points.  When Team A beats Team B, Team A gets:

  • 6 quality points for a win
  • group points equal to the size of the school (1 through 5)
  • 3 residual points for each win by Team B

Team B, the losing side, only gets 1 residual point for each win by Team A.

Many say group points are unfair because a larger school isn't necessarily a better school, and therefore not necessarily a better win.  And a smaller school isn't necessarily no good.  For example, Shabazz is a very good Group 1 school.  They would be a heavy favorite against a JP Stevens or Perth Amboy, both Group 5 schools.  So, if Perth Amboy were to pull off the upset, why do they only get 1 group point, the same as if the Panthers had beaten Manville or Metuchen?

Others say residuals based on records aren't fair because a 7-1 team could have played a much weaker schedule than a team that was 5-3.  See the Delran debacle, where they missed the playoffs at 7-1, behind teams with four or five wins.  Delran asked for relief in its schedule from the West Jersey Football League, giving it an easier path.  That easier path likely left them out of the playoffs because others had stronger schedules according to the Born Power Index, and gained more residual points by playing better teams throughout the year.

So, let's add another component, the Born Power Index.  And let's use its estimation of a team's relative strength to determine how many power points a team gets.

This is completely fair.

In following the Born Power Index as closely as I have this year, as much as I railed against it for not starting the season with a blowout cap, and for making margin of victory matter to 15- to 18-year-old kids, I've made this determination:  it's a good indicator of a team's strength.  Westfield may have made they playoffs at 2-6, but they lost a lot of close games and were a tough out.  Shawnee won the South Jersey Group 4 title after getting into the playoffs at 2-6, but they had lost to no less than four public school sectional finalists, as well as St. Augustine.

The Born Power Index is a good system.

It's just not a good, fair or sportsmanlike system for directly seeding the playoffs.

That's not Bill Born's fault.  It's the fault of anyone who approved the system without actually learning how it works.  And if it couldn't be revealed because it was proprietary to Mr. Born?  Then it shouldn't have been used.

So how can we incorporate the Born Power Index properly?  By using it to assign teams a point value.  This was first brought up to me by Piscataway volunteer assistant John Thompson, the Chiefs' power point guru.

The idea is that using it to assign teams a point value would not encourage teams to run up the score, because their rating doesn't benefit them.  Instead, it determines how many points their opponents will get.  In fact, a lower Born rating is ideal, because opponents will get fewer points for playing you.

Now, we have one more factor, and hopefully something to please everyone.

Those who believe Group size is a key factor will be happy to retain group points.  Most states include this in some way shape or form in their rankings.

Those who like power point values assessed based on wins and losses will be happy to retain the residual points.

And those who like neither, but like the Born Power Index get to keep it, too.

Now, we have three factors that go into your power point total for each game, in addition to the points you get for winning.

The other benefit to adding the Born Power Index as a way to assign teams a point value is that leagues and teams would have a guideline for scheduling.  No one really knows if a 7-1 team is going to win eight games the next year, or three.  That's a huge residual swing, from 24 to 9.

But a study of all 340 teams in New Jersey and their Born Power Index ratings between the start of the season and cutoff weekend found teams only rose by an average of 9.69 points, and fell by an average of 10.21 points.

This way, you can have a reasonable assumption that playing a team in the 80s is going to be worth anywhere from 6 to 10 points, but most likely from 7 to 9 points.  That's a much better predictor of power point value when making schedules than the residual component.

More predictable results.  Blowouts and larger margins don't reward teams.  A third strength component to balance things out.  And a guideline for teams and conferences when making schedules.

Sounds like a win for all involved.

Now, if we could just fix those dreaded multipliers...