New Jersey HS Football coaches want no spreads, minimum wins, but - most of all - transparency

The results are in from a survey of New Jersey high school football coaches, and a majority believe point spreads shouldn't be a factor in playoff seeding, while saying there should be a minimum number of wins for playoff qualification.

But what they really want is a transparent formula that everyone knows.

All that information will be vital as the NJSIAA looks at making changes to the massive 2018 playoff overhaul that resulted in much controversy this fall.

The NJ United Committee meets at the NJSIAA's Robbinsville headquarters late tomorrow (Friday) morning.

WCTC Sports obtained a copy of the results of the survey conducted by the New Jersey Football Coaches Association.  It received 257 responses for a 75 percent response rate.  There were 341 schools that played all or part of a season in 2018, based on standings posted on the website Gridiron New Jersey.

The widest consensus came on this question:  "Do you believe that regardless of what calculations are used for playoff seeding/qualification, all formulas must be transparent?"  The survey shows 99.6% of coaches said yes.

It quickly became apparent that was an issue when the new NJ United Power Ranking system - used for the first time in 2018 - included the Born Power Index as a seeding tool.  The formula was not made public, or even known to just coaches and athletic directors, angering many of them.

Even the NJSIAA says it is not privy to the formula, which was used on a "trial" basis in 2018.

The next largest consensus came when asked if "covering or not covering a projected 'point spread' against an opposing team should impact your team's ranking."  Nine out of ten coaches said it should not impact their team's ranking.

WCTC's analysis of the Born Power Index seemed to indicate the use of a point spread, as expressed by the difference between the rating of two teams.  Those that beat the spread saw their rating increase.  Those that didn't saw it drop.

Index creator Bill Born, however, says his formula does not include the point spread.  But the formula does consider margin of victory, and the survey failed to ask that specific question.  It only asked about "point spreads."

Another question dealt with an issue that has plagued the high school football playoffs for over a decade, depending on your point of view:  teams with losing records qualifying for the playoffs.

Typically, purists want to go back to the ".500 rule" that existed until the early 2000s.  Others are okay with a sub-.500 team making the playoffs, like Shawnee did this year at 2-6; they went on to win the South Jersey Group 5 section, before falling to Long Branch in the South 5 bowl game.

The survey asked:  "Now that conferences have created more challenging schedules for stronger programs and weaker schedules for developing programs, do you believe there should be a minimum record requirement for playoff qualification?"

Of the coaches surveyed, two-thirds said there should be a minimum record requirement.  The survey did not ask further what that minimum should be, and whether it should take the form of a minimum number of wins, a maximum amount of losses, or a winning percentage.  But prior to the survey's distribution, NJFCA President John Fiore had said if the coaches mostly answered yes to that question, a further survey would be distributed asking what that minimum should be.

The question could be considered somewhat flawed, however, as it assumes that conferences have indeed created challenging schedules for strong programs, and given relief to weaker ones.  That's a concept that's up for debate, and isn't necessarily done in the Greater Middlesex Conference, for example.  Piscataway and South Brunswick - perennial powers - are in the same conference as East Brunswick and JP Stevens, which have won a combined 14 games over the last three seasons.

Another big issue is that of "multipliers."  Initially begun in 2016 as a way to help North Jersey powers like Don Bosco Prep and Delbarton attract public schools to play, the goal was to give public schools "incentive" to play those far superior programs by offering them extra power points.  The list of multipliers expanded this year to include schools from the Central and Southern part of the state.

While some feel that's been responsible for sub-.500 teams making the playoffs, a recent WCTC analysis (found here) showed that hasn't been the case.  In 2016, the first year, only one of the 17 teams with losing records that made the playoffs benefitted.  The next year, after a tweak in the rule, 19 teams with losing records made the playoffs, and none of them played a multiplier.

In 2018, the number exploded to 24 teams with losing records making the playoffs.  Six of them had played multipliers and lost.  However, a closer looks finds many of those teams were helped more, to some degree, by their high Born Power Index numbers.

The prime example was Westfield, which was 2-6 at the cutoff, but made the playoffs anyway.  The Blue Devils got multiplier points for playing and losing to St. Joseph of Metuchen in a crossover game between the Mid-State and GMC Conferences.  Based on power points alone - even with the multiplier - Westfield would have finished 17th - out of the playoffs.

So, the question was asked:  "Should the multiplier for a LOSS to a non-public school be reduced?"  Almost 70 percent said yes.

Based on the findings from WCTC's recent analysis, however, the multiplier effect may be less of a problem than originally thought.

The survey also dealt with three other questions.  Two had to do directly with seeding.

The first asked whether the state should take the top 32 teams in each group and create four sections, or take the top 16 each from the North and South and then create sections.  About 60 percent wanted the "top 16" model, as it was done this year.  But one athletic director has suggested to WCTC Sports that the top 32 model might first break the state into halves, then seed sections.  The biggest concern here is long-distance travel for teams in the postseason.

Along the same lines, another question asked about how teams should be divided into sections.  It asked whether they should be seeded geographically by Northing numbers - as done in 2018 - or "snaked."

In the snake seeding, an "S" is formed by alternating teams to fill each bracket.  The top team in the field of 16 gets one top seed, while the second team in the field gets the other top seed.  The third team then goes as the Number Two seed behind the second overall team, while the fourth team goes behind the top overall team in the other bracket.

This is how the NCAA Basketball Tournament is seeded, where each of the top four seeds are the top four overall teams in the tournament.

About 60-percent wanted to see snake seeding, although that could potentially result in long travel times for some schools.

The final question asked about MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands being an appropriate venue for the public bowl games and non-public group finals.

Not surprisingly, 72-percent said it was an appropriate venue.