NJSIAA ditches Born Power Index after 2018 controversy

The Born Power Index has been around for more than 40 years, but it's being tossed aside by the NJSIAA after just one season.

The state's high school athletics association says it's putting the finishing touches on a new football playoff formula "to replace the Born Power Index."

It was used to help seed the 2018 playoffs in conjunction with traditional power points as part of the New Jersey United Power Ranking.  But unlike power points, its formula was never made public.

WCTC Sports conducted its own research into the BPI from the start of the season, and found after just a week or two that it rewarded teams that won games by larger margins of victory with higher playoff seeds.

It appeared that a supposed "point spread" was in play, as well.  And though it was later discovered not to be part of the formula, there is a clear relationship between the so-called "spread" - the difference between two teams' ratings - the margin of victory, and their effect on a team's ranking.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, it also was discovered that the Born Power Index's historical component - teams start the season with the rating they had at the end of the previous season - helped an unprecedented number of schools with losing records make the playoffs. Some of them elbowed out teams with winning records.

Read more on the long history of playoff snubs and controversies.

The NJSIAA's Colleen McGuire - the association's rep on the United Committee, which pushed for inclusion of the BPI - wrote in an email to WCTC Sports that after taking into account feedback from various committees, coaches and athletic directors, it is "moving forward with a proposal that we feel best addresses the biggest issue:  scheduling by leagues and conferences.  This inconsistency is the primary driver behind the need for a hybrid formula and we have identified a different solution to replace the Born Power Index that we feel addresses the issue."

Inconsistent scheduling statewide has indeed been a sore point, and yet another contributor to the North-South divide in high school football.  Some have argued that a 3-5 team that played a tough schedule is more deserving of a playoff spot than a team that went 5-3 against weak competition.

That 5-3 school may have "sought relief" from its conference, being granted a weaker schedule or put in a weaker division based on its expectations for the coming year.

The issue is that not every league in New Jersey thinks that way.  The Greater Middlesex Conference, for example, leans heavily on enrollment when forming its divisions and crossover schedules.

It remains to be seen what new solution the NJSIAA comes up with, as none has been released to the public.  McGuire says the NJSIAA is still working on a "final proposal that will be put forth to the NJSIAA Executive Committee in April for their approval."

Whatever it turns out to be, it's appears clear the Born Power Index won't be a part of it.

In fact, both McGuire and NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois - who's in charge of football - say creator Bill Born never showed them his formula, which is proprietary.

The Born Power Index is a mathematical equation that is intended to indicate the relative strength of teams.  Bill Born is a retired math teacher from Scotch Plains who developed the system when he was asked to be a JV basketball coach, and wanted to know what to expect from his opponents.

The formula takes the ratings of two teams, adds in the margin of victory, and through some surprisingly easy addition, multiplication and division, comes out with new ratings for both teams.

The premise is simple:  teams that do well against good teams are rewarded.

But its imperfections led to unintended consequences.

For example, teams don't necessarily have to win to increase their rating.  Losing to a better team, but by less than expected (less than the "projection" - the difference between two teams' ratings) would drive up the rating of the losing team, while causing the winning team's rating to fall.

Westfield highlighted a different imperfection:  not every team begins the season on equal footing.

The Blue Devils carried a high BPI into the season after having not lost a game in three full seasons, and winning state titles each of the last 3 years.  Despite a 2-6 record, Westfield qualified for the playoffs in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5, because most of their losses were close ones to quality opponents.

And in the final week of the season, North Brunswick head coach Mike Cipot took some heat for scoring a late touchdown against East Brunswick.  But it wasn't because he wanted to run up the score.

Cipot appeared with Mike Pavlichko on the cutoff weekend edition of Football USA to explain his dilemma:  On a team full of kids who made the playoffs for the first time ever in 2017, the Raiders had a chance to earn two first round home games, if they finished high enough in the Born Power Index.  Not taking any chances on winning by too small a margin against the Bears, Cipot and his team tried hard for - and scored a touchdown - in the closing minutes.

Clearly, it was the unsportsmanlike thing to do.  But Cipot said he was put in an awkward position by the formula, which he and other coaches learned of from WCTC as the season wore on.

After the season, the New Jersey Football Coaches Association came up with three "firm points of emphasis" it wanted addressed for the 2019 season:  It wanted points spreads out of the playoff formula, a transparent formula that could be shared with coaches, and historical data (such as used by the Born Power Index) to have less of an impact on ratings.

A move away from the Born Power Index - depending on what else the NJSIAA comes up with - would seem to satisfy all three of those points.

McGuire admits the new plan may have its imperfections, as well.  "We are fully aware that this solution will not be without its own flaws," she writes, "and it too will need to be reviewed at the conclusion of the 2019 season, but we are confident it keeps us moving in the right direction."