OPINION: NJSIAA has loaded the bases with new playoff proposal; can it hit a Grand Slam?

by Mike Pavlichko

As pitchers and catchers report this week, the mind turns to baseball.  But we're still talking about high school football.

The NJSIAA is making its final tweaks to a playoff system proposal that would replace the controversial one from 2018 where margins of victory equated to better playoff standing.  It's come a long way in a short time since the season ended.

It's had to rally back from a tough first eight innings, and finds itself down three runs..

Now it's the 9th.  Transparency leads off.

By eliminating the Born Power Index and creating its own variation that will be shared with coaches and the public, Transparency singles over the second baseman's head into right field.

Less Historical Data strides to the plate, and by changing how it' own variation on Born is used, lines one into left.  First and Second for the NJSIAA.

Still no one out, here comes Eliminating the Spread.  By moving it to the back-end of the formula, and not directly affecting seeding, that's a bloop into short center where no one can make a play.

Bases Loaded, NJSIAA.

Can they whack it over the fence, and walk off in victory with a Grand Slam?

Only time will tell.

The NJSIAA seems to have addressed the three firm points of emphasis the New Jersey Football Coaches Association wanted taken care of in 2019.  Now it's a matter of making it all work.

I think they're pretty close.

It's obvious no formula is going to be perfect, or please everybody, or keep undeserving teams out of the playoffs, or make sure all deserving teams get in.  If you've followed high school football in New Jersey for any length of time, you know this, without a doubt.

The new hybrid formula - whatever final shape it takes - includes all the components you could ask for:  school size, results on the field by a team and all its opponents, and relative strength of opponents based on a mathematical formula.

There's a reason we keep score in sports.  At the end of the day, it's a win or a loss, there are no style points.  But points do measure things in a different way.  And when used as just one way of three ways to measure teams, it's both fair and appropriate.

The NJSIAA is now taking into account a new variable.

The Born Power Index is a pretty damn good system.  But to understand it, you need to go back to my first conversation with Born on "Friday Night Football USA," before the season even started.

Bill's interest in numbers and their relationship with sports began at the age of 10, when his father would sit at the kitchen table and talk about who would win pro football games, and realized that you could predict fairly well the winner based on previous results.

He became the Soctch Plains jayvee basketball coach, and had "a need to know what I was getting into," he told me.

"When we were going over to Plainfield, if they beat Roselle my so many and we beat Roselle by so many, does that mean I'm going to beat Plainfield by so many."

He looked at numbers and scribbled out formulas.  There were no fancy algorithms; this was all before PCs were common in every household.

"Pretty soon I said we're gonna win by 17.  I walk off the floor over at Plainfield one day and I look up and say 'My gosh, we won by 17!  How is this possible I'm picking them?'"

Soon, he was asked to help seed the Union County Tournament.

His ratings of high school basketball in New Jersey were published weekly in newspapers statewide, and he expanded to high school football in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as college.

Ultimately, the Born Power Index is a really good gauge of the strength of teams.  That strength may not always equate to wins and losses, but it's a more nuanced look at a team.

Like that best 2-6 team you ever saw.  Sectional champ Shawnee anyone?

So now the NJSIAA has its own variant of the Born Power Index, making some tweaks and using it in a better way.

Many have asked me what I think.

As you dear listeners and readers know, I didn't shy away from an opinion on this in 2018, so why start now?

I think it's a good system.  It includes a lot of variables, like team strength, wins and losses and group size.

It doesn't keep sub-.500 teams out of the playoffs, but there appears not to be enough taste for that statewide.  I'm not a "participation trophy" type of guy, so letting 2-6 teams in, regardless of their ability to win a title, isn't my cup of tea.  But if the majority says OK, I guess I'll just deal with it.

I'm not a fan of multipliers either, but people tell me there's a need to fill parochial power schedules, so I guess that's alright, too.

Does the system - as it stands now - have its weaknesses?  It does.  So does every system.

My biggest gripe is that teams are not awarded points based on an opponent's rating at the time they played.

If you understand how the Born Power Index works, and why it works well, you'd understand.  If not, well, I'll spare you the gory details.

There's a lot of baseball left to be played.

2018 may have been a disaster, and even though the Born Power Index isn't being used, it sure helped fix everything.

No system will be perfect.  But every system must promote the NJSIAA's ideals of sportsmanship.

This one does.  And after what happened in 2018, that's all New Jersey high school football really needed.

Will it work, though?

I'll get back to you on that one in late October.