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The NJSIAA’s Executive Committee will take a final vote in June on proposed changes to the high school football playoff formula, which includes the new Opponent Strength Index, a similar but alternate formula to the Born Power Index.  It’s meant to seed teams based on the average strength rating of their opponents, rather than their own strength rating, eliminating the need to score more points in order to be seeded higher.

The new OSI is potentially a great tool for leagues and conferences that want to craft schedules that are fair to its teams.  One theory espoused by the North Jersey Super Football Conference is to give teams three games they should win, three games they should lose, and three games that could go either way.

Under the new system, teams would get the full value of an opponents’ strength if they win, and half the value if they lose.  For example, if North Brunswick plays a team with an Opponent Strength of 80 (considered excellent), they would get an 80 for a win, and 40 for a loss (60 for a tie).

But we can also average the Opponent Strength to get an idea of how tough a team’s schedule is:

Here is the entire GMC ranked from most difficult to least difficult schedule, based on what would be preseason rankings:

North Brunswick 69.62
Sayreville 68.16
Piscataway 67.38
Edison 66.19
St. Joseph 65.56
New Brunswick 63.83
South Bruns 61.99
Colonia 60.44
South Plainfield 59.69
Carteret 59.47
Woodbridge 59.37
JFK 57.46
JP Stevens 57.45
Old Bridge 56.21
Monroe 55.91
East Brunswick 54.87
Perth Amboy 54.74
Bishop Ahr 51.04
Spotswood 50.01
Metuchen 44.67
Middlesex 44.36
Dunellen 43.41
Highland Park 42.39
South River 39.64

A few notes about the rankings:

One complaint of coaches about the Born Power Index was that a team would start the season with the same ranking it ended the previous season.  The proposal before the NJSIAA would “center” teams around a mid-point, which turned out to be 60.  Teams would be reduced or increased by one-third to get close to 60.

For example, a team ending 2018 with a BPI of 90 would be reduced by 10 points to 80.  A team with a 2018 final BPI of 48 would be increased to 52.  No team could start a season lower than a 20, and teams that did not play, such as new programs or that forfeited a season (like Highland Park) also would start at a 20.

For 2019 only, the OSI would make those reductions based on the Born Power Index from the end of 2018.  Starting in 2020, it would be the OSI entirely.

The Opponent Strength number would fluctuate throughout the season, so by cutoff weekend, nearly all these numbers can – and likely will – change.  Some may change a little (if a team was just as good as the previous season) and some may change a lot (if they have a marked improvement or suffer a big dropoff).

This is one major difference from the Born Power Index, which gave teams ratings based on how they performed against a particular opponent at a given point in time.  (If a team won its first four games, and lost its next four, the game would be more valuable while they were hot than when they were not.)

One quirk is that the Opponent Strength numbers would lock after Week 7.  That would fix the amount of points available going into cutoff weekend.  The purpose is twofold

To begin with, it will give coaches a concrete number to deal with, so they can know what to expect heading into cutoff weekend.  But perhaps most importantly, it would avoid any potential point manipulation.

For example, Team A rated 80 plays Team B rated 60 in Week 8.  If Team A wins by 20, their ratings stay the same and Team A gets 60 points.  But if Team A holds off and wins by 7, Team B would be worth more and Team A can get in the playoffs by holding the score down.

Locking the Opponent Strength Numbers after Week 7 would prevent that type of scenario:  Team A would get 60 for a win regardless of how many points they win by.

Could such point manipulation happen in Weeks 0 through 7?  Sure, but with more games to be played it would be much more difficult to predict how it would affect playoff standing.  No one will try and keep the score to a 3, 7, or 10 point margin of victory; that’s too close for comfort.  But overall, since lower margins of victory are better anyway, most teams will at least want to call off the dogs and avoid a 40- or 50-point win.

That would be the biggest change from last year’s system to 2019.