By the time NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois finishes giving his report to the association’s Executive Comittee tomorrow, New Jersey high school football will be on a path to see no major playoff changes for the first time since 2017.
Since the 2019 football year came to a close back in December, coaches from around the state have been talking about what they would like to see new in 2020, and the answer came back: as little as possible.
“Coaches want stability,” says Dan Vivino, the Athletic Director at Westwood High School up in Bergen County.
Vivino was instrumental in working with the NJSIAA and the NJFCA to make more changes to the system after the Born Power Index was installed in 2018. Meant to reward teams for playing better schedules and rely less on the traditional power points that every year would become a frequent point of contention, the BPI found itself in a controversy when it was discovered by WCTC Sports that it rewarded teams with larger margins of victory in their games with better playoff position.
The idea of stability from 2019 to 2020 makes sense.
Sure, the NJSAIAA would occasionally tweak its long-standing power point formula for football. But major changes came in 2018, when the state added the Born Power Index and used it for 60% of a team’s playoff standing. The aforementioned controversy ensued.
Then, in 2019, the Opponent Strength Index – based on a Strength Index formula similar to the BPI – replaced the Born Power Index. And while it made the process more sportsmanlike (read: winning big can actually hurt more than it helps) it added still more complexity.
It appears coaches need a breather in 2020, and would like to keep things relatively simple – or at least the same – in order to have a point of reference to determine how well the new system works. No changes in 2020 mean two years of data to look at.
“We are looking for stability as a committee,” says Vivino, who sits on both the Leagues and Conferences and the Rules and Regulations Committees. Assistant Director Jack DuBois will relay those changes on to the Executive Committee tomorrow. No vote is needed, as we previously reported.
“This year was more about polishing some things up, and eliminating loopholes or problematic things,” says Vivino.
What to do with Strength Index?
The biggest change for the committees to decide was what to do with Strength Index numbers for 2020.
Every high school team in the state has a Strength Index number, based on how well it does against other teams in the state, relative to their opponents’ Strength Index. While score, margin and expected result matter, unlike the Born Power Index, this number alone doesn’t determine playoff seeding. Rather, the average of Strength Index of a team’s opponents are considered, thus the Opponents’ Strength Index used for seeding.
In the Born Power Index, a team’s starting BPI at the beginning of a season is automatically the same number they ended the previous year with. But with the change to the SI created by the NJSIAA for 2019, coaches wanted less reliance on historical data. They agreed to use the final 2018 BPI as reference, but “re-centered” all numbers to a midpoint of 60, by one-third, to come up with the starting SI numbers.
For example, a team with an SI of 90 would be reduced to an 80 (decreased by 10, one-third of the difference of 30 between 90 and 60), while a team with an SI of 51 would become a 54 (increased by 3, one-third of the difference of 9 between 51 and 60).
According to Vivino, the question was whether to re-center again, or leave the numbers where they ended 2019. Vivino and DuBois say the recommendation was made to, indeed, re-center again, going into the first of a two-year scheduling cycle. The issue could be revisited next year.
Other than that, no changes are expected to the formula for Power Points, Strength Index and Opponent Strength Index calculations, the United Power Rating, or how teems are seeded or broken into supersections. Teams could always move up or down in groups based on enrollment, however.
Once DuBois’ presentation to the Executive Committee is official tomorrow, WCTC Sports will publish its unofficial, adjusted starting numbers for the 2020 season, with further analysis throughout the week.
A few multiplier classification changes, but the concept remains
The controversial concept of multipliers also will stay part of the state playoff formula. And the values of guaranteed power points awarded for playing them won’t change either. But a few teams will be moved around.
DuBois says two teams will be added to the lowest “C” tier of multipliers: Notre Dame of Trenton and Donovan Catholic in Toms River. St. Augustine from down near Vineland will move from the “C” tier into the middle “B” category.
Mercy rule and running clock changes?
Though not affecting the playoffs, one pretty significant change will affect the mercy rule running clock.
For years, the rule has been that a running game clock is to be used in the second half – automatically – once a team goes up by 35 points or more. The clock would operate normally if the closing teams cuts the margin under 35, or at the referee’s discretion. Officials can also decide that in the first half.
The change would bring that threshold down to 33, according to DuBois. He says coaches have talked about how reaching the 35-point threshold with 5 touchdowns is difficult, because kickers in high school generally aren’t as reliable as those at higher levels (with a few notable exceptions). Many times on five touchdowns, a team would miss an extra point or two, leading by 33 or 34, and the running clock wouldn’t kick in until a sixth touchdown got the score to 39 or higher.
In addition, the trailing team would need to not just get the score under 35 to go back to a normal clock. Instead, they’d have to get the deficit to 25. That would speed up blowout games, where it’s very rare for a team to come back from 35 points down in the second half to make a game of it anyway.
DuBois also says another new rule will be reported to the Executive Committee, one of several changed by the NFHS last month. The National Federation of State High School Associations recently changed the rule that only allows quarterbacks to spike the ball “immediately after receiving a direct hand-to-hand snap,” as would happen when lining up under center. The new rule permits “a player positioned directly behind the center (shotgun formation) to intentionally ground the ball.”
The NFHS made a handful of other changes, more of which can be found here.
Follow @mikepavlichko on Twitter for live updates from tomorrow’s NJSIAA meeting, and links to all the latest high school football news on wctcam.com.