Wayne McGinn describes the conversation with his football team as “terrible.”
The Loveland (Colo.) football coach had to tell his players that despite going 9-1 in 2016 — a year after going to the Class 4A state title game — they wouldn’t be participating in the playoffs that start Friday.
“It’s been terrible. For our seniors, it’s not good,” McGinn said. “They had an unbelievable season, they’re 9-1 and they don’t even get to go to postseason play.”
The reason Loveland missed the playoffs? A new computer-generated rankings system called the ratings percentage index (RPI) that was implemented this year for Colorado high school team sports to determine playoff fields.
The formula is designed to measure a team’s strength relative to other teams, largely based on strength of schedule. A team’s RPI score is calculated by comprising 25 percent from their own record, 50 percent from their opponents winning percentage and 25 percent from their opponent’s opponents winning percentage.
What happened for the football season is the 10-game schedule led to odd results and playoff fields most feel don’t represent the top-16 teams in each class.
In 4A, Loveland (9-1) missed out with 13 of the 16 teams that made it having fewer wins. In the final week of the season, Loveland beat Greeley West (7-3) and the Spartans are in as the No. 11 seed.
To add pain to missing out, Loveland was initially included in the 4A bracket released Sunday. The Colorado High School Activities Association then caught an error in RPI calculation and took down the bracket, later releasing a new version that didn’t include Loveland.
In Class 5A, two 3-7 teams (Bear Creek and Fountain-Fort Carson) made the playoffs based on a strong strength of schedule. Meanwhile, teams like Doherty (8-2) and Fossil Ridge (7-3) missed out.
“I congratulate the teams that got in. I played Bear Creek, they’re a good team and they beat us. I’m not disappointed in them or Fountain-Fort Carson or upset with them,” Fossil Ridge coach Zak Bigelow said.
But Bigelow found it hard to explain to his team — especially his seniors — how Fossil Ridge achieving a school-record for wins as a 5A program, and four more victories than Fountain-Fort Carson and Bear Creek, didn’t lead to a playoff spot.
“They took this program from literally the bottom (0-9 as freshmen) to the best record in 5A in school history and they could have put the exclamation point on it by saying making it to the Sweet 16 of 5A,” Bigelow said.
If there’s a silver lining for Fossil Ridge and Loveland, it’s that this shouldn’t happen again next year. Area football coaches feel the RPI formula is likely to be tweaked during the offseason.
The football advisory committee made up of athletic directors from around the state will meet Dec. 7 and will go over proposals regarding a variety of topics on high school football. That is almost certain to include ideas on altering the RPI formula.
If the committee develops a different formula than the one currently in use, it will then go to the CHSAA’s legislative council, which meets in January and April. The council can then pass a change with a majority vote and a new RPI would be used for next football season.
That’s the same process used for all team sports, which have all adopted an RPI system.
The football advisory committee is the group that developed the move from wild card points to RPI, as well as the new conference system used in 5A.
“We knew there would be growing pains with RPI,” CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann said. “We knew that we needed to continue to monitor and work on it so that we can continue to tweak and adjust so that it becomes a stronger qualifying format for each of our sports.”
Coaches feel there are two big problems with the RPI formula that need to be fixed. One is that more weight needs to be put on wins.
“That has got to change. Either balance them all out or give more credibility to your own wins, a lot more than 25 percent,” Fort Collins coach Eric Rice said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
McGinn says having the formula being balanced at 33 percent for each category would have put Loveland as the No. 6 seed in 4A. Bigelow says he would favor 50 percent going to your wins and 25 percent each for opponents and opponents’ opponents winning percentage.
Intertwined with those complaints is that idea that it’s too hard to schedule properly to forecast if the RPI will boost your team.
There’s a lack of stability in high school sports. Teams are good one year and bad the next, depending on graduations. Rice admits Fort Collins is a prime example. The Lambkins won 11 and seven games in the last two seasons, but went 2-8 this year. That unpredictable drop helped drag down Loveland’s nonconference schedule from one that looked good on paper to one that ended up being bad in reality.
“Right now, you’re better off playing Valor Christian 10 times in a row and losing them and you’re going to get in,” McGinn said.
There’s also a practical aspect. Fossil Ridge, Rocky Mountain, Poudre and Fort Collins can’t just call up a Pomona or Valor Christian and get them on the schedule. Those top teams all play an out of state game, then schedule each other nonconference and are unlikely to put a trip to Fort Collins on their schedule.
For coaches like McGinn and Bigelow, they struggled to find an explanation for their teams why they missed out. Now they hope it won’t happen again.
“It needs to be changed,” McGinn said.