The NJSIAA Executive Committee is expected to approve a new football playoff power ranking system, elements of which were unveiled to members of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association during a meeting at Rutgers University’s Hale Center on Monday night.
Westwood High School athletic director Dan Vivino, a former assistant football coach and member of the NJSIAA Football Committee, presented details of the proposed system, which would replace a controversial hybrid ranking formula the NJSIAA adopted last season. That formula utilized the Born Power Index and traditional power points.
The new system would still be called the United Power Ranking. It is intended to be transparent and easily understood. It will not rely on point spreads, and will be adjusted weekly and made available on GridironNewJersey.com. Historical data (how a team fared in previous seasons) also will be diminished.
The proposed ranking system would employ a newly devised Opponent Strength Index, predicated in part upon a formula Piscataway High School volunteer assistant coach John Thompson devised. It would still use traditional power points.
The Opponent Strength Index would account for 60 percent, while traditional power points would account for 40 percent of a school’s United Power Ranking.
Specific details of the formula are expected to be made public once the proposal is finalized.
“Conceptually, our office has been through it,” NJSIAA Director of Finance Colleen Maguire said of the new system. “We are endorsing this proposal.”
Maguire added that the plan Vivino unveiled Monday night may not be adopted “line-by-line,” affording the NJSIAA “a little bit of leeway” to tweak the proposal.
The new system would still utilize the same multiplier that rewards public schools for playing North Jersey’s non-public superpowers, a component that had to remain in place based on a previous ruling from the New Jersey commissioner of education.
Public schools would continue to be divided into five groups based on enrollment, with each group being split into North and South super sections. The Top 16 teams in each super section would make the playoffs and then be divided into eight-team sections.
The new system also would allow the playoff brackets to be snaked, meaning split apart according to seed rather than geography.
The sectional champions would continue to meet in bowl games, which were established last season.
Many of the changes are based upon results of a recent NJFCA survey, a majority of whose respondents did not favor teams with losing records qualifying for the postseason, a perceived flaw the new system may not be able to remedy.
Under the proposed new system, winless teams would be barred from entering the playoffs and undefeated teams with eight or more wins would receive automatic entry.
“I’m happy to see they addressed the issues coaches had last year,” Carteret head coach Matt Yascko said. “It seems as though the new plan will be a better representation of who belongs in the playoffs.”
Some changes coaches requested through the NJFCA survey were challenging to implement because leagues and conferences across the state are in the middle of a two-year scheduling cycle.
While the previous playoff ranking system proved to be the NJSIAA’s most accurate predictor of postseason success to date, it created ill will among coaches, several of who were perceived to be unsportsmanlike for running up scores to ensure their teams received playoff berths.
The Born Power Index, which accounted for 60 percent of the hybrid ranking system used last season, rewarded teams for winning games by wide margins. The mathematical equation for its calculation was never made public, much to the chagrin of coaches.
Depending on what feedback he receives from coaches and athletic directors in the ensuing days and weeks, Vivino said the new system could be tweaked. He said he does not anticipate major overhauls.
The NJSIAA Football Rules Committee and the NJSIAA Football Leagues and Conferences Committee reviewed details of the new system and provided input for its construction last month.
The new system will be placed before the NJSIAA Executive Committee in April. The committee is expected to approve some version of it during a second reading in May.
“We have until April to put in the final language,” Vivino said. “This is what the NJSIAA has decided to put forward for next year. The powers that be at the NJSIAA have basically decided what tweaks and adjustments are happening for the upcoming season. It (the new system) has been scrutinized by a lot of people. There might be philosophical differences and differences of opinion, but it (the new system) has been deeply vetted.”
Vivino said he believed a hybrid formula needed to be employed for New Jersey’s power ranking system because the Opponent Strength Index and traditional power points complement one another well and create a healthy balance of winning games and playing challenging opponents.
The manner in which leagues across the state align their divisions or devise their regular-season schedules was a factor in some instances regarding whether teams with winning or losing records reached the postseason last year.
Vivino said he believes a playoff power ranking system and scheduling should position teams with declining participation numbers to build their programs without penalizing strong teams, a philosophy he said would help high school football in New Jersey survive.
“A sport like this that’s under attack, we have an ability to help those (struggling) programs,” Vivino said. “We have to do it. We just don’t want to punish the strong programs (in the process).”
In New Jersey, nearly 1,700 fewer players participated in football in 2017 than in 2016, according to the National Federation of High School Associations’ annual participation survey.
The decline of nearly 7 percent dropped New Jersey’s total number of participants to 23,034, the lowest since the state had 24,144 football players in 2003.