When the Utah High School Activities Association announced in January that it was changing its procedures for seeding certain team state tournaments, there were a lot of unknowns about how things would play out.
With the 2019 fall season in the books, it’s now possible to take a comprehensive look at the initial effectiveness of the ratings percentage index (RPI) model.
Let’s start with a little background:
The UHSAA’s posted statement to explain its reason in going from the straight region standings seeding process that was previously used states: “The RPI system will be an accurate reflection of all regular and region/postseason games. Teams could be seeded into the state bracket based on their RPI ranking versus the previous region rotation which could result in the top teams in the same side of the bracket. Classifications with unbalanced regions will also have better representation in the state tournament.”
So how well was that goal met during the football, volleyball and girls soccer tournaments this fall?
“We felt like we had a very successful fall season with the RPI,” UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We felt very confident in the process. It was exciting in the tournaments to see so many hold to seeding but it was also exciting to see upsets. The RPI is supposed to use a variety of methods to determine seeding but then the teams have to go and win.”
Of the 16 tournaments that used the new system (five classifications in football, six in volleyball and five in girls soccer), 12 had semifinal rounds completely composed of teams seeded in the Top 6 by the RPI rankings. [See info box for complete details.]
There were, of course, some significant outliers with the other four tournaments. The most diverse was the 5A football tournament which featured No. 1-seed Salem Hills, No. 10-seed Timpview, No. 11-seed Lehi and No. 12-seed Orem with the Tigers emerging as the champs.
“Orem struggled during the regular season with injuries and some of the competition and so it didn’t earn a higher seed,” Oglesby said. “But the Tigers were prepared to go and play. Congratulations to programs like that who were able to have everything align and went on to win.”
There were some specific issues that did crop up in the first go-round that made some Utah Valley fans displeased:
Head-to-head didn’t matter, as evidenced by Provo football defeating Salem Hills on the field but staying behind the Skyhawks in the RPI rankings.
Region clashes could be repeated in the early rounds of the state tournament, in a few cases becoming rematches from games that were played less than two weeks earlier.
The combination of region bye weeks and first-round byes in the state tournament could diminish a team’s momentum, such as what the Timpanogos girls soccer team dealt with when it went 14 days between games at the start of the postseason.
Out-of-state competition level proved to be tough to add into the equation, often resulting in teams like Orem football dropping in the RPI ratings.
Oglesby explained that the UHSAA staff is constantly looking to get more data to see if adjustments need to be made.
We are always looking at everything with our boards,” he said. “Are there little things that pop up? Absolutely. We have bright people on staff and we combine those talents together to take a look at a lot of data. We will see if any recommendations need to be made and then the board will make the decision of whether we stay the course or make an amendment.”
He added that the association has the responsibility to look at the whole picture, so individual anecdotes have to be taken in light of everything that has happened.
“It’s a lot of fun because we have an understanding of a variety of different areas and well as the challenges with various concerns and situations,” Oglesby said. “That is unique from the school side because they are so in touch with their communities. That is their role and they do it well. Our job is to gather the details to look at the qualitative or quantitative details to see if it is a trend and a concern or if it is just one experience.”
The RPI effectiveness will continue to be measured as it is used for boys and girls basketball in the winter, as well as baseball, softball, lacrosse and boys soccer in the spring.
“Everybody this year is operating under a new normal,” Oglesby said. “Everyone has done the fall process but our winter coaches haven’t been through it yet. It comes back to this is where we are at but it’s a continual learning process. I think after this spring people will be more and more accustomed to it. Here in a couple of years everyone will be used to it. We’re in part of a multi-part journey and don’t know where it will go, but we’re always assessing and gathering more information.”