The MIAA Football Committee on Thursday voted 11-1 to recommend a tweak to the football power-ranking formula that would give more weight to a team's won-loss record and less weight to its strength of schedule.
If the adjustment is adopted by the Tournament Management Committee, it could help avoid situations like the one last season in which West Bridgewater was left out of the Division 7 playoffs despite having a 6-1 record when the bids were announced.
Right now, the power ranking is a 50-50 split between a team's own value (the results of its games) and its opponent value (how each team it plays fares in its other games). The proposed tweak would make it a 60-40 split, weighted toward a team's own value.
Technically, there is no specific won-loss component to the formula; a team's own value can be thought of as a rolling point-differential tracker that updates every week. But wins, which always generate positive point differentials, still would carry more weight in this proposal.
The change was proposed by Milton High's Steve Dembowski, the coaches' representative on the Football Committee. Dembowski formerly coached at Swampscott High School, whose 2007 team won the Division 3 EMass Super Bowl championship, defeating Medfield, 22-6.
"In some cases," Dembowski said, "the beef from the coaches has been that if their league has a bad year (it hurts them). Ashland in the Tri-Valley League was a good example of a school that had a good regular season but received a pretty low seed because their league didn't play well. And there were teams that benefitted greatly from being in good leagues such as the Hockomock or the Merrimack Valley or the Catholic Conference, where teams could have qualified with two wins if we allowed it."
Last June, the Football Committee recommended adopting a three-win minimum for all playoff teams, fearful that, in a sport with a small sample size (eight regular-season games maximum), the strength-of-schedule component to the formula would allow too many teams with bad records to qualify, simply because they played (and lost to) good opponents. That recommendation was adopted by the TMC.
The new statewide playoff plan was adopted for most team sports this school year. In football, the 16 teams in the power rankings for each of the eight divisions qualify for the playoffs. The formula did a good job of predicting playoff success; a breakdown of the 16 teams that made the finals -- five No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds, two No. 3 seeds, two No. 4 seeds, a No. 5 seed, a No. 6 seed and a No. 10 seed. (Randolph, the lone outlier, won the Div. 8 crown as 10 seed.)
However, 20 teams with winning records were shut out of the playoffs, including locals West Bridgewater (6-1 in Div. 7), Quincy (4-3 in Div. 2), Southeastern Regional (3-2 in Div. 5) and Holbrook/Avon (5-2 in Div. 7). Five others with winning records only made it because one or more teams in the top 16 in their division failed to reach the three-win minimum needed to qualify.
Of the Unlucky 20, only Worcester Tech (7-1 but seeded 27th in Div. 5) had a better record than West Bridgewater. Others left by the wayside with sparkling records – Div. 2 Algonquin (6-2), Div. 3 Revere (6-2), Div. 7 Drury (6-1) and Div. 7 Ayer Shirley (6-2).
"We just want to put more emphasis on winning when it came down to those back-end qualifiers," Dembowski said. "At the end of the day, we want the best teams in the tournament. I think the formula has done that for the top, but as we get into the bottom, it gets a little sketchy, especially as those spots become really competitive."
"I do think the 60-40 piece will be something that's important, not just for football but for everyone," said committee member Jay Costa, the athletic director at Shrewsbury. "In talking to some of the other sports, some people on different committees are saying that (placing) the emphasis a little bit more on wins and losses would make a big difference in some decision-making processes with coaching."
The Football Committee also voted 12-0 to recommend keeping the margin-of-victory cap at 14 points and not raising it. Each sport has its own MOV cap, beyond which inflated scores don't have any greater impact on a team's power ranking.
Said Dembowski: "We don't want to put football coaches in a situation where they have to manage the game to score (more) when the game is (already) in hand. Fourteen (points) is fine."
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: MIAA committee recommends adjusting football power-ranking formula