Strength of Schedule Incorporated Into Playoff Rating? (OPINION)

Over the last few seasons, there has been hot debate in West Virginia regarding the “quality” of teams making it into the postseason. This past year, multiple AAA teams made it into the playoffs with a losing record. A team in AA missed a postseason shot with seven wins. Some historically high-rated Class A programs (by C&C formula standards) missed their respective playoffs. There is also the argument that certain teams are electing to set up an easy schedule to not just make it to the dance but gain homefield advantage. Is all this true? Is there legitimacy to either side? We take a look.


Class Size Is Guilty

For the last several years AAA was comprised of 29 teams, AA with 44 teams, and Class A with around 42 teams (dependent on team cancellations). Class A typically does not deal with a multitude of six-win, seven-win teams missing the playoffs due to the nature of being the bottom class. Examined in a past article, after about 20-25 teams into Class A- competitiveness drops hard. The same can be seen in many AAA schools outside the top handful. However, AA is mostly comprised of similarly sized schools from top to bottom. It is no surprise to see a season with 20-25 playoff-worthy programs. Only 16 can get in, of course.

One thing that gets lost in this is simply arithmetic (this might be intuitive to some). If there is 29 AAA teams, and by rule they are required to play at least six other AAA programs- someone has to lose. If 16 teams make the playoffs, that’s more than half the entire class- so it should be no surprise that teams with losing records make it in. In other years, those 4-6 programs most likely would have played several more lower level Class AAA teams that currently reside in AA. The quality of the teams did not change- their requirement to play the top 29 largest schools did.


Are Teams Crafting Schedules for Ease?

You can’t win the state championship if you don’t make the playoffs. You can’t win in the playoffs if your team is injured or tired. Of course, coaches take into account the easiness of their schedule when building them. Now, the level of easiness and amount of true challenges necessary is subjective philosophy. However, is it really fair for conference-bound teams playing high competition week-in and week-out to not get a chance to play in the postseason because another team put together a cakewalk? It depends on who you are asking.

We aren’t going to point fingers or impose some type of superiority complex with having harder or weaker schedules. We used a quantitative approach to rank strength of schedule in 2019. There was roughly a six to eight playoff teams across all classes who’s schedule was a negative outlier (much weaker) compared to other playoff contenders. Half of those teams won playoff games. So, the strategy was 50/50. But that doesn’t answer whether it’s fair or not. In our opinion, a team should be able to schedule whoever they want and get in if they win and it goes by regulations. With other variables like class size disparity- one of the smallest schools in the class should not be shunned for not playing ten games versus depth-loaded opponents.

However, we do want to see great matchups! We don’t want this chasing of an easy schedule to rob us of big-time matchups otherwise avoided because they must keep pace in the stockpiling of playoff points. We also don’t want to see good teams that truly tested themselves week-in and week-out not get a chance to play or get robbed of a homefield due to another’s lackluster road. Is there a way to balance this all out? We have an idea with several variables that can be pushed and pulled. It’s results for the 2019 season appear to be worthy of consideration.


The C&C Proposal

Firstly, we must reciprocate the change we are trying to enact. Do we want teams of 7+ win teams to miss the playoffs? No. Do we want 9+ win teams to lose homefield advantage? Not really (unless there are is a high number of those teams). Do we want 3-win or 4-win teams in the playoffs? No, but it must be considered. So, what do we want from this proposal? Our goal would be best used in an example: a 5-win team with an A+ schedule making the postseason over a 6-win team with a C+ schedule OR a 7-win team with an A+ schedule gaining homefield advantage over an 8-win team with a C+ schedule. Not huge changes but fair ones in our eyes.

How can we measure strength of schedule subjectively?

That’s a great point. We have thought about this one. Why not use the current ratings system in place as is? As a quick recap: defeating a AAA program grants 12 points, AA 9 points, and A 6 points. Bonus points are awarded as an add-on for the amount of wins that program has won over the class you are in or higher. We believe this is a great way to measure strength of schedule: the average number of bonus points gathered by your opponent- not based off their wins but their quality wins.

However, there would need to be a slight alteration because lower class teams might have stockpiled bonus points over their own class’s field- points that shouldn’t apply fully to a higher class team. In this case, a percentage of a lower class team’s points must be taken. For example, a Class A program might have 36 bonus points all gained through Class A opponents. If this Class A program lost to a AA program, it would inflate the AA’s strength of schedule average with Class A bonus points. Therefore, the same ratio will be taken from the 9 to 6 class worth difference. With Class AA being worth 1.5 more than Class A, those 36 points are divided by 1.5 giving the Class AA program 24 bonus points towards their strength of schedule average (instead of 36) by playing this Class A team. They are still rewarded for playing a high-level Class A team without their SOS being inflated.

How would you incorporate this into the final rating?

It would be rather easy considering the numbers are based off the current rating system. The new formula would be: (POINTS VIA WINS + BONUS POINTS + AVERAGE BONUS POINTS OF ALL OPPONENTS) divided by NUMBER OF GAME PLAYED. We will show how that changed every team’s rating below.

Extra variables?

For fun, we did come up with two more variables to incorporate in strength of schedule. The first being the recognition of “sure wins” and “sure losses”. By our own definition, “sure loss” teams are opponents that are at the top of the state while “sure wins” are the worst teams (yes, we know sure wins/losses are relative to each team). To gauge what teams qualify for these titles, each class’s teams are ranked by the amount of bonus points gathered. The #8 team’s bonus point count is the cutoff- any opponent with equal of higher bonus points is considered a “sure loss”. The same is done, but in reverse, for the bottom eight teams. For every “sure loss” team faced, 1 point is added to the SOS average. For every “sure win” team, 1 point is subtracted. Why include this? Sometimes averages mask incredible outliers. This takes into account elite teams that will more than likely destroy any average team and poor teams that will be on the other end of a mismatch. This will be labeled SOS B.

The second variable plays off the one listed above. This one includes a way to measure teams that play incredibly tough stretches. Bonus points to the strength of schedule average are added if a team plays multiple “sure loss” opponents consecutively. Vice versa, point are deducted if they play multiple “sure win” opponents consecutively. This will be labeled SOS C.


What would all this look like?

Down below is a graphic depiction of what the 2019 playoff field would look like using these strength of schedule rating adjustments. Teams colored green indicate a higher seed than they received in real life with the normal system. Teams colored green indicate a lower seed than received. Teams colored black did not move.

Interpreting the results: AAA did not move much. Capital and Huntington benefited the most, which is expected with their tough conference schedule. Greenbrier East lost their homefield advantage. Also, Morgantown snuck in at the 16-seed, and there is a potential avoidance of an 84-0 halftime for Martinsburg’s opening contest. In AA, Oak Glen dropped their round one homefield as did Frankfort. Perhaps the most significant difference would have been Bluefield playing Bridgeport in the semifinals (if they theoretically won to that point) and Fairmont Senior would be looking to have a clear path to the island. In Class A, Williamstown moves up and Wheeling Central gets a first round homefield. This might be looked at much differently if they didn’t hit a hail mary to win on the road against Tolsia in 2019. The rest of the field is slightly jumbled by the most significant inclusions are Tyler Consolidated and Parkersburg Catholic, two teams that had tough roads and could be easily argued as a top 16 Class A team.


Conclusion

The first reply we expect from this proposal is: why? Is it necessary to do all this work to make some tiny adjustments? Is one team getting the 16-seed over another really worth it all? Would the champion be different? Well, our argument is that the results speak to a more accurate seeding field. Teams who play tough roads are rewarded. Teams that play a very easy schedule still get in but don’t get all the advantages of homefield as other 9-1/10-0 teams who beat the best of the best. And, there could be arguments- especially if Wheeling Central doesn’t hit a hail mary that this system would have gave them a more fair road. Who knows if Bluefield hosts Bridgeport in the semifinals for the third straight year? Who knows if Bluefield wins at home and rematches Fairmont Senior? It would have been nice to see Tyler Consolidated and Parkersburg Catholic in the postseason.

Either way, this system is quantitative and based off numbers- no interpretation. On top of that, the numbers already connect to the current system- no arbitration. It would reward battle-tested teams and work against teams scheduling solely for easy wins. Finally, it promotes top teams challenging each other and giving us a heck of a regular season without putting themselves at a stark disadvantage. What do you think?

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