Computer Rankings Mixed With High School Playoffs
• High school football playoffs attract controversy over rankings, seedings and divisions.
High school football season is racing to the finish line. CIF Southern Section playoff games began in early November and champions of each of the 14 Southern Section divisions will be crowned the weekend following Thanksgiving.
However, there is a controversy about how the Southern Section seeds teams and breaks them up into divisions for the playoffs.
To account for the 605 schools represented in the Southern Section, there are 14 divisions of playoffs at the end of the football season. Each division consists of 16 teams that are placed into a bracket with one another. The bracket consists of four single elimination rounds, comparable to the regional part of NCAA’s basketball March Madness.
There tends to be little debate over which teams qualify for the playoff, as most teams that finish in the upper portion of their league get an automatic qualifier and most .500 teams receive an at-large bid.
Controversy arises, however, when discussing how to place teams into their respective divisions at the end of the season.
In order to maintain a competitive balance, in football the Southern Section does not use previous seasons to determine what division a team should be assigned, unlike like most other sports. In football, teams are placed into divisions at the conclusion of the regular season. This is where debates start to arise.
Considering that it has to deal with so many teams and so many different levels of competition, it has been difficult for the Southern Section to come up with a system that pleases its fans and the media.
Last season, the Southern Section began using the CalPreps computer rankings to rank and seed teams to determine playoff divisions and first-round matchups.
Once teams qualify for the playoffs, there is no human input to determine seeding and matchups. The computer alone determines this.
The one exception to this is that the top seed in each division must have automatically qualified for the playoffs, so if the computer rankings place an at-large team as a top seed, the bracket needs to be adjusted slightly.
Computer rankings have been a major point of debate in the sport of football since college football instituted the BCS, which ranked teams via computer and was the sole determinant of which two teams competed for a national championship at the end of the season. The BCS was done away with following the 2013 season, and it was replaced by a four-team playoff whose participants were determined by humans.
Many of the complaints that were seen during the BCS era are now being uttered about the CalPreps rankings. Among them, the idea that playing a tough schedule and losing is more attractive to the computer than playing an easier schedule and winning.
For example, San Juan Hills went 3-7 in the regular season. They played a tough early season schedule and started 0-7, but they went 3-0 in their relatively easy league, automatically qualifying them for the playoffs.
The CalPreps rankings placed them as the top seed in Division 6, a relatively high ranking for a team with that type of record. The computer clearly rewarded San Juan Hills for playing, albeit losing, to highly ranked opponents early in the season. This irked many teams that were ranked lower by the computer, many of whom had better records.
San Juan Hills lost in the second round to Orange.
In addition, complaints have arisen that the computer rankings encourage teams to blow opponents out. According to CalPreps, the maximum blowout margin that is taken into consideration is 30 points, meaning it is not advantageous to add on after this point is reached.
However, the debate continues whether it is within the bounds of high-school sportsmanship to encourage blowouts due to the fact that a computer takes it into consideration. At the end of the day, giving up two touchdowns in garbage time could drastically change where a team is ranked by the computer.
However, only the truly top teams in each division will be able to survive the gauntlet that a four-game playoff provides. The 14 teams that hoist CIF Southern Section Championships Thanksgiving weekend will have rightfully earned their crown.
Nonetheless, the debate regarding how to seed teams and create divisions will undoubtedly carry on through the offseason and into the next year.