Coaches weigh in on RPI systemJan 06, 2023 10:26AM ● By Greg James
Cyprus guard Quetin Meza has helped his team ascend near the top of the UHSAA ratings. (Photo courtesy of Dave Sanderson)
In 2019 the Utah High School Activities Association introduced the rating percentage index, a statistical system to compare and rank teams. The index establishes seeding for their state tournaments.
The purpose of the switch is to have the best teams meet in the final rounds of the playoffs.
“On balance, the RPI system is better than the old system,” Copper Hills Athletic Director Ben Morley said. “It has its flaws, and people will complain, but as long as everyone understands it was never meant to be a ranking system but rather a seeding system. It is working well in my opinion.”
Some people do not agree.
“More of your score (RPI) is out of your control than in it,” former Cottonwood head football coach Casey Miller said. “Region play by definition balances out. Your strength of schedule literally boils down to non-league games. Region games should matter. It makes me laugh, people in Utah thought the BCS screwed over Utah every year, they hated it. What have we done but created a BCS for high school. The irony makes me laugh.”
The rating is created by a formula from the team’s winning percentage, its opponent’s winning percentage and its opponent’s-opponent winning percentage. A less complicated series than it sounds. It takes into account the team's wins and losses and its opponent's strength of schedule. The system is similar to what the NCAA men's basketball committee has used to seed its basketball tournament since 1981.
This season Corner Canyon’s football team had a score of .7395, the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Taylorsville was the 26th seed with a .3008.
“For the most part, RPI doesn’t make a big difference to me,” Hunter boys soccer coach Brett Solberg said. “I am a big fan of the new playoff format. I like that more teams get a chance to participate in the playoffs.”
In the former system, only the top four teams in each region qualified for the final tournament.
Herriman’s boys soccer team finished fifth in Region 4 last spring with only three region wins. Prior to 2019, they would not have qualified to participate in the playoffs. Instead, they were the 18th seed; defeating Westlake, Corner Canyon, West, Farmington and Davis for an incredible underdog story to a state championship.
“I love a good underdog story and this new playoff bracket allows for that,” Solberg said.
In 6A football, 24 of the 26 teams qualified for the tournament. The glamour of making the tournament seems to be reduced.
“Going to the state tournament is a big deal for some of our schools,” Cyprus boys head basketball coach Tre Smith said. “Getting a higher ranking is something your program can strive for and have goals to achieve for the year.”
In its current format, the team's region placement means nothing.
Some say exclusively using strength of schedule gives an advantage to better regions. Teams in the top regions benefit from playing each other in the regular season. Similar to a Facebook algorithm, their scores are elevated. In football, Region 2 has been labeled a lower tier and its top team (West) finished ninth in the final poll. Whereas Region 4 had three of the tournament’s top five teams.
“If you are going to make regions unimportant, just eliminate them and let the coaches schedule who they want,” Miller said. “I am an assistant at a school that did not make the playoff last year. I am telling our head coach to schedule the worst teams he can find in the preseason. We win and as the season continues, they keep losing. We get a small boost and end up 5-5. It doesn’t do us any favors to play good schools and lose.”
Scheduling can influence where your team finishes in the seeding process.
Hunter High School’s football team finished this season with a .3409 score. If they changed out the game against West Jordan and replaced it with a Corner Canyon game, despite an extreme chance of a loss to the Chargers, their score would have improved by almost one point. They would have moved up one seed in the state tournament.
Winning more often is the best way to raise your score, but a loss to a top team can also provide a boost.
“For Hunter, is losing to Corner Canyon by 100 better for their program or playing a close one against West Jordan? Winning games is better for your program than losing them. If you are a good team you will need to beat a Corner Canyon team at some point,” Miller said.
Some teams have changed who they schedule to help them get a better RPI score.
“Teams definitely have to be more strategic in the way they schedule, but I don’t think there is one best way to do it,” Morley said. “It is about striking a balance between putting together a schedule that allows you to both win games and do it against the best competition possible.”
Copper Hills girls soccer team has steadily dropped in placement. In 2019 their preseason games were wins, but schedules changed and they began playing tougher opponents. The losses added up and their score dropped.
“It definitely changed my approach to scheduling,” Smith said. His Cyprus basketball team was scheduled to play Pleasant Grove, Bingham and Corner Canyon in this year’s preseason. “Playing against better teams helps our program down the road in the big dance.”
“We should just eliminate the regions,” Miller said. “If I want to schedule weak teams and go 9-1, that is fine. My teams will end up as a five seed, it doesn’t matter.”
Miller would like to see the UHSAA discuss the program with its coaches.
“There has never been any coach's input. I still think even with the seeding we end up with three Region 4 teams and an occasional Bingham or Farmington. It just causes complaining about seeding still,” Miller said.
Some coaches would like an unbiased human element to be introduced.
“Those that keep track of high school athletics should have some kind of say,” Smith said.
In the past, the preseason games were an opportunity for coaches to try new players or positioning to see how it would work in region games. Now those games count more than the region games, it's an up or down statistic for your RPI score.
“In soccer, because of RPI we cannot end in a tie,” Solberg said. “Some of our games have ended in long double overtimes or penalty kicks. With multiple games a week, that gives more opportunities to have an injury.”
The UHSAA announces its final RPI rankings in each sport after the final regular season games have been played. Its Facebook and Twitter pages unveil the final rankings and state tournament pairings are revealed. In the future, it could turn into an unveiling party or a YouTube-style release show. Strangely, they hide the numbers for two weeks before the final seedings are shared.
“Why do they do that, they have never said,” Miller said.
The final rankings can be big news for the players and teams.
“Yes, absolutely yes, our players, coaches, parents, fans, school administration and everyone else is paying attention to the RPI rankings,” Morley said. “It has added a new interest and intrigue to high school athletics.”