IHSAA's RPI system needs work

SK Coach Jensen has suggestion for needed changes

Photo by Kim Moore

Sam Sieren runs the ball for Sigourney-Keota in its final game this season. The Cobras missed the playoffs despite an 8-1 record.
Photo by Kim Moore Sam Sieren runs the ball for Sigourney-Keota in its final game this season. The Cobras missed the playoffs despite an 8-1 record.

SIGOURNEY — The Iowa High School Athletic Association instituted a new way to qualify for the playoffs starting in the 2018 football season.

The Ratings Percentage Index was supposed to create a fair system to get the best of the non-distcit champions into the playoffs.

Yet in just the second year of the system, a team won eight of its nine games and missed the playoffs. That team was Sigourney-Keota this season.

“It was a tough pill to swallow to see our seniors that have put so much effort and dedication into their careers not make the postseason with a 8-1 record,” SK coach Jared Jensen said. “Honestly, it is a travesty for our players. They took care of business week in and week out like they were supposed to, but for the exception of Week 9 in the district championship game.”

The Cobras were the only team in the first two years of the RPI to have a record of 8-1 and miss the playoffs.

“You can’t fault the 5-4 teams that made it because they were district champs,” Jensen said. “I feel so bad for our players, because I know we are one of the top 16 teams in class 1-A.”

The Cobras did not get a chance to prove that because of the RPI. Ideally the top 16 teams make the playoffs. The Cobras finished 16th in the Class 1A RPI, but Osage and Pella Christian were district champs with 5-4 records. Osage’s RPI was 18th and Pella Christian was 20th. Mediapolis (8-1), which defeated SK to win the district title was 15th.

Teams receive RPI numbers ranging between .0000 and 1.000 (higher is better) through three criteria weighted at different percentages. Those percentages are a team’s own winning percentage accounts for 37.5 percent of the rating. A team’s opponents’ composite winning percentage accounts for another 37.5 percent. A team’s opponents’ opponents’ composite winning percentage is weighted at 25 percent. So, RPI = (.375 x WP) + (.375 x OWP) + (.250 x OOWP).

“All because we lost one game to a now 8-1 District champion, we are not in the playoffs,” Jensen said.

Amazingly, Jensen still is a fan of the system.

“I like the RPI system, because I feel it brings some sort of equality, in a sense, to the at-large bids,” he said.

However, the system could definitely be improved.

“What I don’t like is the weighted percentages that are in the current framework of the system,” Jensen said. “I feel your win-loss percentage should hold more weight than your opponents’ win-loss percentage. We took every challenge that was on our schedule through Week 8 and handled our business the best we possibly could.”

That may even be an understatement.

The Cobras won their first eight games by a margin of almost 35 points.

“I don’t think the state could have done anything differently at this point, even with a Week 9 loss due to how the system was set up,” Jensen said. “They had to follow the framework of the rules to decide the qualifiers.”

Everything and anything new can’t be perfect from the beginning.

“I think every system in its infancy will have flaws,” Jensen said. “I just hope that it gets addressed and something gets tweaked when it comes to win-loss percentage versus opponents’ win-loss percentage. We just cannot control our opponents’ win-loss percentage.”

The IHSAA is the scheduler for high school teams in football. The IHSAA draws up the districts. The IHSAA says who the non-district opponents will be. Teams do have input in who they want to play for non-district teams, but the IHSAA has the final say.

“We cannot completely control who is on our schedule and how competitive those teams may be year in and year out,” Jensen said.

The state redraws and reschedules every two years. This was the second year of the current setup and SK’s non-district opponents were Pekin (2-7), Lynnville-Sully (1-8), Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont (3-6) and Albia (1-8) combined for 7 wins this season with 29 losses. Last year they combined for 21 wins and 16 losses with every single team posting a better record by at least 2 games, most notably a 7-3 Lynnville-Sully team.

“That is a tremendous difference and I feel like we got penalized for this in the grand scheme of things,” Jensen said. “I completely understand that our district teams are teams in proximity to us, so I don’t think there is much that can be done in that aspect of our schedule.

“When the district teams struggle to win games, I still do not see how that is our fault. We beat all the teams on our schedule until Week 9. We cannot control how competitive the teams on our schedule are going to be. I know the coaches in this district and know how well these kids are coached, but some are blessed with great talent some years and some are not. I did not see Wilton going from 8-2 last year to 3-6 this year, followed by one win for Van Buren, one Win for Columbus and another five-win Wapello team.”

That’s the reality of geography in southeast Iowa for 1A teams.

“There just isn’t really another option to rework the district due to the number of teams in the area,” Jensen said.

A possible solution to that could be allowing for margin of victory.

“I don’t think that factoring in margin of victory with the RPI is something that should be done,” said Jensen, who had the mercy rule (winning by 35 or more points prompts a running clock) applied in seven of his games. “I feel like if they were to do that they may as well go back to the old points rule. I think the running clock helps keep the game from being completely out of hand. We played some games that if it weren’t a running clock, I don’t know what the score would have been, even with our second team out there.”

Jensen has already stated his appreciation of the RPI.

“I just think that your victories should mean more to your RPI than your opponent’s do.

“I believe that your win-loss percentage and your opponents’ win-loss percentage should not be weighted equally at 37.5 percent. If I were to recommend something, I think it would be adjusting those two percentages so your win-loss record is more valuable than your opponents’ win-loss record. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change, but your wins should account for more toward the playoffs than your opponents’ wins.”

Jensen suggests a breakdown of the weighted percentages to be more like 43.5 percent of a team’s win-loss record, then 35 percent for opponents’ win-loss record and 22.5 percent of the opponents’ opponents’ records.

“That would be more fair in getting the teams that deserve to be in over others that may have a worse record or a finish of third in their district,” Jensen said. “I can accept the system and how we may have gotten held out by a flaw if it gets addressed and some changes for the better come from it to help out other teams in this situation in the future.

“If nothing gets looked at or changed, then I will never accept this card that was dealt to us.”