With the new RPI state playoff system, the UHSAA is getting one step closer to just handing out participation trophies to every team just for playing. With the RPI ranking system, each team in the state, no matter what its record is, gets the privilege of being in the state tournament.
All a team has to do during the regular season is just show up to each game and it will be put in the state tournament. It doesn’t even matter if that team loses every game by 30.
This new system was designed to create equity in sports because many believe top-heavy regions are hurt by the old system that only allowed four teams from each region to make the playoffs. Although a compelling argument, the new system has created a lot more problems than it sought to solve.
In its first year, it is already clear that the system is not working. The RPI ranking destroys the importance of regions, degrades the state tournament atmosphere, and hurts struggling teams (especially in football).
The way that this has changed is that every single team in the state will make the playoffs. The seedings for the playoffs is based off of each team’s RPI (rating percentage index) ranking. This is based off a team’s wins, losses, win margin, and their strength of schedule. Then, through the use of a computer, teams are compared with one another and ranked.
The top seeds earn first-round byes, which is the main incentive for playing well. A region title does not impact a team’s final ranking. This also changes how the tournament is structured and completely changes the way the state tournament is played. This is because the first two rounds will be played at the higher seeds’ schools. Then, after those games, they are finally moved to the University of Utah.
In the past, every team that made the tournament was able to experience playing at either Utah, Weber State, or the Salt Lake Community College arenas. These days were exciting. Someone could literally watch eight games on a Tuesday with a single ticket.
Now, watching games will be more difficult.
“The new playoff system ruins the atmosphere of the first game with all the teams up there,” Highland head basketball coach Jim Boyce said.
My experience of going to the state tournament for basketball last year was great; there were multiple schools there, all watching and cheering. But now, the energy at those first games will just not feel the same.
Right now, all sports have an in-season region championship. All the teams play each other twice in the region (once in football, three times in baseball and softball). Whichever team has the best record against the other teams in the region is crowned region champion. In the past, the top four teams from each region would go to the state tournament. With four regions in 6A, 5A, and 4A, it makes for a clean and clear 16-team playoff.
But the new system has basically eliminated the importance and incentive for region play. Region games are equivalent to preseason games, because RPI is based on all wins and losses, not just region.
Secondly, the region championship is pointless, because if a team loses a preseason or non-region game, it still may not get a good seed. Also, it is unfair to teams in a region with teams that aren’t very good, because RPI is also based on strength of schedule. A great team could be dragged down by a region. If this team is in a bad region, it may not get the seed it deserves, because its schedule strength would be low, thus lowering their RPI, giving them a lower ranking than what they deserves. The new system has many cons, especially with how it affects region.
“I think that it lessens the region championship greatly,” Boyce said.
Effects on Struggling Teams:
In high school football and basketball, the teams can determine who they want to play in the preseason (before region play). This will hurt the teams that may be struggling recently because teams will not want to play a bad team. Even though it is a guaranteed win, it would hurt the team that won, because it lowers the team’s RPI.
However, it would be better to play a superior team that a team may lose to, but it would make its RPI go up giving it a better ranking going into state. Therefore, for the teams that are struggling, it will be very difficult for them to schedule any games in the pre-season.
The way the UHSAA has redesigned the state playoffs has definitely brought more negatives than positives to the state playoff experience and region play, as it has ruined the energetic atmosphere and the desire to win region. I think that the way the system was designed before should have stayed and not been replaced.