Changes are coming to how high school sports teams qualify for the state tournament in Utah.
The Utah High School Activities Association announced Thursday it will use a ratings percentage index (RPI) system to seed state tournament teams beginning the 2019-20 school year for all team sports (baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, softball and volleyball).
But perhaps the biggest change isn’t how one qualifies for the tournament. It’s who qualifies.
And that’s everybody. Yes, state tournaments for team sports are now all-comers. Finish 0-20 in the regular season? Pack your bags for a first-round state tournament game.
It replaces the current region-finish based qualification system. According to a UHSAA news release, the RPI score will be operated by MaxPreps.
The RPI will be weighed in three metrics: 40 percent of the score is based off a team’s winning percentage, 40 percent will be based on opponents’ winning percentage (strength of schedule), and 20 percent will be based off opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage.
“We looked at a lot of different scenarios that other states were doing, we talked extensively with MaxPreps as well with a variety of different algorithms, and we also talked a lot with MaxPreps about what are some unique factors in our state,” UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby said.
The move has been discussed since the most recent realignment phase began and was a hot topic during Board of Trustees meetings in the fall when the 2019-21 realignment was discussed. UHSAA staff members hinted in those meetings that, eventually, something like RPI would be the new standard.
“The last realignment just showed that we have obvious inequity in the number of teams in our alignments and it’s because teams, programs and school districts want geography to be a huge part of where they’re aligned,” Oglesby said.
“In our current postseason format, that’s extremely problematic because there’s only so many seeds you’re able to fit into a tournament.”
Region 4 boys basketball (Lone Peak, Pleasant Grove, American Fork, Westlake and Bingham) was used as an example. If current RPI calculations were used right now, those five would be the top five seeds in this year’s 6A state tournament, Oglesby said.
Instead, one of those five won’t even make the playoffs this year.
Going forward, every game matters. Even the “preseason” games.
“This new approach in qualifying and seeding will bring added excitement to state tournaments as teams earn seeding based on overall season performance and not just region competition,” UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said in the release.
One concern with the new system is the potential for 6A and 5A teams to schedule the best 4A and 3A schools to get easy wins and artificially inflate their winning percentage (and so-on with 4A and 3A schools scheduling 2A and 1A schools).
“If you as a 6A program or 5A program are week in, week out playing 4A, 3A competition in your preseason consistently just to build your winning percentage, we kept coming back to, ‘How prepared are you going to be when you play similar teams in a region format, per se?’” Oglesby said.
In essence, a team’s true colors will show either in region play or the state tournament.
The larger state tournaments aren’t expected to make the seasons longer, though the start dates for the fall, winter and spring seasons may change.
According to the release, qualification procedures for track and field, cross country, tennis and wrestling will not change. Golf, drill and swimming qualification will change, but those procedures are still being finalized.