CHSAA numbers don’t add up for SSHS volleyball
November 2, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs High School volleyball season wasn’t over before it began, but in one sense, it may have been over after just one match, even though that match was a dominating sweep against rival Moffat County.
Those three quick sets barely pushed anyone to break a sweat back in August, but, when the numbers are crafted one way, cost the Sailors everything in November.
Steamboat was left out of the Class 4A regional volleyball tournament Monday when the 36-team field was announced. That didn’t come as a surprise. The tournament selected the top 36 teams based on the Colorado High School Activities Association's RPI standings. Steamboat was No. 39.
How Steamboat ended up ranked No. 39, out of the tournament and looking up at six teams with losing records that will be playing on, has the Sailors scratching their heads this week, however.
"I’m really frustrated with the RPI system," Steamboat coach Wendy Hall said. "A lot of that formula they use is out of our control."
Hall said the system uses an illogical formula that is unfair to geographically remote teams, one that penalizes teams for things outside their control and that, in the end, doesn't include the best 36 teams in the state.
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By the numbers
The RPI rankings use a formula that combines three calculations.
A team’s win percentage accounts for 25 percent of its RPI score. The Sailors were 11-11 this season, so 0.500.
The winning percentage of Steamboat's opponents, 0.469, is actually the largest factor, counting for 50 percent of the total RPI score.
Steamboat's opponents' opponents' winning percentage, 0.506, then makes up the final 25 percent.
That ratio, which makes results besides your own responsible for 75 percent of your ranking points, is an issue with Hall.
"It just doesn't make any sense to me than your own record isn’t weighted more," Hall said. "That's ludicrous."
The Western Slope League had four teams selected for the regional tournament, but one, in particular, stood out for Steamboat coaches. Battle Mountain was the last 4A team in, No. 36 with an 8-14 record.
Neither Steamboat nor Battle Mountain had great years. They split their two league matches this year. The Huskies won 3-1 on their home court in September, then Steamboat won 3-0 at home in October.
The Sailors won a few more seemingly key matches, however. Steamboat finished ahead of Battle Mountain in the Western Slope standings, fourth versus fifth. It didn't lose to any team the Huskies beat, but did defeat two teams that beat Battle Mountain and had a better overall record with three more wins.
"I think we were quite a bit better than they were this year, so that's maddening that they got the nod and we didn't," Hall said.
It was the strength of schedule, which accounts for 75 percent of the RPI rank.
Battle Mountain played a tougher schedule than Steamboat, the 13th ranked schedule according to the RPI compared to Steamboat’s No. 41.
Eight of Battle Mountain's 10 matches outside the league were against teams with winning records. Only three of Steamboat's 10 non-league matches were.
Neither team did especially well against that competition. The Huskies went 2-6 against non-league teams with a winning record and 2-13 on the season. Steamboat was 1-2 and 3-8.
Steamboat had the better wins, including against Palisade, the No. 15 seed in the Class 4A regionals. But, RPI doesn’t factor in who a team beats or how close a match was, only who a team plays, and the Huskies were rewarded for playing better teams, even if they didn't beat them.
Steamboat’s strength of schedule was its downfall, meaning a season-opening pounding of Moffat County — 4-18 on the year — wasn't nearly as sweet as it may have seemed at the time. If a team that finished even 8-14 had been swapped in for the one that did finish 4-18, Steamboat’s strength of schedule would have been good enough to make the regional tournament.
Oh so close
Of the 493 matches played by Steamboat's opponents this season, a shift of just four from losses to wins could have had the Sailors' in the top 36 of the RPI rankings.
Of course, there’s one other number that could have changed that would have made enough of a difference, as well.
A nine-game losing streak left Steamboat on the brink of collapse midway through the season. It lost to good teams, average teams and even a few bad teams.
The team turned it around in a big way after that, winning six of its final eight matches. Turns out, it was too late.
"There's definitely plenty we did to ourselves this year," Hall said. "We certainly didn't help ourselves by going on that nine-game losing streak."
One more win in there would have made all the difference and ensured the Sailors preparing for regionals this week instead of turning in their jerseys. That’s not a Moffat County issue or a Battle Mountain issue, but a Steamboat issue.
Still, what's so frustrating for the Sailors is just how close they were to making it despite that 11-11 record.
Hall said this experience has been enough to make her reconsider the schedule and try to bulk it up next season, but even that's not as easy as it sounds.
The team played nearly the exact same schedule last year, going to the same tournaments and playing most of the same non-league teams. Steamboat had nearly the exact same record, too, finishing 11-12.
It made the tournament last year with the No. 30 seed, and on the strength of state's No. 24 schedule. This year the team was 39th with the 41st toughest schedule.
"It's so hard to forecast how other teams will be and your opponents' opponents will be," Steamboat athletic director Luke DeWolfe said. "You end up chasing your tail a little bit if you go down that rabbit hole."
The Sailors trip the last two years to a Front Range tournament in Silver Creek is a prime example of the difficulty. Last year, that trip put Steamboat in a snake pit, fighting against a number of Class 4A's best teams.
The four teams Steamboat played last year in Silver Creek went 66-26 on the season.
This year was a bit of a different story as Steamboat's opponents in that tournament — mostly the exact same teams as the year before — went 36-53.
What one year was a huge boost to the team's strength of schedule this year was a big blow.
"You're trying to forecast things that are not necessarily forecastable," DeWolfe said of trying to schedule harder opponents.
And that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that the Sailors like playing natural geographic rivals like Moffat County, not because in recent seasons it's been two easy wins every year, but because it's a rivalry that goes back as long as there have been Sailors and Bulldogs.
Plus, it makes for an easy trip, 45 minutes each way compared to four or five hours each way for a game on the Front Range against a potentially better opponent.
"We don't have a ton of options just because of where we're located," Hall said.
Two years in
The RPI system is in its second year and is used throughout CHSAA sports, most sports using the exact same 25-50-25 formula.
"We have heard criticism," said Bethany Brookens, CHSAA's volleyball director. "Do we have a perfect answer? No. What we have is a fairly consistent and transparent method of selecting teams into our playoffs. We're going to continue to try to make it better as we go on, but this is the tool we have in front of us now."
Football and baseball have both tinkered with that formula for its rankings. Football counts 37.5 percent for a team's winning percentage, 37.5 percent for opponents' winning percentage and 25 percent for opponents' opponents' winning percentage.
Baseball is split 35-35-30.
Before RPI, CHSAA used MaxPreps.com rankings, which were based on a trademarked secret algorithm, for playoff seeding.
CHSAA has used league standings more extensively, ensuring the top two or three or four teams from each league get in. It has used committees to try to select teams, and it's used combinations of all of the above.
Someone’s always left out.
"A lot of teams can make different arguments for tweaking this or that," Brookens said. "There just is no perfect solution."
"We can't guarantee the top 36 teams are in the tournament," she added, "but I can guarantee the state champion is."
Hall doesn't dispute that.
She's not claiming her team was poised to make a run to the state championship. But, she can’t help but wonder about a team that sat at 4-9 midway through and finished with a furious run that took it to the brink of the playoffs.
"We were playing our best ball of the year, and it would have been cool to see what those kids could have done at a regional tournament,” she said. “We didn't have that opportunity because of the way the system is set up."