The year is complete and RPI is officially a mess
May 19, 2017
OK, it would be really easy writing a column ripping CHSAA all day long for postponing the state track meet to today and Sunday because it snowed.
That writes itself. After all, aren't all our local athletes — Devils, Huskies and Saints — used to running the 3,200 meters on a sheet of ice when it's snowing?
Of course, our kids can do that. What the heck is the matter with those Front Range athletes?
Track and field, in one respect, is a fair sport in the state of Colorado. Yes, the state-18 qualifying has its critics locally, but it is inherently fair. If you're a 4A girls 3,200 relay team, then you run the race in 8 minutes and 10 seconds or better or you don't to qualify for state. (And, yes, we have both the Huskies and Devils going in this race tonight.)
Of course, the weather stinks up here for "spring" sports, but our teams can enter any meet they want in the state to find good weather. Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley and Vail Christian all adjusted their schedules accordingly to give their athletes a shot at recording their best times and distances.
Our track teams aren't limited to their leagues, can travel to find competition they need and are on equal footing with the rest of the state when it comes to qualifying for the postseason.
Or everything that is not open to "traditional" team sports — be they Devils, Gore Rangers, Huskies and Saints — under the rating-percentage index.
The first year of CHSAA using RPI for the postseason is done. And, here's what we've learned.
The Western Slope is a double whammy
I like teams playing each other twice, home-and-home, in league play with regard to determining a true season champion. While coaches would agree with that competitive assessment, the fact is that Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Glenwood Springs, Palisade, Rifle, Steamboat Springs and Summit County must play each other twice in league play because of geography.
There aren't any other 4A teams within close geographic range (two hours) for Slope teams — Montrose is relatively close, moreso for Palisade and Rifle, and the trips to Durango or Montezuma Cortez, the other 4A schools in Western Colorado are prohibitive in distance.
One of two things happen with playing everyone twice.
• Some teams in the conference stink: This is what I call the "Battle Mountain boys soccer scenario." If you're forced to play two very bad teams twice, then it kills a team's opponents' winning percentage (OWP), 50 percent of RPI. The Huskies saw their RPI plummet by playing Rifle and Palisade twice last fall.
No. 9 seeds shouldn't make the state finals. To their infinite credit, the Huskies did. But that's clear evidence that the rankings were wrong.
• Slope mosh pit: The league's competitive and everybody ends up beating the heck out of each other, suppressing everyone's winning percentage. This was the case for both boys and girls basketball. Only the Battle Mountain boys had an OWP over .500.
Yes, some years a league is better in quality than others. But the Slope wasn't as bad of a league as RPI said it was.
Even if the Slope decided that its teams would play only once per season per sport — which will never happen — how would the Huskies, Devils and the rest of the league fill their schedules?
If you're Golden High School, then you can drive a half-hour and play a nonconference team or you can drive 2-3 hours to play a Slope team. That's not a hard decision for Golden or any other team on the Front Range. (Ask Golden boys soccer. It had a rough 3-hour trip up to Battle Mountain in 2015, lost 3-0, and didn't renew the series.)
The bottom line is that the closer you are to Interstate 25, the better your RPI is going to be.
Mind your Class
In every sport except football, classification doesn't matter when calculating RPI. This problem goes in both directions.
Class 4A Western Slope teams often play 3A and 2A squads on the Western Slope because they can't schedule 4A nonconference games with Front Ranger schools. While I'm fine with allowing a few local matchups — combinations of Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley vs. Vail Christian or Vail Mountain — overdoing that skews RPI unfairly.
While there was no intent — how could there be since it was the first year of the system? — Battle Mountain volleyball's RPI was clearly helped by playing 3A and 2A schools.
Going in the other direction, shouldn't VMS or Vail Christian get credit for playing up? Gore Rangers girls soccer got no RPI benefit this spring by playing Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Summit County and Mullen. That's ridiculous.
Again, if I ruled CHSAA, I'd allow for a few games between schools of different classifications — so that local teams could play — but small schools should get a boost in RPI for playing bigger competition, while bigger schools shouldn't get to feast on smaller schools.
The best laid plans
Even when our local teams got the desired strong nonconference opponents, it didn't work out RPI-wise.
• Battle Mountain boys soccer (yes, I'm obsessed by what happened to the Huskies last fall, but I'm justified) traditionally schedules Montrose as a nonconference opponent, and rightly so. Before the 2016 season, the Indians had won 10-plus games and made the state playoffs each of the last five years.
That's a good game and should help a team's RPI, unless the Indians go 5-10 as they did last fall. How is team held responsible for another team having a bad year?
• What happens when a team that schedules too tough of a schedule to appease the RPI? Eagle Valley football did that and paid the price. The Devils were probably one of the best 3-7 teams we've ever seen. Playing Kent Denver, Erie, Lutheran, Evergreen and Northridge is admirable, but the Devils would have been better served by playing lighter schedule and winning some games.
Will any of this change?
There have been some minor modifications, a slight tweaking of percentages, to RPI in football, baseball and boys soccer. But the general answer is no.
Like at state track, the people at CHSAA don't really believe it's snowing until it happens to them.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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