Most important letters in prep sports: RPI
EAGLE COUNTY — Three little letters loom larger than anything on the 2016-17 high school season — RPI.
Ratings-percentage index is the new be-all and end-all of postseason qualifying for any team sport. This is a game-changer, and fall sports like football, volleyball, boys soccer and softball are the guinea pigs.
Roughly put, it’s strength of schedule index.
The official formula is the following (the abbreviations are winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage.):
RPI = (¼ × WP) + (½ × OWP) + (¼ × OOWP)
Three important notes:
• League champions automatically qualify for the postseason, regardless of RPI.
• In every sport but football, classification does not matter. That is why 4A Battle Mountain soccer opens at 3A Vail Mountain School. (More on this later.)
• In football, a team may play one game against a lower classification without penalty. A team with more than one win against lower classification teams will have those contests counted 15 percent less in RPI.
Eagle Valley football went 7-3 last fall and made the playoffs under the old wild-card football points system. Under the modeling posted on http://www.chsaa.org, however, the Devils would have been No. 17, and out of luck.
In the standings posted on the website, Eagle Valley is No. 16, but, remember that Delta, now going down to 2A, was a 3A team in 2015, and would have easily qualified, bumping Eagle Valley out of the dance. (Pueblo Central at 5-5 and 4-6 Falcon would have made the playoffs, head-scratchers both.)
Devils coach Tom LaFramboise was clearly paying attention, and his team’s nonconference schedule is loaded. Eagle Valley football opens at Kent Denver. While this is Eagle Valley’s only 2A opponent, the Sun Devils aren’t exactly like scheduling Aspen. Kent’s 41-4 during the last six regular seasons.
The nonconference slate continues with Erie (5-5 last year, but a school that often makes the 3A playoffs), Lutheran (6-4 and just missed the postseason last year), Evergreen (8-2 and playoff-bound) and Northridge (2-8 after the playoffs in 2014.)
And, oh by the way, the Devils still play Palisade and Rifle within the 3A Slope. Eagle Valley football believes that 6-4 or better against this schedule makes the playoffs.
Battle Mountain, whose football program is in a different place of development, understandably is taking a different approach with four 2A schools — Steamboat Springs, Roaring Fork, Coal Ridge and Basalt — with 3A Green Mountain as the nonconference final before league play.
This is wise approach as building numbers is just as important as wins in Edwards. (Battle Mountain is 0-6 the last two seasons against 3A teams, so scheduling a ton of 3A powers, like Eagle Valley, makes no sense.)
With those four 2A games on the schedule, three of which will go into the RPI with a 15-percent deduction, it’s unlikely that the Huskies make the playoffs as a wild card. (Please not complaining. We’re arguing math here.)
What if …
This begs the question, “What if Battle Mountain football got really good?” And this applies to any local team in any sport.
Can Western Slope teams schedule a tough enough schedule to please the RPI formula? The biggest cost of any athletic department in the state is travel, and more so on this side of the Continental Divide.
If a team has a pedigree in a sport, like Palisade or Rifle football, said schools usually get to travel more and Front Range teams are willing to journey to play the Bulldogs or Bears. (Battle Mountain soccer is similar, having scheduled home-and-home meetings with Evergreen, The Classical Academy and Cheyenne Mountain in the last five years or so.)
Front Range teams can play good teams outside of their leagues and not travel far. Western Slope teams can’t.
What happens if Battle Mountain football returned to 2011 glory, but couldn’t get good Front Range teams to play? (In 2011, the Huskies went 9-1, but their nonconference slate of Summit, Roaring Fork and TCA went 11-19.) Would the Huskies be dinged for a lack of strength of schedule because Front Range teams don’t want to bother to travel to Edwards?
Or reverse the scenario for Eagle Valley football. What happens, if in some unlikely scenario, Kent Denver, Lutheran and Evergreen hit a rough patch and aren’t as good as advertised?
RPI only accounts for the current season, so it would see the Devils’ schedule as weak, even though Eagle Valley has made every effort to play strong opponents.
Staying in the Slope
Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley volleyball have relatively the same schedules as the last few years. The Huskies host their tournament and the Devils go to Regis for an early season gathering.
Eagle Valley has seen 5A schools at Regis, but RPI outside of football doesn’t account for playing bigger (or smaller) schools. Battle Mountain’s tournament includes Golden and Valor Christian, but 3A and 2A teams as well.
Battle Mountain soccer at VMS is an example of a great inter-classification match-up. It’s a 4A school, which is defending league champion and a state quarterfinalist against a 3A school which is also defending its league title and made the state semifinals last year. Should be a great game, and it will benefit both teams since the Huskies and Gore Rangers will likely finish the season with 10-plus wins.
Yet both the 4A Huskies and the Devils play 2A Vail Christian in volleyball.
Is it right for 4A schools to play smaller schools and pad their records? Yes, let the record state that 2A Vail Christian volleyball has been a darn good program and beaten Battle Mountain in years past. But in theory, schools with 800 kids should beat schools with about 150. Shouldn’t those 2A Saints get more credit for beating a 4A team? (They don’t under RPI.)
And isn’t it rather random that Battle Mountain or Eagle Valley volleyball’s postseason chances rely on how good assorted teams on the Slope are? Do teams get penalized for playing league opponents twice as happens in the 4A Slope in both volleyball and basketball? (If everyone is beating everyone, doesn’t that drag down the whole league’s winning percentage?)
The high school year always brings great story lines, and this year should be no exception, though some of them may come away from the arena of competition.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.