Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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State’s new rating system working against Prairie girls basketball

Falcons one of several teams impacted by major flaw in first-year system

By , Columbian High School Sports Reporter

The Prairie girls basketball team just can’t bear to look at the WIAA’s Ratings Percentage Index ranking for basketball teams.

It is too frustrating.

And it is not going to change. At least, not this season anyway.

The new system that the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association will use to seed the state basketball tournaments is a work in progress. It does not seem like it will work out for Prairie, among others, this season.

“I think the system is definitely flawed right now,” Prairie coach Hala Corral said.

The new ranking system will not impede the Falcons’ ability to reach the Class 3A state tournament. However, in the past, the Falcons could put themselves in the best position in the state tournament by winning its league, district and bi-district titles.

But this season, accomplishing all of those task may not help Prairie.

The RPI is a formula that takes into account the team’s winning percentage, the team’s opponents’ winning percentage, as well as the team’s opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. The big caveat: Games played against out-of-state teams will only count as contests against .500 teams.

Prairie played four games in California — including one against a team that is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps and another that is No. 4 in all of California. Yet the Falcons only got credit for playing against four .500 teams.

Adding to that frustration, Prairie plays in a weak league. The other five teams in the league rank in the bottom third of teams in the state.

So when the Falcons win league games, their winning percentage goes up but the other two factors in the RPI go down.

“I don’t want to go to that website every day. It will drive me crazy,” Corral said. “You win, and you drop?”

Sure enough, the Falcons went from 12th to 17th after winning two games last week. In one contest, the Falcons won by 53 points. That team they beat? It moved up in the rankings because that team played a team — Prairie — with a much better record.

Corral was not alone in her assesment of the RPI rankings. Union boys basketball coach Blake Conley agreed with her, and Conley’s Titans were ranked No. 1 in 4A by the RPI.

“Strength of schedule is weighted too heavily” in the RPI system, Conley said. “Wins should matter more.”

The WIAA acknowledged there were going to be problems when it announced the major change to the basketball tournaments. It also promised to try to improve the system when warranted. The RPI committee is expected to meet soon after the state tournaments to begin that process, according to Casey Johnson of the WIAA.

In this first school year using RPI, WIAA officials were concerned with the accuracy of results from other states. While Prairie played top-notch competition against teams that use MaxPreps to track results, there are other teams that might have played against schools from other states that do not record all of their results or have results for all of their other opponents.

Oregon had a similar situation when it first started using a rankings system. That state now counts out-of-state games.

“It’s something to continue to do, talk to other states,” Johnson said. “See where their growing pains were and see where we can grow a little bit.”

For now, though, the Falcons will just have to keep winning, hoping they will be rewarded.

That is tough to see happening, though.

As of games through Monday, Prairie’s opponents winning percentage was at .467 according to the WIAA’s RPI standings. That counts the four California games as going up against .500 teams.

Those California teams had records of 14-1, 9-4, 11-3, and 13-2. That would change Prairie’s OWP to .547.

The opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage would go from .535 now to .589 if the California trip counted for the true MaxPreps numbers.

That would bring Prairie up to a total RPI of 0.625, which would have landed the Falcons in at No. 7 instead of No. 17. This was just an example by figuring out Prairie’s RPI. Clearly, other teams would also have changes, too, so the theoretical ranking for Prairie at No. 7 is just that — theoretical.

If the WIAA does not change its system, it could be an incentive to remain in the state.

“I’m not going to take the approach to play a 1A or a 2A team with a winning record just to get a bigger RPI,” she said. “You’re going to have schools that do that.”

Of course Prairie is not the only team that is being “dinged” for out-of-state, quality competition. The Foss boys basketball team is 8-4, going 7-1 against Washington schools with an average margin of victory of more than 40 points. Without the OWP and OOWP from the teams they played from California, Nevada, and Arizona, Foss is ranked 40th in the Washington RPI.

Tossing aside the elite teams going to holiday tournaments, there also should be consideration for just regular non-league games for teams from Southwest Washington, Tri-Cities, or the Spokane area. Those teams often travel across their borders to fill out their schedules.

Like Prairie and Foss, the La Center girls basketball team is seeing the impact of facing league opponents with a low RPI ranking.

The Wildcats have dropped from fifth to eighth in RPI, despite an 11-0 record, because league opponents rank in the bottom third of Class 1A.

“There’s not much we can do,” La Center coach Herm VanWeerdhuizen said. “We have to play our league schedule.”

Other concerns are the accuracy of the records, even for the Washington teams. As of Wednesday afternoon, Prairie was listed at 8-2 in the standings but the Falcons are actually 9-2. When clicking on Prairie’s name on the WIAA site, the game-by-game log does, indeed, list 11 games. Yet instead of a winning percentage of .818 for 9-2, the “official” standings showed .800 for 8-2.

(UPDATE: That was a temporary glitch and the record was updated to 9-2 by Thursday. Coaches and athletic directors are reminded to check their records on the system, in order to ensure accuracy.)

It is important to stress again that all teams will qualify for the state tournament through district and/or bi-district play. The rankings will only be used to seed the tournament.

Still, there is a huge advantage to being among the top eight teams of the 16 that qualify for state. Those squads are guaranteed a trip to the Tacoma Dome (for 4A and 3A teams).

The 3A teams seeded 9 through 16 teams will play an elimination game at regional sites in order to advance to Tacoma. The teams seeded 1 through 8 will play each other at the regional sites, with the winners advancing to the state quarterfinals, and the losers facing the winners of the 9-through-16 games on Wednesday at the Tacoma Dome in another elimination game.

Most teams have played a little more than half of their regular seasons so there is plenty of basketball to be played. The rankings will change daily this season. The system, however, will not.

“It hurts basketball right now,” Corral said. “I just hope the WIAA gets it fixed next year.”

Columbian High School Sports Reporter