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Did David get credit for the act or the results - Chatham Star Tribune: Opinion

Did David get credit for the act or the results

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Posted: Wednesday, November 8, 2017 10:03 am | Updated: 10:09 am, Wed Nov 8, 2017.

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath, the story of the 12-year old shepherd boy who slays the giant Goliath after knocking him senseless with a rock propelled from his slingshot. Have you ever wondered how history would have treated David had he missed?

Well, I’m not sure about all venues, but I do know in the world of North Carolina high school football playoffs, just the fact that David slung the rock would get him enough points to make the grade.

To bring all of this into focus, my good friend Steve Welch and I drove to Jacksonville, N.C. last Friday for the Trask-SW Onslow football game. My nephew Jon Taylor is the head coach for Trask and his Titans were playing for a share of the conference championship and we were there to provide vocal support.

While a smaller Trask squad battled SW Onslow to a 14-14 score midway through the second quarter, the bigger Stallion squad forced their will on the Titans and finished the game with a comfortable margin of victory, dropping Trask to 8-3 in its regular season finale.

Despite the loss, the Titans finished with the best record in the history of the school and now awaited word from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for a wildcard selection into the state playoffs. Various internet sites that predicted the playoff scenario viewed the Titans as one of the final qualifiers, although I thought my nephew was being a little bit of a “Nervous Nancy” over whether they would make it in.

How I wish he had been wrong. When the results of Friday night’s games had been figured in to the equation, Trask was sent to the sidelines and out of the playoffs. There is nothing wrong with missing the playoffs with a record of 8-3, but when the 16-team 2A East bracket was announced, nine of the 16 teams had a record worse than Trask, including a pair of teams with 3-7 and 4-7 records respectively.

If you are familiar with Virginia High School League playoffs, you may think that it isn’t abnormal for a team to make playoffs with a losing record. In fact, in Class 3 statewide, 15 of the 32 teams selected for the state playoffs have a losing record, but, none were selected at the expense of leaving out a team with a winning record.

So what happened in North Carolina? Last May, the governing body decided the playoffs needed to be changed from the current format, so it created a new group of guidelines based upon rankings provided by the high school online site, MaxPreps. MaxPreps ranks high school teams across the country nationally, statewide and by the team’s state classification.

As in all cases, there are automatic qualifiers based on winning the conference championship and runner-ups are sometimes given automatic bids as well, but the problem comes when you get to the teams that did not receive an automatic bid and have to qualify based on the MaxPreps formula.

The formula, as stated on the MaxPreps website, is somewhat vague in explaining how they come to a ranking for a particular team, but it does make mention that one of the important factors is strength of schedule. Strength of schedule works great if you’re talking about March Madness and a college basketball team that probably schedules 10-15 games out of conference, but when you’re talking about a high school football team that plays a maximum of 11-game regular season schedule, it is not a valid determiner.

In the split conference that Trask participates in, there are eight teams, four with winning records and four with losing records. Only one of the four has a higher rating than Trask, which means it is being penalized for playing and beating teams in its own conference. Seven of its games are pre-determined because of its conference affiliation and one other game is set because it is located in the same county.

If the state wants to allow MaxPreps to make playoff determinations based on its own set of data, then it needs to allow the teams participating to make their own schedule and do away with conference affiliations altogether.

James Kenan entered the same playoff after finishing with a record of 3-7, including two straight losses to end the season. In the conference in which it participates, Kenan won two games against a pair of opponents with a combined conference record of 1-11. MaxPreps ranks the top three teams in the conference in the top 150 in the state, but Kenan failed to win against any of the three, losing five games to conference opponents by a combined score of 203-52.

On one of the playoff prediction sites, Kenan was predicted to make the playoffs, but only if its loss final Friday of the regular season was not a blowout. While MaxPreps refuses to outwardly admit that point differential has something to do with the rankings, if you follow teams closely through the season the movement in rankings appears to be directly related to the margin of victory or defeat.

HighSchoolOT.com, a website related to high school sports in North Carolina, shared on its site how the MaxPreps rankings work. For this example consider Team A’s rating is 10, B is 5, C is -5, D is -8, and E is -10.

The way our (MaxPreps) program works is as follows. It systematically sorts through all the results for the season (season-to-date results if we’re dealing with an in-progress season). It takes each result and compares it to what “should” have happened given the ratings of the teams. It knows that if A played C, A should have handled them fairly easily. If A lost that game, or even squeaked by with a narrow victory, its rating is hurt, while C’s is helped. The system keeps checking through all the results for every team. Sticking with team A though, let’s say they also played D and won by 15 (that’s about what they should have done- no real impact on either teams’ rating there), demolished team B by 22 (which definitely helps their rating), and beat D by 10 (not doing quite as well as could have been expected- another “ding” against their rating.) When all is said and done, it takes the aggregate of how much better or worse they did than expected in all their games, divides that by the number of games played, and adjusts their rating accordingly. For example, if they averaged performing two points worse than expected, their rating drops from a 10 to an eight.

In essence, what this is saying is throw sportsmanship out the window and beat a team as bad as you can if you want to make the playoffs or if you can’t beat anyone, just make sure the teams that beat you have the approval of MaxPreps.

South Caldwell, a 4A team in North Carolina, finished the season 1-10, but they played in the “right conference.” It not only made playoffs, but are a second-seed with a first-round bye.

So David, just by slinging the rock you would have credited with style points, but as for everything else, I guess that would have been up to MaxPreps.

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