OSAA?working to perfect rankings

<p><strong>Matt Entrup</strong></p> <p><em>Sports Comment</em></p>

There is an old saying in sports that coaches love to use when dealing with the media and questions about rankings — which in any of its variations boils down to  “They are only as valuable as the paper they are printed on.”

But that phrase disappeared from Oregon coaches’ vernacular last year when the state’s high school sports governing body, the OSAA, announced that rankings indeed do count — at least theirs, anyway.

With another reshuffling of the playoff system, the OSAA?announced it would apply its rankings to determine playoff game locations, first-round and play-in round matchups.

The idea was born of solid reasoning — teams that play weak schedules shouldn’t be rewarded for that fact — but there are always more factors at play than initially considered.

The formula only took into consideration games played between two Oregon schools, so schools that rely on out-of-state opponents to fill their schedule were not getting full credit for playing tough out-of-state schools.

That was the case for the Hermiston Bulldogs, which have forged strong athletic relationships with schools like Walla Walla, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho. With the rising costs of transportation and a bevy of competitive teams nestled in the Tri-Cities, Hermiston wanted to expand its out-of-state docket — but not before getting a tweak to the rankings formula.

“It makes complete business sense and it makes sense for some competitive games,”?said Hermiston Athletic Director Mike Kay.

Kay was a vocal leader in the move to allow for out-of-state opponents’ records to be allowed into the ranking formula. The OSAA approved the change and it has been put to the test for the first time this fall.

It’s worked out well for the Bulldogs, said Kay, but it’s still not the end of the road.

“I?think it’s getting closer to what we’ve all strived for and that was being able to compare apples to apples,”?he said.

To get to that point, the formula would need to include opponents’ opponents records — which it already does for in-state matchups. Kay said there is one major hurdle still to leap and it has nothing to do with bureaucracy.

It’s simply a matter of being able to find all of those scores. In a sport such as football that plays 10 games it would be a lot easier than in a sport such as volleyball that could play 30 matches or more.

Kay predicted an equal playing field within a couple of years, but said he is still pleased with how this fall season has turned out for the Bulldogs.

The football team played five out-of-state opponents this season, four more than any other Class 5A?Oregon team. The Bulldogs hosted three of those games, while going 2-3. Kennewick and AC Davis rank as two of their three toughest opponents. It has made the Bulldogs No. 23 in the state and earned them a home play-in game on Friday.

But if you look closely at the rankings it’s clear Hermiston is still not getting full credit for its out-of-state schedule. The Bulldogs (5-4) are the lowest ranked winning team, behind No. 22 Sandy (3-6), No. 19 Springfield (3-5) and No. 14 Eagle Point (4-4).

Hermiston’s plus 54-point differential is better than 10 of the teams ranked ahead of them, which are Sandy (minus 26), Springfield (minus 28), and Eagle Point (minus 56) as well as No. 21 Jefferson (minus 51), No. 20 Summit (plus 29), No. 18 Willamette (minus 16), No. 16 St. Helens (plus 12), No. 15 Woodburn (plus 4), No. 13 Crescent Valley (minus 21) and No. 12 Liberty (minus 30).

Conference and cross-county rival Pendleton (7-2)?pulls in at No. 11, despite playing four Class 4A teams and losing to one. They only scheduled one out-of-state opponent, though, and it was Kennewick.

Those statistics don’t tell you which teams are better — clearly considering the Bucks’ 26-12 win over Hermiston this season — but they do show that Hermiston and teams that schedule heavily out of state are still being penalized for it.

The OSAA?has a committee in place to monitor and make regular changes to the ranking system to continue and hone it over the coming years. But, until it is just right, Kay said he can live with the one in place.

One thing that could make his job easier, he said, would be if more Portland schools would be willing to play road games east of the Cascades. It will always be a tough sell, but Kay said the play-in rounds might actually help that a little.

“I think the Portland schools, as they come out here for the play-in games, are figuring out that it’s not as bad a trip as it was originally thought,”?he said.

If that is the case, great. If not, at least the OSAA?is moving in the right direction when it comes to taking care of its border schools.


Matt Entrup is a sports writer for the East Oregonian. Write him at mentrup@eastoregonian.com.

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