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Nov. 15, 2015 — By any objective measure

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has done some daft things in its past.

It has drafted draconian rules about eligibility, but has not enforced them on tuition-paying students or those who reside in a school district for as little as one day during the school year. It has consistently refused to rely on video evidence to exonerate or overturn player suspensions. The NJSIAA’s management has repeatedly garnered the scrutiny of the State Legislature.

But last night might have topped them all. After the five NJSIAA state field hockey games were concluded, a seeding meeting was held to place the five teams in a single-elimination bracket.

The positioning of the five teams is not rocket science; the best team should be seeded No. 1 to have a bye into the semifinal round against the winner of a play-in game against the two lowest-seeded teams.

So, when I received this tweet last night, I thought something had shifted in the space-time continuum:

Eastern field hockey will play on Monday at 4 p.m. at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School against Shore Regional. Play-in to TOC.

Huh? What’s going on here? Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) is ranked as the No. 1 team in the state of New Jersey, and two websites (this one included) have them ranked as the No. 1 in the United States.

And yet, they are ranked fourth in the Tournament of Champions, which includes West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.), Washington Warren Hills (N.J.), Madison (N.J.) Borough, and Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.).

It’s not just the difficulty of the teams that is the current obstacle for Eastern. Because the tournament committee ranked the Vikings fourth, they are going to have to play four games in a week if they make the T of C final — which was impermissible under NJSIAA rules until only about five years ago.

This entire situation raises fundamental questions about fairness and metrics in the seeding process of tournaments. The NJSIAA, in its infinite wisdom, uses a football-centric power-point formula in order to seed teams in a bracket. The formula rewards smaller schools for playing and beating larger ones, which means that larger schools — like Group IV’s Eastern — cannot get the same reward by virtue of its being in the largest school classification.

The NJSIAA used these power-point totals as of the day of the state tournament cutoff:

Power points as of Oct. 22
Warren Hills 390.0
Madison 379.5
Oak Knoll 379.0
Eastern 359.0
Shore Regional 276.5

It’s a formula that was agreed upon unanimously on a vote of the NJSIAA Tournament Committee a year ago, per the minutes provided by the NJSIAA.

But if you look at any number of numerical measures that could have been used to seed the Tournament of Champions, none of them yield the seedings above. First, let’s look at what has been used by the NJSIAA in the past to seed individual brackets, the number of victories:

Number of victories
Eastern 24
Oak Knoll 23
Madison 23
Warren Hills 22
Shore Regional 22

Of course, with the teams being so close in that metric, one could look at the five teams’ winning percentages and rank them from top to bottom:

Winning percentage
Eastern 1.000
Oak Knoll 0.958
Madison 0.913
Warren Hills 0.900
Shore Regional 0.846

So, perhaps you might want to rank the teams by margin of victory in their state title matches yesterday?

Margin of victory
Madison 5
Eastern 4
Shore Regional 3
Oak Knoll 2
Warren Hills 1

One thing that an NCAA Tournament committee might do when it comes to seeding is look at the form of the team coming into the tournament. Below is the number of consecutive victories of the five teams headed into play this week:

Number of consecutive wins
Eastern 73
Oak Knoll 19
Madison 11
Warren Hills 5
Shore Regional 5

One more metric that a seeding committee could consider is the number of goals scored: the offensive firepower of all five teams is considerable:

Goals scored
Eastern 214
Shore Regional 172
Oak Knoll 143
Madison 137
Warren Hills 135

Finally, let’s have a look at strength of schedule, in terms of the five teams’ opposition, as ranked by winning percentage.

Opponents’ winning pecentage
Madison 0.701
Warren Hills 0.642
Eastern 0.605
Shore Regional 0.588
Oak Knoll 0.556

The chart above represents what would actually be 50 percent of the Ratings Percentage Index, the number the NCAA uses to select and seed teams in national collegiate tournaments. The third component — the winning percentage of opponents’ opponents — isn’t something we can readily do unless we had a complete national statistical database for field hockey.

Still, it’s pretty clear that the way that the NJSIAA chose its seeds for the 2015 field hockey Tournament of Championships belied logic and common sense.


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