When the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s board of directors – a committee made up of superintendents, principals and athletic directors from across the state – signed off on using MaxPreps.com’s computer rankings to determine the playoffs, they surely didn’t imagine a scenario playing out like the one on Saturday.
Nine teams with winning records were left out of the playoffs, while several teams with losing records made it.
Leaving 5-6 teams out of the mix, it still looks bad.
▪ In 4A, three teams at 4-7 or worse received wild-cards while 6-5 Apex Friendship did not.
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▪ In 3A, three teams at 4-7, 4-6 or worse received wild-cards while 7-4 South Johnston and 6-5 West Henderson did not.
▪ In 2A, three teams at 4-7 or worse received wild-cards while 8-3 Trask, 7-4 Warren County, 6-5 Southern Vance, 6-5 East Davidson and 6-5 Trinity did not.
▪ In 1A, eight teams at 4-7 or worse received wild-cards while 7-3 Bear Grass Charter did not.
Strength of schedule is a large part of the MaxPreps formula, but perhaps too much for football.
Football scheduling is just different. Nonconference schedules are locked in for two-year periods more than a year in advance, and athletic directors have to try to schedule games they hope will lead to large gates and help fund the rest of the schools’ sports.
Last year’s playoff format rewarded only wins and losses, but that enticed teams to schedule only beatable opponents,.
The NCHSAA posted a “frequently asked questions” list for the MaxPreps system. In it, it says that while RPI measures the games for you, your opponents and your opponents’ opponents, MaxPreps “can measure infinitely deep.” That part – hinting at an algorithm that keeps circling and circling – is what likely caused select regions and conferences (in Charlotte, a 3-8 team and a 2-9 team made the 4AA playoffs) to get elevated together the more they played each other, while other regions were largely discarded (Southern Vance and Warren County are in the same conference).
Nothing on that large of a scale happened when the volleyball or boys’ soccer brackets, using the same format, were released in previous weeks.
The only teams above .500 that were left out in boys’ soccer were Terry Sanford (13-9-2) and Northeast Guilford (11-8) in 3A and Richmond (11-9-1) in 4A.
In volleyball, it was just 1A River Mill Academy (15-10).
Some coaches are mulling possible tweaks to the system – like a minimum winning percentage to receive a wild-card spot, or removing teams with losing records until everyone with a winning record gets into the playoffs.
The brackets were popular with many soccer and volleyball coaches, and some of them want to see MaxPreps take an increased role, seeding the playoffs 1-32 without respect to being a 1-seed or 2-seed.
However, after a disastrous first-year experiment with football, MaxPreps will likely have its role reduced or removed altogether.
Best first-round game: Northern Durham (8-2) at Cleveland (7-4) is the best matchup between two 2-seeds in the first round. The two will tangle in the 3AA playoffs.
Best chance at an upset: Kinston (9-2) has won nine of the last 10 against Greene Central (7-4), including 42-26 this year in the Eastern Carolina 2A Conference. It’s a 7-vs-10 game, but the two tied for second in their conference.
Hardest bracket: The 3AA East features the defending 3AA runners-up (4-Eastern Guilford), the reigning 4A runners-up (11-Cape Fear), four teams ranked in the AP top 10 (1-Clayton, 2-New Hanover, 3-Lee County, 10-Dudley), the state’s best offense (5-D.H. Conley) and a slew of teams that are traditionally strong (13-Hillside, 8-Cleveland, 9-Northern Durham, 12-Northern Guilford, 6-Orange). Even the 16-seed, Northwood, was a win away in the season finale from being a conference champion.
Biggest break: The 2A East can breathe a sigh of relief as Reidsville was split into the West bracket. That opens the door for an N&O area team like Ayden-Grifton, North Johnston or Beddingfield.
Toughest break: Heritage went from being No. 3 in the state to No. 6 in its bracket overnight. All conference champs are seeded ahead of Heritage (10-1), so the Huskies’ lone loss means it won’t get a first-round bye and will likely only get one home game in the playoffs.
Biggest anomaly: The extreme first-round travel seems to have moved from being a 1A problem to a 2A problem. With so many 2A playoff teams clustered together east of Interstate 95 or west of Greensboro, it means Whiteville and South Columbus will be in the 2A West.
If the AP poll knows best: If the games go in favor of those ranked higher in the AP poll, you’d have East finals of Hoggard at Scotland County (4A); Lee County at Clayton (3AA); Havelock at Western Alamance (3A); North Davidson at East Duplin (2AA); Edenton Holmes at Tarboro (1AA); Northampton County at North Duplin (1A). Wake Forest is the only 4AA East team ranked in the poll, and Northeastern and Wallace-Rose Hill are both ranked in the 2A East but are on the same side of the bracket.
If MaxPreps knows best: Then you’d have East finals of Green Hope at Wake Forest (4AA); Hoggard at Scotland County (4A); Dudley at Clayton (3AA); Havelock at Western Alamance (3A); North Davidson at East Duplin (2AA); Wallace-Rose Hill at East Bladen (2A); Edenton Holmes at Tarboro (1AA); Northampton County at North Duplin (1A).
NCISAA 8-man playoffs: Rocky Mount Academy (11-0) will travel to Arendell Parrott (9-1) for the 2A title game at 6 p.m. Saturday. Parott was already the site for both the 1A and 2A finals, despite RMA having the 1-seed.
All times 7:30 p.m.
8-Jack Britt vs. 9-Millbrook
5-Middle Creek vs. 12-Laney (Thursday)
6-Pinecrest vs. 11-Athens Drive
7-Leesville Road vs. 10-Fuquay-Varina
8-Jordan vs. 9-Seventy-First
5-Overhills vs. 12-Knightdale
6-Heritage vs. 11-Purnell Swett
7-Ragsdale vs. 10-South View
1-Clayton vs. 16-Northwood
8-Cleveland vs. 9-Northern Durham
4-Eastern Guilford vs. 13-Hillside
5-D.H. Conley vs. 12-Northern Guilford
3-Lee County vs. 14-Ben L. Smith
6-Orange vs. 11-Cape Fear
2-New Hanover vs. 15-West Brunswick
7-Southeast Guilford vs. 10-Dudley
1-Western Alamance vs. 16-Eastern Wayne
8-Fike vs. 9-Triton
4-Terry Sanford vs. 13-Rocky Mount
5-Jacksonville vs. 12-Northside (Jacksonville)
3-Southern Nash vs. 14-Westover
6-Eastern Alamance vs. 11-Northeast Guilford
2-Havelock vs. 15-Williams
7-E.E. Smith vs. 10-West Carteret
1-East Duplin vs. 16-St. Pauls
8-Bunn vs. 9-West Stokes
4-Randleman vs. 13-Roanoke Rapids
5-Nash Central vs. 12-T.W. Andrews
3-South Granville vs. 14-Washington
6-West Craven vs. 11-Richlands
2-North Davidson vs. 15-Forest Hills
7-Ledford vs. 10-Anson County
1-Northeastern vs. 16-Bertie
8-First Flight vs. 9-Clinton
4-Beddingfield vs. 13-Farmville Central (Thursday)
5-Wallace-Rose Hill vs. 12-Ayden-Grifton
3-Southwest Onslow vs. 14-Goldsboro
6-SouthWest Edgecombe vs. 11-Hertford County
2-East Bladen vs. 15-James Kenan
7-Kinston vs. 10-Greene Central
8-Riverside (Williamston) vs. 9-Princeton
5-West Montgomery vs. 12-Rosewood
6-Lakewood vs. 11-Pender
7-Manteo vs. 10-Gates County
8-Southside vs. 9-Northside (Pinetown)
5-Pamlico County vs. 12-Albemarle
6-Plymouth vs. 11-North Edgecombe
7-Southeast Halifax vs. 10-South Creek
NCISAA 2A 8-man title
1-Rocky Mount Academy at 2-Arendell Parrott (Saturday)