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Amid MaxPreps criticism, MIAA considers new in-house power ratings proposal

Madeleine Rinklin (12) skates past teammates, celebrating Austin Prep's game winning goal over Braintree in the MIAA Division 1 girls' hockey semifinals in Woburn.
Madeleine Rinklin (12) skates past teammates, celebrating Austin Prep's game winning goal over Braintree in the MIAA Division 1 girls' hockey semifinals in Woburn.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

In late February, the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee received approval from its 377 member schools to introduce statewide tournaments starting in fall 2021 based on a power ratings formula from MaxPreps.

But MaxPreps’s proprietary system has come under wide scrutiny, particularly from athletic directors and coaches, for its lack of transparency and consistency. And with no postseason tournaments conducted in the spring or fall due to the pandemic, there has been no opportunity to test the formula.

That lack of data has created an opening for the TMC to explore other options.

With a focus on transparency, simplicity, and accuracy, in a virtual two-hour meeting Wednesday morning, a Tournament Management subcommittee unveiled an alternative ratings proposal developed by Jim Clark, a Globe correspondent who has been working on ratings for high school hockey and other sports for more than a decade.


Comparing the power ratings his system produced with the results of state tournaments played in 2018 and 2019, Clark brought his findings to the subcommittee. The results were consistent with their goals for competition.

“[Clark] found a way to get accuracy and transparency where others had failed,” said TMC member Shaun Hart, the athletic director at Burlington High. “When we ran [through the scenarios], you could really see the proof was in the pudding.”

The basis: A team’s average margin of victory, plus the average of opponents’ rating equals an overall rating.

Divisions would not factor in, creating fewer concerns for teams that want to schedule an opponent from a lower division. Teams that finish .500 or better and don’t qualify for the statewide bracket — 16 qualify per division in football, 32 in all other sports — would still get the opportunity to make the tournament by winning a play-in game.

“I went through a number of power ratings systems out there and settled on this one, which I thought checked a lot of the boxes that the subcommittee was looking for,” said Clark, adding that the system is relatively easy to understand and can be calculated via Microsoft Excel in a few minutes.


In a Power Point presented to the TMC, Clark wrote, “The reality is, no set of power ratings ever can be considered 100 percent ‘accurate.’ There will always be cases of a team being rated lower than a team it beat . . . it’s unavoidable. The key is to have as few contradictions as possible.”

Before voting on the proposed system next month, the TMC discussed the tricky subject of margin of victory. There are concerns that rewarding margin of victory would hurt sportsmanship and create blowouts, but removing margin of victory could diminish the accuracy of the formula. So the committee is hoping to put a cap on those margins — i.e. three goals in soccer, or 10 points in basketball.

“The TMC or a subcommittee will set a standard, and then send those numbers out to sport specific committees,” said Jim O’Leary, Tournament Management chair. “In this system, divisions and leagues don’t matter, and it is not just about wins and losses. Score differential helps separate teams.”

At this point, the hybrid sports — those with an individual component, such as gymnastics, cross-country, track, golf, wrestling, and swimming — will not fall under the ratings system. And there are considerations for tennis and volleyball focusing on final scores, not individual set scores.


Following a question from Wellesley AD John Brown on the process and the management of a power ratings system, MIAA associate director Sherry Bryant said other platforms, or third-party partners, will be considered.

The new proposal will be shared and discussed with the membership before the TMC meets again on Jan. 20.

In Wednesday’s meeting, the TMC also voted on a number of proposed rule changes that will go to the MIAA Board of Directors for approval.

Following a recommendation from Brookline AD Pete Rittenburg, chair of the track committee, the TMC voted unanimously (15-0-0) to add a sixth division for outdoor track & field beginning in 2021. A vote to maintain the current rugby alignment of two boys’ divisions (18 total teams) and one girls’ division (5 total teams) was also approved unanimously.