Power rankings prove powerful despite critics

May 24, 2016 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Power rankings determine state tournament seedings for "team sport" champions and are often criticized because schools and fans don't understand them. I hear complaints about the system at least weekly.

Truth is they work. And work very well in identifying top teams and ultimately who emerges as state champion.

With the 2015-2016 season in the history books, here are some tidbits about how the power-ranking system used by the Arizona Interscholastic Association (MaxPreps) fared.

Forty-four of the 79 championships were "team" titles. That is they used power-rankings to determine seedings for tournaments.Sports using power rankings are football, boys and girls volleyball, badminton, boys and girls soccer (fall and winter), boys and girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, baseball and softball.

Of those 44, 34 were won by teams ranked 1, 2, 3 or 4. Top seeds won 15, No. 2s won 9, No. 3s won 8 and No. 4s took home 2. The highest seed to win a championship was a No. 7 (five of those). No school seeded 8 or below ended won a championship. No double-digit seed played in a state title game.

The top two divisions in football, oddly enough, were won by a No. 6 seed (D-I) and a No. 7 seed (D-II). Those schools, Centennial and Saguaro, respectively, didn't emerge as outrageous surprises in winning despite not being among the top 4.  The 2014 state football champs (six) were all 1, 2 or 3 seeds.

Centennial's average opponent rating (essentially the measure of strength of schedule) was 15th among the 17 teams in D-I. To the Coytoes' credit they didn't have an easy path to the title. They defeated the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds among their four playoff victories.

Saguaro's situation was similar to Centennial's. The Sabercats had a rather weak average opponent rating with 21 of 35 teams in D-2 having a higher one. Saguaro's two regular-season losses were to Centennial and Pinnacle (D-I schools). It's road to the title wasn't as daunting as Centennial's. Saguaro handled the No. 2, 5, 6 and 10 seeds with little resistance. Over the last five years (2011-2015) only 3 of 18 football champions has been lower than a No. 4 seed (Centennial and Saguaro in 2015 and Saguaro, a No. 5, in 2011.

The prior season (2014-2015), 87 percent of the "team" championships were claimed by schools seeded 1, 2, 3 or 4. Again the highest seed to win a title was a No. 7. The other breakdowns were one No. 5, one No. 6 and 3 No. 7's won titles.