Casey: Let's move away from Wild Card points in baseball

Fairview Loveland baseball

Wild Card points may not be the best solution when it comes to qualifying for baseball's postseason. (Kai Casey/CHSAANow.com)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column does not reflect an official viewpoint of CHSAA.

On Wednesday, the Class 3A, 4A and 5A baseball district brackets will be set, in part, by Wild Card points. Here's my question: Why are we still using Wild Card points?

There is much wrong with the system, which is a way to measure a team's relative strength using a measure of each team's schedule. In short, it seems to be pretty inaccurate.

Now, know this: The Wild Card points system is what we have for the 2015 season. There's no changing it now. Everyone knew the rules and parameters of qualifying heading into the season.

But if we're going to change it moving forward, even for 2016, the baseball committee needs to hear from coaches and administrators ahead of its next meeting in November. That is where the change happens. Otherwise, we'll be back having this same discussion next spring.

Anyway, a brief history of Wild Card points:

Wild Card points first appeared in the CHSAA system in the mid 1990s when a former athletic director at Kent Denver proposed using them to help determine qualifiers in football. It was modeled after a system being used in Michigan at the time.

Point values are assigned to beating (or losing to) teams with a certain number of wins. Those points are then added up, and divided by a team's number of games. Teams are ranked by this averaged number.

They have been used by football in some way — whether that's seeding, determining qualifiers, etc. — ever since. Three years ago, baseball also started to use them.

At that time, baseball determined its postseason field entirely upon automatic qualifiers. As it happened, one team in Class 5A many thought was good enough to be in the postseason was left out. (They also had a good pitcher, so the thinking was they would've actually gone deep into the postseason, too.) So that team's league then proposed using Wild Card points to help determine postseason fields. (There's a more detailed version of how Wild Card points are used in baseball available here.)

"The committee was attempting to strengthen the quality of teams in the playoffs," said CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann, who oversees baseball, and actually helped calculate Wild Card points for football in the mid-90s.

Things have slightly evolved since then — for instance, win totals for out-of-state opponents who play more than 19 games are now determined by winning percentage — but that's essentially where we are now.

In my view, Wild Card points only go an inch deep to determining a team's strength. It supposes that all 16-3 teams are created equal, so long as they're in the same classification. What if one of those 16-3 teams played a very weak schedule, and the other a very tough schedule? Clearly, the team that went 16-3 against a tougher schedule is better.

What's scarier, though, is that some coaches have figured out how to game the formula, and have scheduled accordingly.

For example, many teams simply went out and scheduled a high number of out-of-state opponents which equate to 5A enrollment in Colorado. This boosts their Wild Card points, even if they lose. And this is especially prevalent in 4A, where additional 5A games carry a big weight.

There was even an example within the last week of someone creating a false email accounts and using them to pose as an out-of-state team in order to falsely request a forfeit. This appears to be yet another attempt to game the system. (And is currently being dealt with by the CHSAA office.)

"If you're a mathematician, or your plan your schedule right, you can manipulate this system," Borgmann said.

Teams in big leagues are at a disadvantage, as well. For starters, they get less of an opportunity to schedule those precious out-of-state games. A bigger problem, though, is the fact that nearly every game played in their league cancels itself out.

If Team A beats Team B, and Team C has played both of them, one of their opponents is getting a loss, and the other is getting a win. Every time. This happens with every league game.

In a non-league scenario, let's say Team C has also played Team D and Team E. Well, Team D and Team E can both play on the same day, and both gain wins as they won't necessarily be playing one another — which will help Team C's Wild Card points.

There are specific glaring examples in this season's Wild Card points. Not to pick on a particular team, but Monarch in 5A currently sits at No. 4 in the standings. The Coyotes, who are 14-3-1, have had a great season. Their three losses are to Rocky Mountain, Fort Collins and Fairview. And Monarch sits in front of each of them in the Wild Card points.

Worse, Fairview (16-3) actually won the league. And they sit behind not only Monarch, but also Rocky Mountain, a team they also beat. Rocky Mountain is No. 8. Fairview sits in tenth — which means that barring a late change of the standings, the Knights will not host a district this weekend.

There are others. In 4A, Palisade (16-3) beat Durango (6-13) in April, yet Durango is No. 8, and Palisade is No. 10. This is largely due to the fact that Durango has played many more 5A opponents because it plays in the classification-mixed Southwestern League.

Or take Lewis-Palmer (16-2), which sits in No. 12, right behind No. 11 Air Academy (14-4), a team it beat twice just last week.

In any case, it's easy complain about a system and detail its faults. But here's the solution: a modified version of a Ratings Percentage Index, commonly known an RPI.

Football seems destined to move toward this system, which is proven across many high school states, as well as by both the NCAA and NAIA. The soccer committee, too, is interested in using it. Volleyball, softball and basketball may also consider it at upcoming meetings.

An RPI takes into account an team's winning percentage, their opponents' winning percentage, as well as their opponents' opponents' winning percentage. Already, this is a level deeper than Wild Card points.

A modified RPI can sprinkle in other factors for accuracy, such as the venue of a game (home, away, neutral), if a team was ranked by a coaches poll at the time of a game, and so on. These only serve to further add data, and increase the accuracy of a formula to determine a team's relative strength.

Furthermore, I don't believe that games against out-of-state opponents belong in the calculation when it comes to qualifying for and seeding an in-state tournament. I'm not saying teams shouldn't play out-of-state games, because I believe there is immense value in playing them, just that they shouldn't be factored in.

"Even entering this season, the committee has tried to look ahead to the challenges of finding a more balanced and simplified approach to playoff qualification and seeding," Borgmann said on Tuesday. "We know that no one system is perfect, but we do know that the current system may have more flaws that previously anticipated."

The state membership, in recent years, has been calling for a consistent approach in a playoff qualification system across all sports. Well, here's our chance.