The Collector Store

The GAC Should Switch to Power-Ranking to Divide Sports Teams into Divisions [Editorial]

According to the GAC’s website, “The Gateway Athletic Conference (GAC) is comprised of 18 schools who have joined together for their mutual benefit.”

If this is true, the GAC should be concerned about the fairness and competitiveness of every sport and school within its jurisdiction, and in order to do so, they need to switch from putting their schools into divisions based on student enrollment to basing the divisions on a power-ranking system.There are more factors to consider when creating divisions within an athletics conference than just school size, and the GAC should take this into consideration if they want to create the most fair and competitive environment.

Take college football, for example. If teams were divided by their school enrollment, the University of Tennessee would likely end up in the same division as the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Both schools have just over 25,000 students enrolled, but Tennessee is ranked as one of the top teams in the nation while UMass is at the bottom. That wouldn’t make for fun, competitive football games. It would not be fun for the athletes or the spectators and there’s no real mutual benefit for anyone.

As of right now, the 18 schools in the GAC are divided into three divisions, North, Central and South. The six largest schools, including FHN, are in the South division, the six smallest are in the North division and the other six are in the Central division. While this seems fair so a school with around 600 students like Orchard Farm doesn’t have to play in games against Francis Howell High, which has nearly 2,000 students, there are other variables to consider when choosing which schools play competitively against each other.

A solution to this is to switch from dividing the schools by enrollment to enacting a power-ranking system in each sport, like the Suburban Conference in St. Louis. Not only are the schools put into divisions based on enrollment, but also taking other factors into consideration like athletics offered, competitive balance, competitive trends and diversity. This system is reevaluated every two years to keep play fair and competitive.

On the other hand, doing something like the European soccer leagues (Ted Lasso, anyone?) “promotion and relegation” system, where the divisions are reevaluated every season would also work. This moves the three highest-ranking teams from each division up, and the lowest three down. The highest and lowest two are automatically moved while the teams in 3rd-6th place play in a playoffs-style tournament to decide the third promotion. This allows the divisions to adapt to changes that have happened throughout the season by allowing teams that did well to prove themselves in a higher division and giving the teams that didn’t do as well a chance in a lower division.

The GAC should do a combination of both, where schools are divided the first year based on many factors, including enrollment, past team performance, diversity and each school’s emphasis on athletics. From then on, every two years, the schools’ divisions should be reevaluated to send the two highest-ranking teams up a division and the two lowest-ranking teams down a division.

Keeping the divisions the way they are is definitely easier for the GAC, considering the schools have been divided by enrollment since the conference’s founding back in 1971. With a power-ranked conference brings challenges and additional work. Each sport has different amounts of divisions based on how many schools have teams for that sport. Trying to schedule all of the different games while still having to keep track of which division a school is in from sport to sport is a large beast, but if a conference as large as the Suburban Conference can tackle it with over 30 teams, the GAC can too.

Switching to a power-ranked or promotion and relegation conference would not affect any state-wide tournaments either. The GAC is just that, an athletics conference, so it is only for in-season games. This could also benefit “worse” programs in the long run. If athletic directors and others in charge notice that a program is consistently performing poorly and losing games while in the worst division, it shows that change is needed.

Sports are all about being competitive. One of the biggest changes that would take place when implementing a more fair division system would be the amount of competition shown at games. For example, if a team was not doing well and was in the relegation zone, it would give the team a push to perform with more passion and therefore make the games more entertaining. Along with that, a team that was historically bad before switching to a power-ranked system would have the chance to prove itself in a division better tailored to them. All of that can be assured through power-ranking, making in-season games more fair, competitive and fun for both the players and spectators.

This isn’t an easy change to make. It took the Suburban Conference years to figure out the strategy that worked best for them, and even now they’re still adapting and reevaluating as they go. Having said that, the GAC should take what the Suburban Conference has learned so far which would take much less time to perfect. This might not be the end all be all for how to help with the unfair way the divisions are set up in the GAC, but something needs to change if the GAC wants its conference teams and games to stay competitive and “mutually benefit” everyone