The Power Ranking system used by the OSAA has been a roller coaster for many, drawing critizism from coaches, players and fans alike. According to the Association, that may be about to change.
I suppose it's a simple reaction to say that nothing comes easy.
St. Helens' softball team lost 5-2 to Rex Putnam on Wednesday evening, adding a damper to the Lions' hopes of finishing in the top eight spots in the power rankings and hosting a first-round playoff game. St. Helens still has a chance to tie for the league title, a major achievement as the Northwest Oregon Conference could easily be regarded as the best softball conference in all of Class 5A.
But wait a second, let's unpack all that: Co-champions of the best league, and they aren't even guaranteed a spot in the 16-team bracket?
Something is wrong here. Even with a win in the season finale, the Lions could finish ninth and be forced to host a play-in game in order to advance to the OSAA championships.
The winner of the best conference in 5A softball should be rewarded and protected by the OSAA. Instead, they'll have to fight for it.
And that's not to say the Lions don't have it in them. Junior Mariah Mulcahy seems to feel invincible even after pitching three days in a row, and when they've got enough rest, St. Helens can match up with anyone in the state.
I just don't think they should have to. According to Peter Weber, assistant executive director of the OSAA and the overseer of the committee in charge of the power rankings, it was the Class 5A athletic directors who voted to make postseason eligibility all about power rankings. Other classifications, like 4A where Scappoose has thrived, reward teams for their finish in their respective division. The conference champion is given a bye for the play-in round and is moved directly into the 16-team bracket. Seeding is still determined by the power rankings, but if you win your league, you're in.
That makes sense, doesn't it? Winning a league title, especially in a conference as tough as St. Helens,' is extremely difficult, and there should be something to show for it.
Now, there's still a chance a win over Parkrose would cement the Lions' spot in the first round, but the flaw in the system is clearly there. St. Helens is currently tied with Putnam atop the league standings ahead of Sandy and Liberty. All three will finish the season ranked ahead of the Lions, even though St. Helens split with Sandy and Putnam, and swept Liberty.
I get there is quite a lot of weight placed on getting good preseason opponents, but it's bothersome that the race is more about getting a bump in the power rankings than it is about becoming a better team. The programs who want a high seed at the end of the season are forced to schedule brutally difficult teams in the preseason and – like college football – a single loss can destroy a teams' hopes.
There simply needs to be a better system for the OSAA, who are planning on making changes to the power rankings as they've done routinely since the rankings were instituted back in 2010.
A coaches poll and higher weights to league games have both been loosely tossed around as ideas by the power rankings committee, which is made up of eight coaches and athletic directors from around the state, but nothing has taken hold, according to Weber, who said the committee expects to implement a component to the power ranking system that would make in-division games more important and would add better accuracy.
I know the OSAA is aware of these kinds of discrepancies. Weber said they check the final rankings for accuracies at the end of the season: if a seven-seed lost to an eight-seed, it's an inaccurate ranking and they look at ways to make it better.
Just be sure you have a working pen in hand when taking a look at the Northwest Oregon Conference. You'll be needing it.