Another basketball season comes to an end and the waiting game begins. A committee gathers round a large conference table. Merits and demerits of teams are discussed. Is Team A with a better record more worthy than Team B, which may have won fewer games but has more high quality wins? What about the all important eye test? Which teams will move on to play for the championship while others will see their dreams come crashing to an end?
This scene will take place in just over a month’s time in preparation for the greatest three week sporting event on the national calendar: March Madness, otherwise known as the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Generations ago this was also the method used for selecting teams to participate in one of our state’s annual pastimes: the high school basketball tournament. The process began to change in 1950, thanks to a gentlemen by the name of Durward Heal.
According to information gathered at mainebasketballhalloffame.com, Mr. Heal developed his point system for objectively measuring the strength of the state’s basketball teams in 1947. Heal was an athletic director at Bangor High School and later became principal at East Millinocket’s Schenck High School. Heal’s system not only is used for basketball but has become the standard measuring tool for the majority of sports under the auspices of the Maine Principals’ Association.
If you have followed the high school sports scene in Maine closely for a number of years you may have a solid handle on Mr. Heal’s system. However, if you played the game, stepped away for a time, and now have children participating, you may be a bit unfamiliar with these quirky points. You instinctively know a team with a better record in a higher class is worth more than other teams on their schedule. How exactly are these points calculated? It’s a question I’m asked often so here is the definitive answer.
The compilation of Heal Points is derived from two formulas. The first is the preliminary index or what will further be referred to as PI. The second is the tournament index or TI. The PI is in essence the value of a team. This is irrespective of the quality of a squad’s opposition, except for the classification of a team’s opponents. Each class is assigned a base PI.
This year the base PI’s are as follows: Class AA 42.00, Class A 40.00, Class B 38.00, Class C 36.00, and Class D 34.00. Originally, the base PI differentials were set 10 points apart, or 10, 20, 30, and 40. In the late 1970’s, during the energy crunch with an objective to encourage more local contests, the differentials were reduced to five. To further attempt to cut back on travel costs, now under the new five class system, the PI gap between classes stands at two. While this encourages larger schools to pick up schools from smaller classifications on their schedule, I’m not sure how it promotes playing schools with larger enrollments. After all, it does take two to tango. But that’s another argument for another day, I guess.
To calculate the team’s value or PI, simply add the base PI’s of every team they have defeated and divide by the total number of games on their schedule. I’ll use the John Bapst girls as an example. The Crusaders currently sit in sixth place in Class B North with a 10-6 record. Eight of their wins were against Class B opponents while they have two wins over a Class C team. Since the base PI in Class B is 38, take 38 and multiply by 8, which comes to 304. Class C’s base PI is 36 so multiply 36 by 2 for 72. 304 plus 72 equals 376. John Bapst plays eighteen games so take 376 and divide by 18. The Crusader girls current PI or value is 20.88889.
Next, to calculate a team’s TI, which is how teams are ultimately ranked, simply add the PI of all the opponents that team has defeated, divide by the total number of games on the schedule, and multiply by ten. I’ll once again use the John Bapst girls as an example and calculate their TI.
John Bapst Girls Victories and Opponent’s PI
- Ellsworth 23.0000
- Hermon 19.0000
- Caribou 6.2222
- Old Town 2.1111
- Mattanawcook 14.5556
- Central 18.8889
- Foxcroft 18.8889
- Orono 8.3333
- Bucksport (x2) 9.7778 or 19.5556
130.5556 Divide by 18 Multiply by 10 __________________________________ John Bapst’s current TI is 72.5309
Note that a winless team, regardless of class, will have a preliminary index of 1.0000. If a team schedules fewer than twelve games in a season, their divisor will be twelve in calculating both PI and TI.
Of course in this modern computer age, Heal Points are updated each night as each school’s administrators enter game results. Most game observers are not going to spend time calculating the points by hand. There is no need to. Questions do arise, especially during the last week or two of the season, projecting what teams may need to do to move up the standings. Of course a team doesn’t exist in its own vacuum, results for other teams matter as well. There are a couple of quick shortcuts that can be used in order to project where a team may stand if they should continue to win.
Let’s go back to our example of the John Bapst girls. They will be back in action Tuesday night at the Cross Insurance Center versus Washington Academy. WA currently has a PI of 12.2222. Once again, the TI is determined by taking the sum of PIs of all wins, dividing by 18 and multiplying by 10. Dividing by 18 and multiplying by 10 is equivalent to multiplying by 5/9 or .55556. If John Bapst should defeat WA on Tuesday, they would take WA’s PI or 12.2222 multiply by .55556 and add that total of 6.7902 to their present TI.
In addition, as the opponents a team has defeated win games later on, that school also picks up additional Heal Points. These are often referred to as “help points”. An easy way to calculate potential help is to look at who a team’s opponents will play. For example: the Mattanawcook and Orono girls play each other on Tuesday night. John Bapst has defeated each of those teams once earlier in the season. Whoever wins that game will increase their PI. Since each team plays in Class B, the winner’s PI will increase by 2.1111 points or 38 /18. To calculate John Bapst’s updated TI, take 2.1111 multiply by .55556 and add it to their present TI. Regardless of the results of Tuesday night’s games, the John Bapst girls will receive an extra 1.1729 tournament points.
As an aside, I’m guessing there were not too many math teachers on the committee when the Heal Points were tweaked into their current format. There is a quirk in the system where a team can actually benefit by losing to a winless opponent, provided the teams play multiple times. Here is how this could happen: Team A earlier in the season defeats Team B. Team B has not won a game all season. These two teams meet again in the final game of the season. Team A is on the edge of making the tournament. Remember, a team that is winless has a PI of 1.0000. Let’s say for instance these are two Class A programs who each play an eighteen game schedule.
If Team A beats Team B twice they will add 1.1112 points to their TI (1 X 2) then (2 X .55556), which equals 1.1112. However, if Team A loses to Team B in their season finale, Team B’s PI jumps to 2.2222 or 40 divided by 18. Since Team A beat Team B earlier in the season, Team A receives help points of 2.2222 X .55556 or 1.2346. To alleviate this, since the Heal Point base differential is only two points between classes, how about lowering the highest base PI from the current 42 to 30? Since 99 percent of the teams play at least sixteen games, once you divide out, a one win team would have a PI of less than two. Either that or raise the PI for a winless team to 1.5, or more than half that of a team with only one win.
Over the past sixty plus years many armchair point guards have advocated to replace the Heal Points. While the current points may not be perfect, I have yet to see a better proposal. Many of the arguments stem from a lack of understanding. Hopefully, this will take the mystery out of the system so you can have a better idea where your favorite team might stand when tourney time rolls around.