Since 1950, nations have crumbled while new nations have formed. Technology has advanced and families have generally become smaller. Despite the changes around the world, one constant on Maine’s high school athletics front has been Durward Heal’s point system. First adopted to rank basketball teams for tournament play, this system has expanded to include all team sports, minus football, under the auspices of the Maine Principals’ Association.
While this system has stood firm for over sixty-five years, Heal’s method is widely misunderstood and often maligned. About two months ago I posted how the Heals are calculated. If you missed it, the column is archived. This week I present evidence to show all doubters how well the Heal Points really do work.
In my travels to contests around the state, I invariably will run into people who will offer up “solutions” to the perceived unfairness of Heal points. These dreamed up “solutions” usually come packaged with another myriad of problems all their own.
One of the more interesting proposals I’ve heard floated up is to further divide the classes into more regions. Under this scenario each current north/south region would be divided into four divisions of four to five teams. They would play each other twice during the season and could schedule anyone outside their sub-region to complete their schedule. Under this suggestion the top two teams from each region would advance to the tournament site to meet up with the other six teams.
If you’ll recall, a system similar to this was tried in 2002, albeit still using the Heal point system. Each division was divided in half, using an open tournament format. The four remaining teams following preliminary play in each division went to the tournament site. In one instance a 4-14 team traveled to a school that went 6-12 during the regular season for a prelim match-up. The winner would actually earn the right to play at the Bangor Auditorium to face the number one seed, only to get beat by 56 points. Such a disaster was sub-regional play the MPA dumped the format after one year. And some want to actually go back to this system and further divide the regions, really?
Another idea I’ve heard touted is to play every team in your division once, since Heal Points supposedly are not fair. Folks that think this is a good idea: you do realize the vastness of our state, don’t you? Do you really think Deer Isle-Stonington, for instance, making several trips to northern Aroostook County, where several Northern Maine D schools are located makes sense? This in lieu of the opportunity to play home and home contests with schools closer geographically? If you think this is a good idea, let’s have your name and address and you people can pick up their increased transportation costs.
The Heal Points in fact do work. Despite teams playing unequal schedules, the points work exceptionally well. By the way, because all things are not equal does not mean the system is not fair. Longtime basketball historian Jamie Russell, who is currently the boys basketball coach at Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford, has collected data on the Heal Points. His data goes back to the 1960-61 season. I took some time to extrapolate on the information collected and came up with some astonishing conclusions in regards to the effectiveness of Heal points.
In order to make a solid argument using statistics one should have a sizable sample to validate their statements. I think fifty-six years of data would be considered a large enough sample size. We have forty-two years of data for girls basketball. Over all these years, in boys and girls basketball, east and west, number one seeds have won the regional championship over 53 percent of the time. A top three seed has won a regional championship at a whopping 86 percent clip. Of course the best team doesn’t always win a tournament. There are upsets along the way. The numbers shown demonstrate the system works with overwhelming consistency. There is not a randomness with how teams are seeded in relation to their quality based on these figures.
Since 2001, the open tournament or 2/3 rule has been in effect for fourteen tournaments, with a short lived return to the 50% rule for the 2010 and 2011 tournaments. 228 regional champions have been crowned in boys and girls basketball under the open tournament or 2/3 format. Want to venture a guess on how many titles have been won by teams who were seeded in the bottom half of their classification? If you guessed zero, you win the prize of the day. That’s right, zero. As is zilch. Nada. Not one. Surely, if the Heal Points are as flawed as some claim, at least one team in fourteen years who was unfairly seeded would have risen up and won a title.
While the system is admittedly a bit quirky, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the validity of Mr. Heal’s system. It is a system that has served our interscholastic athletic community well over the last sixty-five plus years. Despite its critics, no one has devised a better method to most accurately seed our state’s teams. It’s a system that’s stood the test of time and will likely to continue to be so for generations to come.