December 3, 2020

Jecha Jabber: ‘Heads Or Tails’

The “coin toss” has long been a scapegoat of sports fans. Prior to this year, when an NFL game went into sudden-death overtime, a coin toss would determine who received possession of the ball first. The team that won the toss would usually win the game as well. All they had to do was move halfway down the field and kick a field goal.

The NFL has since changed that rule to take away some power of the coin.

The St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference may soon do the same with their playoff seeding tie-breaker system.

Jecah Jabber is a biweekly column by Galaxy GM Ryan Jecha.

After a series of tie-breakers over the years coming down to a coin flip, coaches and members of the SLIAC will come together to discuss possible changes to the process.

The current tie-breaker system for playoff seeding in the SLIAC tournament looks complex on its face. There are eight steps used, the last being a coin toss. Some of the criteria used before going to a coin toss include head-to-head records between the tied teams, success against the rest of the conference and Quality of Wins Index.

That may seem viable, but in reality, most of the tied teams end up reaching a dead heat with these tie-breaker steps. The teams that are tied usually beat the same teams and lose to the same teams, so the tie-breakers really do not break many ties.

That’s what happened this year in women’s soccer.

When the regular season concluded last week, three women’s soccer teams were tied for first place in the SLIAC (Webster University, Principia College, and Fontbonne University). Their only losses had come against each other, rendering the first seven of eight tie-breaker steps useless. A three-way coin toss determined the top three seeds for the tournament.

Webster walked away with the third seed, meaning they would have to start the tournament on the road. The team had every reason to be upset.

The Webster women’s soccer team would go on to win the tournament, but even with the results working out in Webster’s favor, the team still isn’t content with the process.

“The tie-breaker situation currently is obviously not perfect,” women’s head soccer coach Luigi Scire said. “Everyone involved in the process, we all agreed to (the current tie-breaker system). It is on our agenda.”

Some coaches have expressed interest in sport-specific tie-breakers. Soccer ties could be decided by goal differential, baseball and softball by run differential and so on.

In a three-way tie, Scire discussed the possibility of looking at goal differential in head-to-head match-ups between the tied teams.

“If you look at the score this year, there would have been a clear-cut No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3,” Scire said. “I think everyone would have been happy and satisfied with that.”

In head-to-head match-ups this year between the three tied teams, Principia had a +1 goal differential, Webster was even, and Fontbonne was -1. Principia also had the highest SLIAC goal differential this season with +39 (Webster was +32, Fontbonne was +13).

Looking at the statistics and how dominant a team was outside of just wins and losses seems to be the popular and right choice to break these ties and truly determine playoff seeding in the conference. Scire and the rest of the SLIAC coaches are working to make that a reality.

“I think we’ll make those adjustments so in the future it’s predicated on your performance and not the toss of a coin,” Scire said.

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