Here’s a list of some numbers that are important: wins, losses, ERA, runs scored and runs allowed. Here’s a number that isn’t important: the one that’s placed in front of your team name.
Ask any coach out there and he or she will probably tell you that rankings don’t matter, or that it’s "nice to be recognized but we don’t pay attention to that." Ask any player, and they’ll give you a similar response if their team is ranked, but if they’re not, they question why.
Last week I spoke to several Lakeview Academy baseball players who felt insulted that their team didn’t crack the latest Top 10 poll, yet their region counterparts Athens Academy did. Those players used it as motivation for a game that was ultimately cancelled by rain, but they didn’t really need to do so.
Rankings in high school athletics are downright pointless. Unlike in college football, where a ranking actually determines a winner, in high school, the number that precedes your school’s name is nothing but a number.
The people that vote on these rankings — some coaches and some sports writers — don’t have the information or research tools that are needed when concluding which team is better than the next. For the most part — and I can say this because I know people who vote in these polls — deciding which teams get ranked is more of a result of guesswork than of quantitative research.
Take the sports writers for example.
We here at The Times have the luxury of watching the teams that we cover and the teams that those teams compete against, yet we are also asked to take part in the Georgia Sportswriters Association poll that ranks teams in all classifications, not just the ones in our own backyard. While we are certainly knowledgeable when it comes to what’s going on outside our area, we certainly aren’t afforded the opportunity to get out to games and see first hand how good these teams actually are. So we look at records, who the team played against and how they were ranked the week before; that’s not exactly the best way to decide a ranking. And if we’re ranking teams like this, it’s safe to say the other publications involved in the polls are doing the same thing.
The same can be said for the umpteen coaches polls that are out there. Sure coaches have more access to game film and can network across classifications to find out which team is the best, but really, how many coaches do you know that can find the time to do all that research? For those that do, congratulations for doing your due diligence. For those who don’t, it’s understandable. Everyone knows you have several other things to keep you busy, like trying to win.
And really winning is what high school sports should be all about, but recently we (society in general) have been caught up in rankings and polls and other useless things that take away from the actual play itself.
Teams shouldn’t concern themselves with whether they are ranked or not, they should focus on playing their best and winning.
After all if you continue to win, you’ll be rewarded with the one ranking that really matters: a No. 1 that will come with winning a state title.
Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. His columns appear each Monday in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.