Editorial: MaxPreps ranking system harms student-athletes

Dani Wallace

MaxPreps is the system that most states use to rank and compare high school sports teams. The flaws within its ranking system have significant consequences for student athletes and their teams. 

Locally, it’s used by the DCIAA and DCSAA. MaxPreps rankings are calculated using a few different types of information, including record, ranking, +/–, and schedule strength. The more you win, the higher you rank. The stronger the opponents, the more the win counts. If you lose to a team who is ranked lower than you, that loss costs more in their algorithm. That makes sense.

Unlike the ranking systems used for many college sports, MaxPreps doesn’t take into account past seasons, returning players, or any prior team accomplishments. What I would like to know, as someone who follows these reports and rankings consistently, is how the strength of each team is found if MaxPreps supposedly doesn’t judge from any prior seasons.

As a member of Jackson-Reed’s volleyball team, my fate is in the hands of the MaxPreps system. Ending this season, we were ranked below Banneker, who we beat soundly in our first game of the season (25-4, 25-2), just before the state bracket was released. Not only was that frustrating for us, but it was also pretty confusing, as we were clearly the better team and deserved to be ranked above them. In the regular season, the Banneker girls volleyball team had a record of 10-2, losing only to us and School Without Walls, but Banneker had only played DCIAA opponents. We had a record of 19-1, but also played highly competitive non-DCIAA opponents.

In the rankings released prior to the DCSAA tournament, the Tigers were ranked second and the Banneker Bulldogs were ranked third, both higher than the St. John’s Cadets (ranked fourth), who prior to the 2021 season had won every DCSAA title for girls volleyball since the 2012. Presumably this higher ranking was because Banneker had a better win/loss record than St. Johns, but anyone knowledgeable about high school volleyball in the DMV knows that St John’s plays in the competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) and is a much stronger team than Banneker.

We should not rely just on computers for our school sports rankings. I want someone to care as much as I do about the rankings, especially as someone who pours hours into doing what I love, playing volleyball. Having input from local coaches or someone from the MaxPreps staff come watch and report on each team’s performance would change their rankings for the better, resulting in more accurate state tournament seedings, and allowing more student-athletes in DC to pursue sports in college. 

Sadly, athletes who are on poorly ranked teams don’t get looked at by college recruiters. A bad ranking system, like MaxPreps, can bury a good athlete under a bad team. A change in the input system that takes into account the details on the court that computers can’t would allow athletes to be recognized for their work and receive attention from the press and college recruiters. 

I want to pursue volleyball in college. But I worry if something doesn’t change in the MaxPreps system, the Jackson-Reed team will continue to be underestimated, and my dream will fall victim to a faulty algorithm.•