The Skowhegan Area High School girls basketball team poses with the gold ball after winning the Maine Class A girls state championship game at the Cross insurance Arena in Portland on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

If you’ve been checking the early season Heal Points, you’ve undoubtedly noticed they look a bit weird. These aren’t your grandfather’s Heal Points. They aren’t even your big sister’s Heal Points. The numbers are all over the place.

The Thornton Academy girls already have a tournament index of 210 after 1 game. That’s enough to virtually guarantee the No. 1 seed. The Skowhegan girls also have an index of 200. As do the Brunswick girls. And Cape Elizabeth. The list goes on.

This is a recent phenomenon. Like most awful changes, this can be traced back to the pandemic.

When COVID made it impossible to have a statewide tournament, the Maine Principals’ Association abdicated any responsibility for the 2020-21 season, stepping back and leaving schools to fend for themselves. That didn’t stop it from taking $184,555 in PPP loans (according to ProPublica.org) for its six taxpayer-funded employees who didn’t organize a tournament or even bother to maintain a website with scores and schedules.

Conferences cobbled together their own seasons and tournaments, using their own methods, some more creative than others. When the MPA eventually came back to work, it created an allowance for scheduling. Games would very likely get canceled because of COVID infections, so teams weren’t expected to play all 18 games. Dozens did anyway. After all, the kids had been through enough already. They didn’t need even more games taken away.

One of those allowances seemed minor: because it was impossible to know how many games a team would end up playing, the MPA started calculating Heal Points using a denominator of games played instead of the standard games scheduled. This would function as a shortcut for the MPA, as it wouldn’t have to keep track of which postponed games wouldn’t be played and wouldn’t have to adjust a team’s scheduled game total when a game was canceled.

This seems minor. It isn’t.

It’s a small amount of work. I managed to do it during the COVID year in my spare time with zero employees.

The floating divisor leads to wild fluctuations in the standings and when you have wild fluctuations in the standings, teams start getting ideas. Ideas like not playing games, even if there were mutual open days on the calendar.

And that’s exactly what happened — teams realized they would benefit from not playing.

The math is simple. Let’s say your Tournament Index is 75.0000 and you’re neck and neck with another school. You’ve got a game left against a team with only one win. Under the normal method, if you win that game, your Tournament Index will go up. Not very much, but it’ll go up.

But under the method the MPA used last year and is using this year, if you win that game, your Tournament Index will go down. Winning actually hurts you. So, do you want to get on the bus so your junior varsity athletes can play the entire second half and then you have to go into the play-in round, or do you want to stay home and go directly to Bangor?

Something as small as this could be the difference between being the No. 5 seed or the No. 7. Or even making the play-in round.

It didn’t take long for teams to figure this out. There were rumors of it in early January and in the constant chatter among coaches, but before you think this is wild speculation, there were teams that went on the record in the Portland Press Herald saying they decided to not play games on their schedule in favor of practice. Practice! Not a game. Practice! Meanwhile, the Gardiner girls were playing a literal doubleheader that included a winless Camden Hills team that hurt their Tournament Index.

Again, some people will do the right thing and some won’t.

In all, only 43 percent of teams played a full schedule.

The MPA watched all this (presumably) and decided to use that system again.

It’s insane.

But I have a theory. They have a new (terrible) website. They’ve gone back to pre-COVID standards for everything but Heal Points. The floating divisor is very unpopular. Is it possible they can’t change it back? My mother-in-law can’t figure out how to get Netflix to work on her new TV. Maybe they’re stuck with it? Because there’s no reason to use this broken, illogical system.

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Lucas McNelly, Sports Contributor

Lucas McNelly is a filmmaker, writer, and the basketball data nerd behind MaineBasketballRankings.com. He lives in Damariscotta with his wife and their three kids.