An Interview with
note: Dr. Erik Packard no longer does sports ratings due to an unfortunate event. We hope to see him return someday.
YL: What would you describe as your profession?
Erik: Professor of mathematics.
YL: Mathematics for the most part is an exact science. Whatever caused you to get into such a fickle are as rating sports teams?
Erik: I went to college at Texas Tech and noticed that every year Texas and Texas A&M automatically got to start the season in the Top 25, while Texas Tech had to more than earn a ranking. I then set about myself to set up a ranking system that would eliminate the bias of name recognition.
YL: When did you begin this project and what do you consider to be the most important factors?
Erik: I started around 1988 and around 1995 started posting on the internet. The only factors I include are date of game, final score, and home team or neutral site. What are some of the important factors of my system? Well, if teams do better than the system expects they move up. If a team is supposed to lose and they win they move up a lot. If a team is supposed to win by a lot and they win by a whole bunch, they move up a little bit. If a team is supposed to win by a little, say 7 points, they can still move up if they almost win by 7 points, say 5 points. If teams you play do well that will help your team out. These all seem to be things raters in polls take into consideration, so I include them in my system. The polls, however, take name recognition into account, they can't avoid it, it's human nature. They also may take into account injuries and turnovers and such. It doesn't bother me that I don't, because those are part of the game. Another important factor of my system is that more recent games count more than games played earlier in the season. Also, my preseason ratings are simply the end of the last season's ratings. After a few games, the preseason ratings have basically no effect.
YL: That sounds like my system except that my ratings do change for preseason - only very slightly. I don't think it's the job description of a rating system to take injuries and such into consideration as it is only supposed to rank teams in the order of their quality and skill. Any changes will obviously become evident in later games. What do you think is the future of computer ratings?
Erik: I think there could be more and more people interested in seeing computer ratings. More newspapers printing rankings, and for even high school sports. There are a couple of problems though. One is that people don't understand how sophisticated computer rankings can be. Many people have heard of the RPI. If I understand the RPI right, it is possible to move down by just playing a weaker team, even if you beat them by 200 points. If people see computer ranking systems having such glaring oddities, they won't become more popular. Another problem is that there are computer ranking systems that give some pretty odd results. I won't mention any by name, but some get some press and hurt the name computer ranking. By the way, I was surprised that the BCS made computer rankings part of its system. I would love to be part of it, but also find it disturbing that a national champion isn't completely decided on the field. But computers are probably better than politics.
YL: Outside the ratings, what are your favorite sports and teams?
Erik: Track and Field and Distance Running. Not really any favorite teams. I root for the local teams, and teams I think aren't getting the respect they deserve.
YL: What interests do you have outside rating sports teams?
Erik: Running, Mountaineering, Cycling, X-country skiing, time with my family and cats.
YL: Where do you call home and what else should we know about Dr. Erik Packard?
Erik: Home is Mesa, Colorado (near Grand Junction). I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. I'm married with a 2 year old daughter and another one on the way. I've climbed Mt McKinley in Alaska, and Aconcagua in Argentina, and over 200 peaks in Colorado.
YL: That's impressive. I remember the story about the man, when asked why he wanted to climb a mountain, said: Because it's there. He fell off a mountain later. Sort of reminds me of picking college bowls.
We would like to thank Dr. Packard for this interview. His web site can be found at http://mesastate.edu/~epackard/
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