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An Interview with

David Rothman
FACT College Football Standings
College Football
BCS member
2001

YL: You have covered my main concern of using computer ratings in  determining the teams that actually deserve honor at the end of the season. It seems to be a concern of yours whether many computer rating systems are objective. You have laid out the basics of your system for the world to consider. You have also put a lot of effort into getting the powers that be to use such a system. What would be the perfect setup in your eyes? Would a single system like yours be adequate or do you think it should be a select group of systems? If so, which ones would you choose in a perfect world?

David: FACT's system of standings should be sufficient for regulation of college football. My program is in the public domain, so any school would be able to reproduce FACT's ranking in seconds. A coach would be able to compute the exact margin his team would need to get a certain ranking if other games were already finished. FACT's rankings do not depend on date of games, home field, or any information supplied by outside data or intuition. Only the margin of the score and the identity of the opponent is used, the basic minimum for meaningful rankings. And there will never be ties (except in a very rare situation like NESCAC, which plays no games out of conference). Not only could the BCS organization rely on the standings produced in this fashion, but all the other championship playoffs in college football (NCAA I-AA, II, & III, and NAIA), with only the modification of limits on the number of schools from a conference, could use the same standings to select participants. And FACT has developed a methodology to compute the size of the field. That field is incredibly inflated in basketball (64!), but even college football playoffs would be cut to about half the current size.

YL: What is FACT and when and how did it develop?

David: FACT is the Foundation for the Analysis of Competitions and Tournaments, a California DBA for the purpose of doing research on tournament design and analysis. FACT has issued recommended asymmetric tie-breakers for Swiss-systems (used mainly in chess and go), but almost all studies are on college football as a demonstration, because that is the sport with the sparsest incidence matrix, and therefore the greatest difficulty in ranking. This DBA name was registered in the late 1970s, but I have never bothered to renew the registration.

YL: How influential do you think computer ratings will be in the future? How long do you think it will be before playoff teams might be decided strictly by some rating system?

David: In the same way that games won/games played is the standard formula for any partially or completely balanced tournament, some more complex formula, most likely mine, will become the one used for tournaments with the sparse incidence matrices seen in many college sports like basketball and football. These standings are already available for any enlightened sports administrator, since the program is not proprietary, has been given away to several people as a result of e-mail requests, and has been presented to several meetings of my peers (in the profession of mathematical statistics). The selection of playoff teams, however, is an issue freighted with even more politics, since income and recruitment can be affected after a teams gets an invitation.
    Furthermore, I have developed only heuristic rules to limit number of teams from any conference (as a function of total invitations). My guess is that the committee members in the various sports presently in control of invitations will not voluntarily cede this power for decades, until they verify to their own satisfaction that my formula will cause less grief in the long run than the risk of personal bias in selection.

YL: How would you describe your profession?

David: We mathematical statisticians devise rules for quantitative inference from data. This allows us to design surveys and experiments for optimal acquisition of information. A playoff tournament is an experimental design which can be optimized in this fashion. But a design in sports has to be specified before we begin the regular season, so we won't know exactly how many teams will be at the top by the end of the season. In addition, there will be practical constraints of an educational nature (teams can take a limited time away from their studies) and a commercial nature (schools will not want to lose too much money to be champion in some sports). The regular season is designed by the schools, not by statisticians. In this case we must be prepared to handle data of any kind, including conferences which refuse to play any outsiders (incomparability). FACT's solution is to list such conferences as having "arbitrary location parameter" with respect to other teams.

YL: What are your favorite sports teams and/or players?

David: I'm sorry, but one of the requests made by the BCS administrators is that we panelists abjure indications of favoritism in college football. And I have almost no interest in other college or professional sports.

YL: That's too bad. I suppose they think this is a good safeguard. I guess I couldn't be in the BCS because even though my teams aren't doing so well, I still get excited when they win. What are your hobbies and interests?

David: The main dedication of my life has been reform of the United States constitution and devising concepts for such analysis. I have given many talks around Los Angeles on the subject (twice at the UCLA political science department), and I've also proposed innovations for both the EU and UN charters. I attend many social science seminars at UCLA, USC, and RAND hoping to pick up new ideas (and free food). My major hobby has been genealogy, and my work on the Marx brothers was credited in a book by Simon Louvish, "Monkey Business" (1999). I've supplied him with material on Laurel and Hardy for his next book, and I am now working on the family of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman with the cooperation of the family. I am fascinated by the whole Marx family, and hope to make a film history from Minnie's arrival as a teenager in New York City to Groucho's death. I am a past member of the American Statistical Association and the Prometheus Society.

YL: You are a busy man. I'm surprised you have any free time at all. Where do you call home?

David: I've lived in the same apartment in Hawthorne, in Los Angeles County, since 1974.

YL: You must have your life pretty stable. You have told us a good deal about your visions, opinions, and yourself. Now you get to have your say. Is there anything else you feel the world needs to know?

David: Can't think of anything.

We would like to thank Mr. Rothman for this interview.
His web site can be found at http://www.cae.wisc.edu/~dwilson/rsfc/rate/rothman.html


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