An Interview with
YL: As far as I can tell, you have about the most extensive informational resource on college football on the Internet. If not the most extensive, certainly the most useful. What compelled you to start such a massive project?
David: The site was started in 1993 by John Midtgard (Nyarlathotep) who was then a student at the University of Florida. In that year my rating system became the first one on the site. In 1995 he graduated and no longer had time to keep up the site. He asked for volunteers to take over the site and selected me from those that responded. I did not want the best place to post my system to disappear from the web. In 1997 I was invited to join the WWW Virtual Library (http://www.vlib.org/), the original web portal founded by Tim Berners-Lee. During the football season, the site takes me about 4 hours a week to maintain.
YL: Can you describe your ratings as predictive or retrodictive?
YL: What factors are the most important in determining the strength of a team?
David: Its win/loss record and the ratings of the opponents. The system does not use margin of victory or home field advantage.
YL: I have seen your explanation of your list. I believe
your intention is to provide an alternate method of determining which teams
should have the highest places in the bowls. Since your ratings are
retrodictive, it gives all the teams a fair shake in the way it is tallied. I
have always thought the problem in solving the tangled web is to limit the
number of teams in any conference and only have the winners of each conference
play in a playoff. However, your system works around that problem very well.
Each week I check its retrodictive score on Kenneth Massey's Comparison Page and
I can't recall a time it didn't have the best one.
David: I don't have any such solution. Personally, I don't mind the uncertainty of the National Championship. The lack of playoffs makes the computer-based ranking systems much more interesting.
YL: Do you see computer ratings as only an interesting source of information or do you think they will continue to play an increasing role in determining the bowl/playoff teams?
David: I feel that the sportswriters and coaches polls are highly subjective. I certainly hope that computer ratings play an increasing role in determining the bowl/playoff teams? Half of the BCS (count of losses + strength of schedule) could also be viewed as a computer rating system. As such, it is one of the most lame computer rating system I've seen. I do hope that the weight given to this part of the BCS is reduced and the weight given to the computer ratings is increased.
YL: I certainly agree with that. I can sort of see the win-loss factor, though I don't favor it, but don't you think the strength of schedule is a bit redundant? Do you suppose the BCS thinks the polls and computers haven't considered all these things in their ratings/rankings?
David: I suspect that the BCS people wanted to use something easily understood for that part of their calculation. Our computer ranking systems are not always that easy to follow, though I have tried hard to make my own system both understandable and valid. Personally, I think the BCS can drop the loss count and strength of schedule sections and go with just the polls and computer rankings. However, they may then feel like they're losing control.
YL: What would you describe as your profession?
David: Computer programmer.
YL: Other than which team is best, what other problems do you attempt to conquer? What are your interests outside computer programming?
David: I read Scientific American each month. In books, I read a lot of history-- I'm currently reading "The Anchor Atlas of World History, Vol. I". I have recently worked on analyzing the dots-and-boxes game. However, that's not really an interest outside of computer programming.
YL: I read Scientific American, too. You basically like to learn and to solve problems. I can relate to that. Do you follow any particular sports? If so, what teams or players do you like?
David: I follow University of Wisconsin football, the Packers and chess. There was some talk about making chess an Olympic sport, but many masters don't like the requirement that they give up caffeine while competing in the Olympics. Caffeine is considered a performance enhancing drug.
YL: That brings up an interesting conversation we'll only touch lightly upon here. What is a sport? I'm a big fan of chess but I don't know whether I would categorize it as a sport. How would you go about defining a 'sport'? I've even heard an extremist say that if there was no ball involved, it's not a sport. My own opinion is that a sport, even if it's a mental one, has to have two sides - one attempting to accomplish a goal and one to try to stop that goal from being accomplished. Call me an extremist.
David: I think a sport requires competition. Without competition, synchronized swimming, for example, becomes a show rather than a sport. But are politics, Wall Street and big business sports? I'm not sure.
YL: What else does the world need to know about David Wilson and where do you call home?
David: Home is Madison, Wisconsin. I've already told the world a lot about me on: http://www.cae.wisc.edu/~dwilson/homepage.shtml.
We would like to thank Mr. Wilson for this interview. His web site can be found at http://www.cae.wisc.edu/~dwilson/
If you want to do your own research into rating teams, visit David Wilson's great list of NCAA Football Ratings.
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