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An Interview with

Richard Billingsley
College Football Research Center
NCAA Football
BCS Member
2002

YL:  When did you begin to rate teams?

Richard: Ray.... I started ranking teams in 1970, and really, it was out of frustration with the AP and Coaches Polls. I was only 14 in 1966 when I became an avid poll watcher. After all, these guys had a tremendous responsibility on their shoulders, one of determining the National Championship in College Football. It was obvious to me, even at such a young age, that overall, the majority of the sportswriters and Coaches did not take their responsibility seriously. There seemed to be no rules, and no rhyme or reason to their seeming madness. It didn't matter who won the game or who the competition was. The only thing that seemed to matter was a team's record, and traditionally how strong the program was. It really disappointed me that we, as a sports society, would tolerate such an injustice. It was obvious that the AP/Coaches Polls had become as much a part of the tradition as the game itself, flaws and all. They were Gospel. I just felt that there had to be a better way. I started fooling around with a mathematical system based on the strength of the opponent and the margin of victory in 1968. In 1970 I released my first weekly poll, just to friends, family, and basically anybody else that would listen.

YL:  I can understand your grief as I share it. It annoys me to no end to compare two weeks' polls to see so many teams in the same order this week as last. Seldom does a team pass another team that won. And we both know how certain unnamed teams don't fall very far when they lose and some teams can't get into the polls.

We know the most important factor to the polls is "Did the team win?" but what factors do you see as the most important?

Richard: Other than winning a game the most important factor without a doubt is the strength of the opponent. In previous years I moderately used the margin of victory as well, but recently removed that from the equation completely after recognizing over the years that scores are so deceiving. After the strength of the opponent I would say a team's record is next most important factor.

Keep in mind however, that my formula revolves around a series of "checks and balances" where a team's record, rating, rank, and strength of schedule are not allowed to completely overshadow one another. I believe this approach is unique in mathematical systems and is one reason why my rankings stand apart from most computer formulas.

YL: Do you go with a retrodictive or predictive type formula?

Richard: I've ALWAYS been amused with the statements "retrodictive and predictive." Could you explain to me what, in your opinion, is the difference between the two?

YL: According to what I’ve pieced together, predictive is a system that carries information  from the previous ratings into the new ones while retrodictive starts from scratch each time and goes through all the games treating each game equally. Thus, early in the season, the retrodictive ratings look really strange. If there’s anything beyond that, someone will have to enlighten me.

I read somewhere that there really is no legitimate term “retrodictive” and that it only exists in sports ratings. The originator – and I can’t recall who it was – didn’t know of a term so he added “retro-“ to “-dictive” to indicate that the ratings recalculate back to the beginning of the year. What do you think?

Richard: Thanks for the explanation. That sounds pretty close to what I've heard before, but I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.

In my formula each season carries the RANK of a team into the next season, although the RATING defaults to a pre-determined # that matches each teams rank. The #1 team at the end of 2001 will automatically start #1 in 2002, but will always start at a rating of 270, regardless of what they had accumulated over the previous year. The #1 team starts at 270, #2 at 269, #3 at 268, etc. That method allows each team to "earn" their starting RANK through their performance each year, but gives everyone a more equal footing to begin each season.

Each week the previous week's rating is a part of the math equation, so yes, I would say it is absolutely predictive. It's even possible to calculate a projected point spread from my ratings, but I don't publish them at the request of the NCAA and the BCS who try to discourage gambling.

YL: I agree that we shouldn't encourage gambling but I have news for the BCS: People that want to gamble are going to find ratings somewhere whether the BCS or its members publish them or not. I think the BCS should quit trying to regulate things they can't control.

And, speaking of the BCS, what will come of computer ratings and the BCS?

Richard: Ray, I totally agree with you about the gambling issue. People who gamble are going to do so regardless of what material is available for access. I've stated to Mr. Kramer that point spreads are not the problem, the people who use them for gambling purposes are the problem. I think fans have a right to know how their favorite team stacks up against an opponent. A point spread is the only way to accomplish that. Still, at this point I feel I can serve College Football better by not publishing a spread.

As far as the computer rankings being part of the BCS formula, I applaud the BCS for being progressive enough to use them. Personally I believe the computers are the most important part of the formula for they serve as a nice balance to the AP/Coaches polls who can be very biased at times. The 8 system's being used are, I believe, the best available, and are a wonderful cross section of many different points of view in ranking teams.

YL: What part do you think computer ratings will play in the future? Do you think the BCS will ever really accept that they don't need to add factors that are already included?

Richard: It's hard to speculate what changes will be made in the BCS formula. It's totally up to the Commissioners. I don't think the current rules on Strength of Schedule will change, even though it is somewhat redundant because all of the computers already factor it in. The SOS should be the most important commodity in the equation.

As far as the role of the computers, I don't see anything changing. Personally, I feel they are the strongest part of the formula and need to play even a bigger role. The AP/Coaches polls always have been, and probably always will be, too biased, and the participants don't take their roles seriously enough to do proper research before voting.

YL: So, outside computer ratings, what interests Richard Billingsley?

Richard: Now that's a question I'm not used to answering. Very few people seem to care about Richard Billingsley outside of College Football so thanks for asking!

Actually, other than football I have a passion for growing prize winning roses. I've been a member of the American Rose Society since the mid 1970's and when I lived in Houston I was the Vice President of the Houston Rose Society, one of the largest in the world with a membership over 1,000. I was very successful showing roses and won "Best Of Show" several times. Living in a small community in Oklahoma no longer affords me the opportunity to show, but I still enjoy growing roses as a hobby. Actually, I'm into flower gardening of all kinds. I just love working in the yard.

I enjoy family, music, stimulating conversation with good friends, movies, and just about anything connected to nature, fishing, hiking, camping, you name it.

I'm a very spiritual person, not religious, but spiritual. I've studied most of the world's religions and enjoy studying the psychological aspect of human nature.

YL: You sound as if you have both feet on the ground to me. I also have an interest in the religions of the world. Yet I have difficulty separating "spiritual" from "religious." To me, the way you live your life is your religion, your spirituality. To me, there is a single God that we have culturally viewed in different ways and all legitimate religion and "spirituality" recognizes the same goodness in life. Some people just don't appreciate it.

I live in Texas. I used to go to Oklahoma frequently. Is the town there the place you now permanently consider to be home?

Richard: Ray, my perception of the difference between religious and spiritual is that religious people usually, not always, but usually equate God with a building as a place of worship and usually a denomination of some kind. On the other hand, I know people who are very spiritual who never set foot in a building and claim no association with any denomination.

I was born here in Hugo, Oklahoma, but raised in Texas. I lived in Houston for 25 years before business took me to Nashville, Tennessee where I lived for 12 years. I returned to Hugo in the summer of 2000. Whether I remain is yet to be determined. I've always considered this my home, but I miss Tennessee tremendously. I moved here for family reasons. My Dad died of cancer and my Mom suffers terribly from diabetes. She has lost 70% her vision, is unstable on her feet, and needs a lot of care. I'm single and can do my work from anywhere.... so here I am.

YL: Two views of spirituality, two views of sports ratings. It's good that we are all unique. Of course, we could discuss our religious/spiritual viewpoints, but that would be by private correspondence. We live in too wimpy a society to go on with it in a conversation about sports ratings.

Sorry to hear about your mother. I hope she is strong-spirited. I moved to take care of my mother when she was dying. She knew for months that she would go, so hang tough and encourage her.

Tennessee and Oklahoma are two different worlds as far as sports go. Who would possibly be your favorite teams or sports?

Richard: Being born in Oklahoma there is no doubt I am a Sooner fan. But I would have to say the Tennessee Volunteers hold a special place in my heart as well. There are several teams that I am very fond of because of their great traditions and my early attachments to certain players and coaches. I would have to say Nebraska, Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina, Texas, and Oklahoma St. are teams I always like to see win.... unless they are playing OU, of course! The truth is I'm just a fanatic about College Football. I watch EVERY GAME on TV, it doesn't matter to me if it's Utah St. and New Mexico St. I'm glued to the game until the last second even if the score is 45-0. I just live and breath College Football. I wish I could explain why, but I can't.

My Mom always said it was her fault because she and my Dad were always glued to the radio listening to Sooner games during my mom's pregnancy with me. I guess you could say I was introduced to college football before I was even born! This was during the fall of 1950 when Bud Wilkinson's Sooners were becoming a National power. There was not a lot to be proud of in Post Dust Bowl Oklahoma other than the Sooners, so you can imagine what a tremendous role football played in everyone's life here. Those were the days.... poorer than church mice but life was so much simpler then. There is a lot to be said for good health and peace of mind. Money isn't the most important thing to me any more. I've spent the last several years re-focusing my priorities.

I lead a very simple life in a modest house in a very small town of about 5,000 people, a boring life by most accounts, yet the level of stress is low and the rewards are high. I've found that's the best combination for enjoying life and life is too short to waste.

YL: I think that the introduction of mass production and technology, as much as we like them, have really caused a downward spiral in people's lives. It often takes a shocking event to get us back on track. Lots of people go the other direction. The bottom line is that the simpler your life is, the happier you will be. My computer ratings are a hobby and likely will remain so, but they will not interfere with my real life.

What is your profession these days?

Richard: My professional background began in Purchasing, and later moved into Personnel/Human Resources. 15 years ago I started my own company that specializes in Time & Stress management. My dream has always been to support myself through my work in College Football. Finally, my dream is becoming a reality after 30 years. 3 years ago I produced "Billingsley's College Football Encyclopedia" on CD-Rom. This past season I did free-lance writing for ESPN.com. The income from those two sources allow me to split my time between sports and consulting. From Feb-July I spend the majority of my time consulting. From Aug-Jan, I spend most of my time on College Football. This past season was really busy for me. I did over 150 radio interviews, 25 newspapers, 7 magazines, ( including a spot in Sports Illustrated), and 2 TV shows. My goal is to have a syndicated column which will include my rankings. Whether or not that happens this year I don't know, but that's what I'm working on.

YL: First you tell me how laid back you are and then you give me this long list of things you've been doing. Just reading it made me tired. I wish you luck in getting your ratings published along with your column. I think you've covered just about everything but is there anything you might like to add?

Richard: Only to say thanks for giving me a chance to talk a little College Football in the off season!

YL: It was our pleasure. Thank you.

We would like to thank Mr. Billingsley for this interview. You can see his ratings at http://www.cfrc.com/

 

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