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An Interview with

Todd Beck
PerformanZ Ratings
NFL and NCAA Football

YL: You have a prediction tracker on your site where you monitor NCAA Football and NFL ratings. It's one of my favorite places to visit because I like to see how my ratings are doing. What caused you to undertake the project and will it continue?

Todd: The prediction tracker was just the natural next step after automating my own system. The first step was making a program that would make all my own game predictions and then score them so I wouldn't have to do it all by hand. And once I had my own system automated it then became a rather simple task of including others as well.
   The BCS was starting its second year and had expanded to the current 8 computer systems. So I originally planned to just follow those 8 and my own to see how I stacked up against them. But as it turned out only half of them gave any predictive information. The New York Times didn't even list all the teams. So to try to make the table bigger I looked for other systems that make predictions. After two seasons the list has expanded to 25 and it looks to keep growing next season.
   I think the prediction tracker serves several purposes. It combines many systems on to one page, making it easy to compare the systems. Basically it is a one stop location to get the predictions from 25 different systems on one page. The results page then allows people to see which systems are the most trustworthy. It also serves as an unbiased monitor to keep us all honest about how good we are. The Harmon Forecast in USA Today boasts 72 to 78% accuracy but in the two years I've tracked them they haven't even hit that 72% mark.
   And finally, being a statistician, the prediction tracker gives me data to play with and examine in my own personal study of the underlying mathematical models that are being used to generate the different ratings. So as long as the computer and time resources are still available to me I plan to continue tracking computer ratings. Hopefully adding a little something new each year.

YL: What is the future of computer ratings? Do you think they will ever replace the human opinion of the polls?

Todd: So far I do not feel that the media are being very favorable to computer ratings. All the stories I see are about how much more complicated they make things and the people behind them considered geeks and nerds. So I think the media coverage of computer ratings will ultimately decide how accepted the ratings can become. And as of right now I don't know of any popular sports figure that has ever came out and given computer ratings a strong endorsement. And without a big name endorsement I don't see computer ratings making much more of an impact than their current limited use. I don't think human polls will ever be replaced and I don't think that they should be. The question should not really be if one is better than the other because they both have strengths and weaknesses that the other doesn't have. The only thing that needs to be done about human polls is to make sure the person voting in the poll is actually qualified to give an informed opinion. And a computer system should not be included in a computer poll unless it has a sound theory behind it and has a proven track record of superior performance.

YL: And your site provides that track record. You may be able to sell that information later as you archive all the results. So, where did your own interest in rating the teams come from?

Todd: My interest in computer ratings was just a natural blending of my interests. I have been playing and watching sports all my life. And sports statistics had a lot to do with me getting a degree in statistics in college.  I loved sports and I loved numbers.
   I think there is one question that motivated me to start my own system and look at others. That was the problem of intransitivity in football. Team A beats Team B, Team B beats Team C and Team C beats Team A. Seeing that you cannot have a perfect system I wondered if there existed an absolute best system. And if it did exist was how good would it be, 60% accurate, 70%, 80%? So my prediction tracker ultimately allows me to keep researching that question. And from what I have seen so far I do not believe there exists one method that is always better than the others.

YL: In calculating your ratings, what do you consider to be the most important factors?

Todd: My system uses several factors to come up with a rating but currently I do not give any of them any more weight than the others. I use win/loss, points, offensive and defensive yardage and turnovers. The theory is that the more phases of the game a team is good at the better it's chance of winning. It is like a coach wanting to win in offense, defense and special teams. The importance of adjusting for schedule strength certainly has to be mentioned as well.

YL: Is your system predictive or retrodictive?

Todd: I don't think my system can properly be labeled as either one. In its raw form all my system does is come up with a relative ranking based on past performance. My system is more like looking at the current win/loss standings in a newspaper. The more wins, or in my case, more units, a team has the closer they are to the top. I can turn this into predictions simply by transforming the scale my units are on to a scale equivalent to points per game. I don't call that retrodictive or predictive because I am not intentionally trying to optimize how well it predicts past or future results.

YL: What is your profession?

Todd: I work as a statistician in the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. We do research relating to health of the elderly. Alzheimer's Disease is our major area of interest. A lot of my work involves the decline of cognitive function in the elderly.

YL: That's a field I find particularly interesting. Aging is a strange thing and I'm experiencing more and more of it. I can see how you moved into football ratings with your expertise in statistics. What are some of your other interests?

Todd: Up until this past summer I used to spend the majority of my leisure time on the golf course. Then I came to the realization that I wasn't very good and that I wasn't getting any better. So now I just watch too much TV.

YL: Where is home? What else does the world need to know about you?

Todd: I currently live in the Chicago area but I was born and raised in Waxahachie, Texas. I got both my undergraduate degree in mathematics and my graduate degree in statistics from Texas A&M. So I will always be a big fan of the Aggies. And even though I am no longer in Texas I will always be a fan of the Cowboys and the Rangers.

YL: Hooray! Go, Cowboys! (I know that will mean something any year, now.)

We would like to thank Mr. Beck for this interview. His web site can be found at


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