An Interview with
Coffey's College Football Ratings
NFL and NCAA Football
YL: When did you develop an interest
in rating sports teams?
John: I first developed an
interest in rating sports teams as an undergraduate student about 25 years ago.
I had been a fan of the Leonard's Losers radio broadcast for years and was
intrigued by some of the insights offered by his football prognostications. As a
hobby, I began tinkering with the algorithms and programming that formed the
basis of my own ratings system. I was pleased with the results, but my college
hobby gave way to a career and family so the system remained a work unfinished
until about three years ago.
YL: What caused you to get it
John: The vicissitudes of a corporate
career caught up with me. After a very good twenty year career with a major
energy firm, the corporation began to implode, and the division in which I was
employed was being sold. I packaged out and during the "career
transition" period that ensued, I finally had the free time to pick up on
my long dormant hobby of doing football ratings. I finished the model in just a
few weeks and began publishing on the web during the next season.
YL: What are the most important
factors to consider in rating teams?
John: Obviously the answer to this
depends on the objective of the rating system. My main objective was to have a
well balanced system because I believe that winning is important, but I also
believe that scoring potential is important. The performance (winning/scoring)
must be measured in a dynamic matrix that automatically considers the strength
My ratings are based on a carefully balanced
perspective between the extremes of the ratings spectrum - retrodictive
and predictive systems. Like most retrodictive models, winning and beating
winning teams are important in my model. But like predictive models, scoring
margins are also important. My hybrid or mixed model will always rate near the
top in correlation to the consensus of a group of computer models because it is
based on a synthesis of these perspectives.
Finally, for the predictive function of a model, I believe
it is important to track trends of both home field advantage and away field
disadvantage. For any given team these two trends are distinct and are useful in
fine tuning any prediction.
YL: Do you think computer ratings will continue to
play a role in determining the championship teams? Will the BCS survive?
John: I believe that the controversies over the
past couple of years surrounding the BCS and inclusion of computer ratings has
magnified the degree of public debate about the championship and therefore
increased the momentum towards some type of traditional playoff scheme. However,
with all of the money, power, and tradition involved in the bowl system, it
still could take several years for an acceptable (and lucrative) playoff system
to be adopted. I believe computer ratings and the BCS will remain a part of the
championship scheme until that day. I'll say this with the caveat that the BCS
needs to establish a sense of stability and thus credibility with the public.
The BCS will never be able to eliminate the perception of an imperfect
formulation, but at this point its greatest imperfection is its instability. If
the BCS continues to tweak its formula every year or two, then it could find
that its latest tweak results in a fatal injury, and computer ratings in the mix
could be a collateral casualty.
YL: I would like to see them ask the computer guys
what factors are really important and drop the redundancy factor. I think the
playoff system will happen. Isn't that what we really want? Is your biggest,
secret thrill to see whether your ratings can pick the champion?
John: I would like to see a playoff and the
championship truly settled on the field. Until then there will always be room
for argument, regardless of how good the selection formula is or how many
computer experts are consulted for the calculations. But, I do thoroughly enjoy
it when the championship prognostication from my model matches the outcome on
YL: What is your profession these days?
John: I am the President of Perry Supply, Inc.
Perry Supply is an industrial supply and export company located in Birmingham,
AL. We service the mining, foundry, and other industries and our primary markets
are located throughout the southeastern United States and South America. Sorry
for the advertisement, but I'm really proud of the company, its people, and the
growth and success that we have enjoyed over the past several months.
YL: The three most important things in life are
your relationship with your God, a happy family, and liking your job. Is
Birmingham the place you call home?
John: I agree with that
and can claim to be in real good shape on all three of those. I was born and
raised in Alabama, but spent about 20 years after college experiencing a mobile
corporate lifestyle. Home during much of this time was in Colorado and we also
lived in Beijing, China for several years. For the past four years we have lived
in the town of Highland Lake, a great little lakeside community in the hills
about forty miles northeast of Birmingham. I enjoy a wonderful spot by the lake
with my wife and five children.
YL: What interests do you have beyond these?
John: It seems that free time is almost impossible
to find these days, but one of the great joys of life for me is to watch my kids
participate in their various sports endeavors, and among the five of them there
is ample opportunity for this. I also enjoy a round of golf, my jet skis, and a
good science fiction movie occasionally. And I still enjoy the international
travel scene if I don't have to do it too often.
YL: All things in moderation.
We would like to thank John for this
interview. Visit his ratings at http://www.cae.wisc.edu/~dwilson/rsfc/rate/coffey.txt