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Sports ranking systems are typically based on a team’s wins, losses and strength of schedule. While this system produces seemingly fair results—outside the world of college football—there is a fourth criterion not often taken into account that can change a team’s standing.

The strength of victories (SOV) ranking system, which looks at the quality of wins versus the quantity of wins, was the focus of a project students tackled in an Operations Research class taught by Gary Gordon, professor of mathematics.

“The main idea is that you can get a more accurate ranking scheme using some linear algebra than by simply looking at the win-loss records of the teams,” Gordon explains.

The students were asked to apply the SOV ranking system to the 2003-04 Patriot League men’s basketball season. The league has eight teams, all of which play each other twice during the regular season.

Mathematics-economics majors Clint Losch’06 (Drexel Hill, Pa.) and Tom Palmer’06 (Mahwah, N.J.) were surprised at some of the changes that occurred once they applied the SOV method. They included Lafayette’s ranking second with the SOV system versus third place in Patriot League standings, and Colgate moving from sixth to fifth.

“We didn’t expect dramatic differences, but we figured just those two differences were valuable, even though it was just one position,” explains Losch.

He and Palmer can relate personally to the importance of a fair and accurate ranking system. In addition to being a member of the Investment Club, Losch plays shortstop on the baseball team and Palmer is a member of the golf team.

Categorized in: Academic News