Four Questions with computer ratings expert Loren Maxwell

GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Loren Maxwell, founder of the Georgia High School Football Historians Association and creator of the computer Maxwell Ratings that are used for rating Georgia's high school teams and generating weekly projected margins of victory.

Loren Maxwell, GHSFHA founder and computer ratings expert 

1. Around 2002, you founded the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. What were your motivations and expectations? "I grew up in Georgia but moved away in 1990 when I joined the Air Force. However, I had always wanted to keep abreast of what was happening in high school football. It was fairly difficult in the 1990s, but by the early 2000s, the internet had made it much easier, and I found there were many others who had a similar interest in Georgia high school football and had developed Web sites in support of it. Based on a couple of examples I had seen, such as the Society of American Baseball Researchers, I came to believe we could combine our research efforts to advance the body of Georgia high school football knowledge together. 

"To date, I believe we have one of the most complete and interesting collections of high school football information anywhere. Only the Alabama High School Football Historical Society rivals us, and they modeled themselves after us. In many ways the GHSFHA has surpassed what I ever thought it would be, and in other ways it has so much more room to grow into what I hope it will become. 

"For those interested in college football, I'll also plug my other site, the CFBHA. Although it's still very much a work in progress, I founded it upon the same ideas as the GHSFHA and I hope it is eventually as good." 

2. Last year you did a redesign of the GHSFHA site. Other than aesthetics, what's different about the site? "First, I can't say enough about Bobby Hodges, who designed the original site. It's doubtful the GHSFHA would have ever matured much beyond an idea without it, so we all owe Bobby a debt of gratitude for his decade of service to the GHSFHA. 

"Anyway, in 2013 Bobby had to step away, and it came right as I was retiring from active duty, so I had more time to devote to it. He passed along the site and a list of things he had been meaning to do. I added to the list and eventually the idea of making the site into a wiki, like Wikipedia, materialized. The database is still the core of the site, but there's so much more that can be done now, such as uploading pictures of stadiums or games, writing biographies on coaches or players, etc. A prime example is the entry on the 1978 Valdosta Wildcats football team. The primary contributor was John Branan, a member of that team, but because of the wiki format, anyone can edit that page to improve it or start a different page on their own topic. 

"I'd love to see records and history pages for each school, articles for each state championship team, recaps for each season, etc. If there's anyone out there who would like to get involved, then it's as simple as registering on the site and starting. If they still have questions, please get in touch with me and I'll help them get started." 

3. What's your history/interest in rating sports teams? "I've rated sports teams for over 30 years, since I was a sophomore in high school. I started initially with high school and college football, but over the years I've done a wide variety of sports at all levels of competition. When I started, the AJC published the scores and schedules for every GHSA team on Sundays, and I started just naturally trying to tie them all together. Although my first system was very elementary, it started me down the path and I've continually improved the system into the one I use today. It's helped me stay connected with the sport and I like to think gives us something to consider during the days between the weekends." 

4. What's the most misunderstood thing about the Maxwell Ratings? "There's sometimes a perception the computer is looking at individual teams and punishing or rewarding them based on some sort of arbitrary criteria, but the ratings really don't work that way. In actuality, the computer looks for the set of ratings that provides the best overall mathematical explanation for the season. If adjusting a team's rating provides a better overall mathematical explanation for the season as a whole, then the computer adjusts the team's rating in the direction and to the degree that's appropriate. 

"As fans, we can always find an example of when the ratings don't perfectly account for a specific result, but to change the rating based on that one result would be to weaken the overall mathematical explanation. That's the power of using the computer. It can take all of the results into account at once. As the person who compiles the ratings, I actually look past what most fans focus on. My actual concentration is on the mathematical principles involved, not on the ratings themselves. From that perspective, as long as the process is sound then the ratings are simply a product." 

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