This is a sample of the questions we're frequently asked through e-mail.  If you don't find the answer here or in the section about how the power ratings are computed, please don't hesitate to send your questions (laf at laxpower dot com); we try to answer everything right away!  Also, don't forget that you can post questions and comments in the LaxPower Forums; it's a great place to interact with fellow lacrosse fans and players.

Note that many of the examples used in these questions and answers refer to games played and seasons prior to 1999.  Although specifics obviously change from season to season, the general principles regarding the power ratings and their computation and interpretation do not.

1. How can North Carolina be ranked 9th with a losing record?

North Carolina played 13 opponents yielding the fourth toughest schedule.  Examining this schedule (see below), they played seven teams (Virginia twice) that made the tournament.  They beat two of these teams and lost to three others by one goal, including Princeton which went undefeated.  Clearly, North Carolina was able to stay close with most top ten teams.  Traditionally, polls heavily weigh a victory or loss more than goal difference or closeness of the score.  The power rating credits a victory in addition to the goal differential but emphasizes the latter more heavily (although procedures are in place to greatly minimize the effect of "running up the score").
  North Carolina       pr =  26.94  rank =  9
  opponents ave        pr =  25.97  rank =  3
  date            opponent           power    score   goal difference  gain or
                                     rating           actual expected   loss
   222   home vs  Butler             22.89   11    5     6     5.71
   302   away at  Navy               22.41   12   13    -1     2.87     --
   308   home vs  Loyola             28.76   17   11     6    -0.17     +++
   312   away at  Duke               31.06    7    8    -1    -5.78     +++
   316   home vs  Princeton          34.65    9   10    -1    -6.06     +++
   322   away at  Maryland           29.97   12   13    -1    -4.69     ++
   329   home vs  Johns Hopkins      32.26    7   15    -8    -3.66     ---
   405   away at  Virginia           32.86    5   20   -15    -7.59     -----
   408   home vs  Radford            14.66   16    3    13    13.94
   412   home vs  Delaware           19.04   21    7    14     9.56     ++
   416   home vs  VMI                11.60   22    2    20    16.99     +
   418   away at  Virginia           32.86   13   17    -4    -7.59     ++
   503   away at  Hofstra            24.55   10    4     6     0.73     +++

2. How could the odds for Syracuse be 10:1 to win the NCAA playoffs based on their past tournament record?

The odds of any team winning three games are (1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2), or 1/8, if all teams were equal.  However in the case of Syracuse, they had to beat Loyola, probably Virginia, and then eventually probably Princeton.  Their power rating against Princeton and Virginia would have made them underdogs (less than 1/2) and their chances of beating Loyola were near 1/2 as both teams had similar power ratings.  Thus, their rating at the beginning of the tourney was 1/10.  Even Princeton with its undefeated season had at best a 1/3 chance of winning the whole tournament.  As the tourney turned out, Syracuse beat Loyola by one goal, did not have to play Virginia, but lost by one goal to underdog Maryland.  The odds do not take into account Syracuse's track record of making the final four for their last 16 or so years nor does it take into account its number of championships.  The odds were based strictly on the power ratings for the year 1997 and the tournament schedule.

3. Why is there a need for a power rating?  Aren't the other polls adequate?

The power rating is a poll based strictly on scores and schedule.  It is purely numerical and offers an alternative, however good or bad, to the other polls.  The rating contains two components: the criteria and the numerical solver.  The criteria is a very subjective thing where one determines when a team should be rewarded with points and when a team should lose points. The numerical solver, on the other hand, computes the team's rating based on the criteria, then recomputes over and over again, because each team's rating is affected by the rating of each team it plays.

When pollsters perform their rating, they each have their own set of criteria in much the same fashion as the power rating.  However, the pollster is no match to the computer when calculating the results.  Therefore, the power rating can and will employ a much more sophisticated set of criteria.  Pollsters may use different criteria which can under some circumstances make the results look arbitrary.  The power rating adheres to a strict set of criteria and therefore results are not arbitrary.  Next, polls are subject to the criticism that they are not impartial and each pollster may be driven by bias, intentional or unintentional.  Whether this exists or not, some fans will always be suspicious.  The power rating has no emotional investment or bias, since the computer merely computes.  If the criteria is biased, then the results would be, but at least the criteria is stated up front.  Thus the power rating can be unbiased.  The power rating is comprehensive in that it evaluates all teams with no emphasis placed on just the good teams.

4. If coaching staffs are in the best position to judge talent and team strength, why not leave the rating to them?

Lacrosse coaches can only judge what they see, and they do not see all of the teams.  How can a team with low visibility get its fair rating? Second, all coaches have different criteria for rating teams and polls are based on a collection of opinions which supposedly averages out to the fairest assessment.  The criteria for this average is then never clearly understood and therefore impossible to challenge.  Arising from this inability to challenge is suspicion of unfairness or bias.  At least the power rating identifies its criteria and clearly substantiates its findings.  Finally, coaches can only do the top 15-20 teams before it becomes an impossible task.  Ask the pollsters who rate Division III Men or Women to rate all 100 + teams and see how far they get. The power rating is set up to evaluate all.

5. What credentials do you bring to the table that makes you an expert on the rankings?

Only my math and computer skills, but that's all the power rating claims to use.  The method applies to any sport or competition, and thus knowledge of a particular sport is irrelevant from a numerical standpoint.

6. How can a team be ranked lower than other teams it beat?

As an example, Hartford beat Rutgers, Harvard, and Towson State and yet Hartford ranks below them all.  Here is an example where the rating emphasizes goal difference more than victory.  The most difficult part of the algorithm was determining the relative importance of victories and goal difference.  Examining the rating of the top twelve teams, Princeton is at 36 and Army at 24.8 -- a difference of 11 goals! Whereas the 13th to 26th teams have a goal difference of only 2.48 goals.  This means that teams ranked 13th to 26th are so closely bunched that the slightest change in score or home field advantage will effect their rating.

  Hartford             pr =  22.49  rank = 22
  opponents ave        pr =  18.99  rank = 33
  date            opponent           power    score   goal difference  gain or
                                     rating           actual expected   loss
   311   home vs  Massachusetts      26.45    4    7    -3    -2.30     -
   315   away at  Rutgers            23.04   13   12     1    -2.21     ++
   319   away at  Harvard            22.67   10    9     1    -1.84     +
   326   home vs  New Hampshire      14.88    9    7     2     9.26     --
   402   away at  Delaware           19.04   11    8     3     1.79     +
   405   away at  Boston College     15.69   13    7     6     5.14
   408   home vs  Hofstra            24.55    2    7    -5    -0.40     --
   412   home vs  Fairfield          15.16   13    9     4     8.99     --
   416   home vs  Stony Brook        21.96    9   10    -1     2.19     -
   419   away at  Vermont            19.01   16    9     7     1.82     ++
   419   away at  VMI                11.60   16    9     7     9.22     -
   423   away at  Drexel             15.11   13    4     9     5.72     +
   426   away at  Providence         12.79   10    3     7     8.03
   503   home vs  Towson State       23.87   10    9     1     0.28

7. Do you have a job?

All of the the directors have full-time positions elsewhere.  All of the high school coordinators probably also have full-time positions or are students.  All contributions to the site are on a voluntary basis and no compensation is made.

8. Who sponsors this rating?

We are not sponsored by any organization and have no affiliation with any group or league.  We have formed an affiliation with College Lacrosse USA for the purpose of sharing schedule, score, and team information to better serve lacrosse fans.

9. Are you associated with the NCAA or any school?

We have no association with the NCAA or with any of the organizations that conduct lacrosse polls.  Naturally, we do maintain contacts with numerous coaches and sports information directors, and one of our directors is associated with a Division III school, although not with its athletic department

10. How do you find the time to perform all this analysis?

The initial time invested in developing the analysis program took weeks.  Once done, the major task becomes typing in the scores.  Since we generally get scores in a timely fashion, the remaining tasks are left to the computer.

11. What are the Sagarin ratings?

The Sagarin ratings are a numerical rating system used for college football and basketball.  They were developed by Jeff Sagarin, a former MIT graduate student.  The LaxPower ratings were designed for lacrosse similar to these ratings.

12. How did LaxPower get off the ground?

US Lacrosse felt that such a rating would contribute positively to the sport of lacrosse and was designed to be similar to the "Sagarin Ratings" for college football and college basketball.  Unlike the Sagarin ratings, women's divisions are also included.

13. What is the Lacrosse Championship Series?

It is a fictitious rating patterned after the "Bowl Championship Series" based on a formula using polls, computer rankings, strength of schedule and losses to determine the best teams.  It is our creation and has nothing to do with the NCAA.

14. Does the strength of schedules change throughout the season?

As the season progresses, the power ratings for all teams will change and since the strength of schedule is based on the average power ratings of all the teams its plays within the same division, it too will change.

15. How important is goal differential?

When the ratings of a team are calculated, a win adds to the power rating of that team regardless of the goal differential.  The goal differential is taken into account but its impact drops off with the larger difference.  A 10 goal victory has almost the same impact as a 20 goal difference.

16. How is the strength of schedule computed?

The strength of schedule is currently calculated by taking the average of all of the opponents power ratings.  We have developed a relative power rating between different leagues and divisions and use these ratings, whenever possible to include all games for the strength of schedule calculation.

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