Hi, my name is Tom, and I'm a Sagarin addict. Say hello to the man in my e-mailbox. His name is Steve, and he's a Sagarin addict.
True Sagarin addicts know that the destination for RPI, the college basketball computer ranking system, is for it to R.I.P. They also know that it's dangerous to draw conclusions from early-season computer ratings. That's OK. As long as nobody gets hurt, danger can be enjoyable.
Steve Ilardi - he granted permission to surrender his anonymity and go public with his last name - is an associate professor of psychology at Kansas University.
Ilardi stops by the e-mailbox from time to time to share his thoughts on how the KU football team is faring in Sagarin, invented by 1970 MIT graduate Jeff Sagarin and published in USA Today.
It was Ilardi who first and accurately instructed me to forget every number on the board, go to the far right column and read only those under the heading "Predictor." (Sadly, the BCS ignores this data and uses the inferior Elo-Chess listed by Sagarin.)
Imagine how nice it was to check the e-mailbox and find a message that wasn't a purple-colored beat-down lecturing me for "overrating" Todd Reesing and underrating Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman. It was Ilardi with a delightful nugget: The Sagarin predictor had Kansas ranked eighth in the nation. Even better, when applying current data, Sagarin had KU going 12-0.
(Caution: In early December 2005, the same forecasting system had KU basketball heading into the Big 12 tournament with a 15-14 record. The Jayhawks actually took a 22-7 mark into it.)
Back to football. The closest margins of victory among the remaining nine games, per Sagarin, are: at Texas A&M; (six points), Missouri (nine points) and Nebraska (11 points). Sagarin loves the Jayhawks.
These figures were reached by taking the current predictor rating and adding 2.93 points to the home team.
Ilardi - who said he has been a fan of Sagarin for "16 or 17 years," dating back to when he was a graduate student at (forgive him, students) Duke University - shared my suspicion that it isn't as accurate a predictor of football outcomes as basketball.
"There are fewer games," he said. "Intuitively, it feels like there is more variability in performance, week to week, in football. More hinges on fluke-ish turnovers. The entire game can swing by 14 points based on an interception in the red zone returned the other way for a touchdown."
He still thinks enough of the football ratings that he lobbied for a Top-25 vote for the Jayhawks from a fellow Sagarin buff.
Sadly, there is no support group for Sagarin addicts. It would be nice to see if others experience the cruelty of rolled eyes and to feel suspicious that the words "What's with him and his Sagarin ratings?" are uttered after leaving a room.
Ilardi is too busy with more important matters. For one, he is the author of a depression-treatment model called Therapeutic Lifestyle Change. It calls for increasing exercise, sunlight, sleep and fish oil, and decreasing isolation and negative thoughts. When he's not soaking in the sunlight, he flips open his computer.
His name is Steve, and he's a Sagarin addict.