Two Trinity math professors have introduced a highly sophisticated and mathematical method to create the most accurate possible ranking system for sports.

Eduardo Balreira and Brian Miceli are the primary professors working on this ranking method, and so far, they have mostly used it to predict sports. This method allowed them to correctly predict the NBA Western Conference finals last year, which earned them a television appearance to predict the finals—and they were correct again. Balreira described some of the logic behind the system on which they based their ranking method.

“The idea is that when you beat a team, you have now shown that you are better than them, so you put a link from the loser team to the winner as if the winner were gaining the importance of the loser team,” Balreira said.

This  concept is already established as a mathematical idea, but when applied to sports, Balreira notes it contains a flaw. When a team upsets the already-established top team in this method, they become the best team despite how poor their previous performances were. Miceli expanded on what makes their system different from other ranking models.

“What you want is a way to measure how good a team is. The classic way is you just look at their records…but what this does is maybe those wins didn’t come against good teams. So let’s look at the teams they beat and lost, too, but it keeps going because we then look at who those teams played against and who they played against until it becomes a big tangled web,” Miceli said.

One other way in which they made their method different was by introducing what they call an “Oracle,” which is a modifying factor that dampens the importance gained from upsets.

They have used their ranking method to predict outcomes in the NFL, NBA and NCAA, and their percentage of correct predictions is usually better than other methods used.

The method has also been used on a research project involving lizard dominance. It works with the same basic idea: after observing lizards fight as if it is a sports competition, the lizards are ranked based on the results of other fights in order to discover the most dominant lizard. Recent graduate Jordan Bush led this research.

“Doctors Miceli and Balreira provided the method I needed to really propel and complete my research,” Bush said.

According to Balreira, this ranking system is part of another field known as data mining or “big data,” which is a rapidly growing field of study. Baleira and Miceli are considering adding a class on this method and are watching for new factors that would affect the ranking system.