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Laval student creates data-driven U Sports ranking

A business major from Ottawa has compiled a statistical analysis of all U Sports XC performances

In years past there has been no system to measure performances of U Sports teams and athletes. A business student from the University of Laval has created a ranking system that evaluates the performances of all current U Sports athletes and teams across different courses. We sat down with the brains behind the statistics, Sebastian Saville, who placed fourth at the Canadian Track & Field Championships in 2017, to explain his document and the thought behind the data.  

Laval women post-race. Photo: Maxine Gravina

Saville explains that each runner is given a score based on how close their time is to the race average. That score is then used to update their rating after each race. A runner’s rating is a measure of all of their performances since the start of the season. “The more races an athlete runs, the stronger the estimation of their ranking,” Saville says. “Each runner starts with 1,000 points and is scored by time and positioning based on the race average.”

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In the fall, Saville had a conversation with Laval’s cross-country coach Felix-Antoine Lapointe. They discussed the early race results, and how there is no real method to compare cross-country teams against each other when they compete in different conferences. “I started thinking about how I could compare two different athletes who have never raced one another, nor even run the same distance, on completely different courses,” says Saville.

Photo: Kevin MacKinnon

The U Sports rating document is what he came up with. “I got the idea of the rating system from chess (the ELO system), which ranks players based on the strength of opponent they’ve played and their result,” says Saville. “The first race for all athletes will be an estimate, but the more races you run, the more accurate the rating will be.” 

U Sports cross-country: updated women’s power rankings

Going into the U Sports championship, Saville says that the ratings are accurate enough to predict the top 25 finishers and their 8K times. However, he adds that, “because the rating solely gives a head-to-head probability between athletes, it doesn’t take into account that runners have good and bad races.” 

Photo: Kevin MacKinnon

Saville told us that the toughest part of making this document is inputting the results. “There are three brothers on the Dalhousie XC team with the same initials, and every time I put in one of their results, I have to correct the error as it duplicates their names.” He says that several coaches across Canada have reached out to him to use his document to show the younger athletes that they progressing.

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“I have enjoyed creating this document as a way to give back to the U Sports community,” Saville says. This document is free for all to view. Based on his comment, Saville sent his U Sports predictions, which will be featured in next week’s U Sports championship preview.    

Top 20 men’s teams 

Top 20 women’s teams 

Top men’s runners 

Top women’s runners 

You can take a look at Saville’s full U Sports document, here.

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