2013Mar 7

SPAD @ MIT: Hangin’ with the Who’s Who in Sports

MIT LogoBy SPAD Blogger Benoit Roy

The stalwarts of sports analytics at Laurentian University took their interest in the emerging topic to Boston for the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on March 1-2.  The all-SPAD team of Darby Reive, Matt Jackowetz, and Katarina Schwabe competed in the undergraduate case competition and pitched their MLB Advanced Media in-game mobile application to MLB executives against formidable opponents, Queen’s University and Ohio University.  Their solution is an addition to the existing MLB in-game application whereby attendees can compete in a live fantasy game and also allows the user to transform the players’ entry tracks with their new music add-on.  At the concluding panel on Saturday evening, it was announced that Laurentian University finished 2nd at this year’s undergraduate case competition!  Considering the breadth of attendees this year and magnitude of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, this is truly a great accomplishment for these SPAD students who bettered many other prominent schools.  To say that they were overwhelmed with the result at this prestigious and high profile event is an understatement.

“Presenting at a conference that attracts thousands of industry professionals and students is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often.  Matt, Katarina and I couldn’t have been happier with the results of our hard work and the rewarding experience we shared at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference,” states Darby.  The School of Sports Administration extends its many congratulations to the three students who put in a tremendous effort at this year’s conference.

Fortunately, Darby, Matt, and Kat also had an opportunity to shift their focus to the weekend’s many enlightening panels and research papers following their presentation.  This year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference delivered an industry and academic perspective of current sports analytics practices and a glance into the future of the field.  At the event were some high profile figures in popular sports culture, as Darby describes, “You can’t duplicate the feeling of walking down a hallway and seeing Mark Cuban intimidate someone, and continuing down the same hallway and seeing Darren Rovell’s head buried in his phone.”  Another common face at the conference, Brian Burke (albeit, misplaced) had plenty to say about sports analytics much to the entertainment of some and dismay of others.  “Hockey isn’t fun… it’s only fun if you win, and that’s why we’re here.”  Even an old dog in sports management knows that sports analytics is perhaps one of the most illuminating advancements both on and off the field by way of statistics and econometrics.  The common motif among the panelists was the pervasive difficulty of conforming the ideas of old school sports executives to the young, generally non-athletic analysts (as described by these old-school executives).  Analysts are obviously fanatical about sports, but its difficult to alter the course of many decades of coaching, managing, and business operations.

MIT on stageA number of panels and research papers did catch the attention of the SPAD delegates and provided a number of great insights regarding the growing influence of advanced statistics in sport.  The first panel of the weekend titled “Revenge of the Nerds,” moderated by Moneyball author, Michael Lewis, featured a collection of speakers including Dallas Mavericks Owner, Mark Cuban and San Francisco 49ers COO, Paraag Marathe.  The panel discussed the growing prevalence of statistical models in sports and industry best practices.  One of these practices is the growing use of spatial tracking through the use of SportsVu technology in the NBA.  This technology allows researchers to track player movements on the court, where they take shots, and even where they are most effective defensively.  Dr. Kirk Goldsberry’s “The Dwight Effect” is a seminal paper regarding the effectiveness of the NBA’s top defenders.  In essence, the paper discussed how the league’s top shot blockers are not necessarily the best interior defenders evidenced by tracking which defensive players allow the least interior points from being scored (the area on the court where most shots are allowed).  Sports analytics can provide additional metrics to measure player performance such as those derived from spatial tracking, and this is just one example of where this subject in sport will progress.  In the end, however, it’s all about winning and SPAD has done so once again.

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