Statistical analysis has changed the way players and fans alike look at sports. Because of the rise in use of quantitative data, statisticians have the rare opportunity to join the athletics field.
“There is a wonderful opportunity for people who have statistical backgrounds to come up with new ways of measuring performance and understanding things about sports through exploring data,” said Jim Albert, a professor of statistics at Bowling Green State University.
Statistical analysts are using these new ways of measuring performance to predict performance of not only players but also the teams themselves.
“The innovative people will figure out what correlates best with player performance and what is going to do the best job at prediction,” said William Notz, vice chair for administration and undergraduate studies in the Ohio State Department of Statistics. “One of the things that is lost on making decisions using data is that data comes with a margin of error. Because of that, nothing is foolproof and there are always going to be errors. The idea is the more you can do to reduce those errors, the better you are going to do in the long run.”
Many students at OSU are trying to find ways to get into this field of work. A new major in data analytics is providing an opportunity. Starting last year, there are 45 people in the major that have to choose among specializations such as biomedical informatics, business analytics and computational analytics.
“What we teach students to do is how to use principles of computer science to capture large amounts of data and how to use statistics to figure out the meaning behind the data and the patterns and trends that exist,” said Matt Miller, an academic planning specialist for the data analytics major. “Those patterns and trends can be communicated to decision-makers through visual representation.”
Even though there might not be a sports analytics specialization, Miller said he thinks the class is broad enough to be able to apply that information to whatever a particular student is interested in.
“The major itself is very wide ranging,” Miller said. “Data is everywhere and we are collecting data on just about everything. It just depends on how the student wants to apply those fundamental skills of data analysis. I believe our core curriculum will prepare our students with the skills that they need to take on the challenges of big data regardless of what kind of data that is.”
Another opportunity for OSU students is though a new club called the Big Data and Analytics Association. According to the mission statement on its website, the club’s goal is to “inspire students to think analytically, empower them through hands-on training and connect them to potential employers.” There are plenty of ways that this club accomplishes this, said Ben Clarke, a second-year in computer science and engineering and member of the club.
“One of their biggest goals is through these group projects so that people have projects using data analytics that they can use for the future and to give them experience in careers that they may want,” Clarke said. “Also, different companies will come in and lecture on what their company does and why you should apply for a job there. It gives you a lot of ideas of what you want to do once you graduate.”
The use of statistical analysis can be used and applied in any profession, especially in the sports world.
“Really intelligent use of data is going to be important in making decisions like trying to control costs,” Notz said. “For example, if you have a high-paid player, how long do you hold on to that player and at what point is their value so great that you want to trade them for the highest value? When you are running a business, it becomes inevitable.”
The possibilities with data are endless and can be applied anywhere — especially in the context of sports — and will continue to grow.