RC Home for Sports Analytics

by Roland Minton on September 21, 2017

Roanoke College hosted the Virginia Sports Analytics Meeting (VSAM) on Saturday 9/16 in the Cregger Center. VSAM is a direct offspring of Furman University’s Carolina Sports Analytics Meeting, which was the first regional sports analytics meeting in the country. Two important goals of the conferences are student involvement and the promotion of sports analytics.

Five student posters, including two from Roanoke College, and three student speakers brought a variety of research ideas to the meeting. In all, twelve students participated in the conference, networking with each other, the faculty in attendance, and representatives from professional lacrosse and hockey.

The meeting featured ten diverse talks of high quality, including keynote addresses by Drew Pasteur (Fantastic 50 ratings) and Kenneth Massey (shown above, of Massey Ratings and BCS fame). Sports covered included major sports like football, basketball and baseball, but also bowling, hockey, lacrosse, and tennis (given by Roanoke College’s Adam Childers). A variety of mathematical and statistical models were presented. A new way of modeling sports is pure gold for researchers, as techniques can often be applied to multiple sports.

Here are some of my takeaways from the conference. Standard football punting statistics are worse than useless. Markov models can be very sophisticated and measure “hot hands” and other phenomena. Graph theory provides a nice way of measuring the importance of an upset, and this improves March Madness predictions. There is good evidence that increased 3-point shooting improves NBA offenses. The unusual scoring system in tennis (love it or not) increases both the likelihood that the better player wins and the excitement level of matches. Multiple divisions in the NFL and massive conferences in college drastically reduce the chance that the best teams make the playoffs. And many more …

How can the success of a conference be measured? For VSAM, the groups of participants excitedly sharing ideas thirty minutes after the conference officially ended is a strong indicator of success. Participants from South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia left impressed with Roanoke College, the Cregger Center, and the quality of sports analytics work done in this region.

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