Central College News

Data reference guru headlines Central sports analytics conference

Featured: Data reference guru headlines Central sports analytics conference

October 30, 2017

Sean Forman, founding partner and president of Sports-Reference.com, one of the nation’s leading sports data resources, headlines the Midwest Sports Analytics Meeting at Central College Saturday, Nov. 18.

The event is a day-long conference promoting faculty, graduate and undergraduate research in sports analytics. Cost is $25 for high school/college students, $50 for high school/college faculty and staff and $100 for the public. It’s free for Central students and staff. After an opening address at 8:30 a.m., multiple concurrent sessions are set for the Maytag Student Center and the Graham Center Annex, concluding at 4 p.m. Lunch is provided in the Central Market.

Professionals, faculty and students will serve as speakers and provide poster presentations. Registration information and other conference details are available at https://www.central.edu/camps/register/midwest-sports-analytics-meeting/. Questions may be directed by email to MWSportsAnalytics@central.edu.

Russ Goodman, associate professor of mathematics who also serves as Central’s mathematics and computer science department chair, is coordinating the conference for the second straight year. Last year’s inaugural event exceeded his expectations, he said, attracting 100 registrants, including several from outside of Iowa. This year’s program includes student and faculty presenters from numerous colleges and universities, including Syracuse, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, St. Thomas (Minn.), Davidson (N.C.), Haverford (Pa.), Iowa and North Dakota.

“We intend to keep the momentum going, making this a better event every year,” Goodman said.

At Central, Forman will present “Here Be Dragons,” an overview of the history of data collection in Major League Baseball since the 1800s. Forman launched Sports-Reference.com in 2004. The site provides databases from baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer. Forman previously was a math and computer science professor at Saint Joseph’s University (Pa.) for six years. He earned a doctoral degree in applied mathematics at the University of Iowa and now lives in Philadelphia.

Goodman has taught semester-long sports analytics seminars at Central and said it’s an increasingly popular subject. He’s providing independent study opportunities for multiple students this year. The conference can benefit Central students, he said, as well as continue to generate interest.

“It’s a great opportunity to connect with other students and faculty in the field,” he said.

Goodman sees broad value in sports analytics research.

“We analyze data to gain a more nuanced understanding of a sport, then use that understanding to make informed decisions,” he said. “Importantly, this analysis process applies to many areas beyond the sports world.”

Once limited to use by sabermetricians and fantasy sports fanatics, sports analytics are increasingly being relied on as valuation and scouting tools in professional sports, particularly baseball. However, Goodman, who also serves as an assistant women’s soccer coach, sees value in analytics on the collegiate level as well, and uses them in coaching Central’s goalkeepers. He provides an example in his essay “Most Valuable Goal Scorer: It’s Not Who You Think”.

This year’s program includes presentations on analytics applied to sports as varied as football, cricket, marathon running, tennis and ultimate Frisbee.

Goodman notes that last year’s keynote speaker, Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine, told attendees that many aspects of sport remain unexplored by sabremetricians, presenting opportunities for students.

“His advice is to always ask questions and just count things in a sport that haven’t been counted before,” Goodman said. “There are some really interesting things you might learn and you’ll develop intellectually along the way.”