Weller Ross, football analytics coordinator for the National Football League’s Houston Texans, headlines the third annual Midwest Sports Analytics Meeting at Central College Saturday, Nov. 17. Ross will present “You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned,” a collection of perspectives on working in sports analytics, along with perspectives on his work with the NFL’s Houston Texans.
Also presenting is Tim Chartier, an applied mathematician from Davidson College with a specialty in sports analytics. He has consulted for the NBA, ESPN, NASCAR, Google and Pixar and wrote the book “When Life is Linear: From Computer Graphics to Bracketology.”
The daylong conference promotes faculty, graduate and undergraduate research in sports analytics. Cost is $25 for high school and college students, $50 for high school and college faculty and staff and $100 for the public. It is free for Central students and staff.
The first keynote begins at 9 a.m. in the Maytag Student Center on Central’s campus, with concurrent sessions beginning after, also in the Maytag Student Center. Lunch is provided. The conference concludes at 4 p.m. after Chartier’s keynote titled “Ranking-It Isn’t All Madness.”
Professionals, faculty and students from Central, Notre Dame University, Syracuse University, Iowa State University, Western Illinois University and Davidson College will also speak and present. Registration information and other conference details are available online. Questions? Email MWSportsAnalytics@central.edu.
Russ Goodman, professor of mathematics at Central, is coordinating the conference for the third straight year. Last year’s event exceeded his expectations, he said, attracting 75 registrants.
“We intend to keep the momentum going, making this a better event every year,” Goodman said.
Goodman has taught semester-long sports analytics honors seminars at Central and said it’s an increasingly popular subject. He regularly offers independent study opportunities for students with such an interest. 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. Goodman, who also serves as Central’s 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 2016 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 baseball, basketball, football and hockey, plus talks about baseball player “walk-up music,” and the status of women in sport and in data and analytics.
The inaugural conference’s keynote speaker, Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine, told attendees in 2016 that many aspects of sport remain unexplored by sabremetricians, presenting opportunities for students.
“His advice was 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.”