On March 11–12, 2016, the fledgling sports analytics club at the Haslam College of Business traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the tenth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Missie Bowers, the club’s faculty advisor, accompanied eleven master’s in business analytics students to the event, where they participated in a case study competition and a range of sports analytics presentations and workshops.
“It’s a really great conference,” Bowers says. “They have panel sessions with famous sports figures, athletes, coaches, analysts, and announcers.” Instructional workshops and research presentations were also offered at the conference, covering a wide range of topics. “For example, one presenter discussed whether it’s mathematically possible for a player to have a temporary ‘hot hand’ in sports,” says Bowers. “Another talked about how NBA game scheduling is now being done professionally using an optimization algorithm, taking into account constraints such as home games, away games, and travel for each team.”
The conference covered a wide range of sports, Bowers says, so there were topics of interest for everyone. “There were representatives from major league baseball, football, and the NBA—but also soccer, NASCAR, and tennis,” she says.
MSBA student Tyler Berlin, who founded the sports analytics club at the Haslam College last year, was thrilled at the chance to attend the conference. “The trip was unlike any other experience I’ve had before,” he says. “It was both entertaining and extremely enlightening to understand where the industry is going as far as sports analytics.”
The conference’s success reflects a growing interest in the sports analytics field, Berlin says. “This event started out in a classroom at MIT ten years ago, and this year more than 3500 people attended. It’s obviously an area where there’s growing interest.”
Interest in sports analytics is also emerging at UT Knoxville. Berlin is graduating from the MSBA program this fall, but he hopes the club he started will continue to flourish. “I’m going to visit the new MSBA class’s orientation and recruit some new members,” he says. “We’d love to get some undergrads involved as well. We want to go deeper, looking into models that professional sports analysts are putting out there to see if we understand them—or even create our own.”
“I think the club will continue to grow,” Bowers predicts. “There are lots of folks interested in sports analytics, especially at UT.”