[Opinion] Universities’ athletic departments should invest in data scientists

OK, this post has no equations or analysis results.  It is an “opinion” article, and in my particular my opinion on sports and universities. The discussion about university spending on athletic teams has led to some interesting debates and arguments.  I do not have any particular strong feelings about this (every situation has its pros and cons after all).  However, where I have a strong opinion is on a particular change that I would like to see universities start making.  In the past this change might not have made so much sense, but in the era of “big data” and “data science” almost all of the professional teams and leagues are turning more to computational approaches.  Even though statistics have been into sports from their inception pretty much, now we are able to get a plethora of  data ranging from boxscore data to micro-level data from sensors embedded on players uniforms.  So the question that has been flying in my mind for some time now is that since we prepare athletes for the professional sports leagues, why not also prepare the sports analysts for these teams?

How can we do that? By having university scholarships for sports data scientists. Similar to how teams recruit their athletes from high schools to play for them, why not recruit students inclined in data and statistics (and possibly sports too) to “work” for the team while earning a university degree? This scholarship will be for a specific major/minor combination and I  think that this should be a computational major in Computer/Information Science/Statistics with a minor physical education and athletics.   The specific scholarship recepients will of course have to spend time with the team as well to obtain the domain knowledge required.  However, she will be able to shape some of the decision making of the team, possibly design “experimental practises” in order to analyze game-day “what-if” scenarios and so on.  

I am looking forward to the day that there will be drafts for sports data scientists as well…! Hopefully a university will dare to implement a similar policy and then more will follow because let’s not hide behind our finger; universities are not as daring and innovative as they tend to believe!

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