New Dartmouth sports analytics club discusses sports statistics

by Vignesh Chockalingam | 4/13/17 2:00am

Last Monday, Andrew Wolff ’18 and Josh Ufland ’18 led the inaugural meeting of Dartmouth Sports Analytics, a recently-formed club focused on the intersection of sports and statistics.

The club was first conceived in the fall of 2015 under the leadership of Richard Shen ’17, who developed an interest in sports analytics after taking a “Sports Analytics” class taught by government professor Michael Herron and College President Phil Hanlon. Herron said that the class, offered by the quantitative social sciences department, combined students’ interest in a substantive area like sports with the science of statistics.

“It showed students the power of statistical thinking,” he said.

Shen, who was interested in the numbers behind sports, approached Herron about starting a club centered around sports analytics, Wolff said. The group gained some momentum in the fall, but Ufland and Wolff said that Dartmouth Sports Analytics’ true founding has been this term. Herron still serves as the club’s faculty advisor.

The group’s first meeting on April 3 consisted of a viewing of the College Basketball National Championship. Ufland said that of the 40 people who showed up, 38 responded in a survey that they would be interested in pursuing research opportunities with the club.

Ufland said he is excited by people’s enthusiasm toward the prospect of publishing original research as a club. He said that he sees the club’s purpose as two-pronged: a place for sports enthusiasts to engage with each other and a platform upon which students can channel their intellectual curiosity, bringing academics and statistics to sports.

“I think we have some of the brightest young minds and people are starting to realize that we can take that intellect and put it into something that is as exciting and ingrained into American culture as sports,” Ufland said.

He added that the sports analytics trend began with “Moneyball,” a movie and book about baseball statistics, which made sports analytics “something sexy and flashy.” Ufland and Wolff said that they were also inspired to lead the club by ESPN analysts like Zach Lowe ’99 and FiveThirtyEight, a website that analyzes sports and politics through data.

Wolff said he hopes that the College’s community will feel the club’s impact through its involvement with Dartmouth athletics. He added that the club has even contacted one of the College’s varsity teams.

“Our contribution to campus could definitely be by informing or at least analyzing in some meaningful way the athletics that we have here,” Wolff said.

On April 10, Wolff said that the club had its first research and conversation-based meeting, which focused on baseball in America after the publication of “Moneyball.” Wolff said that the discussion centered on what students wanted to talk about, and that students had various interests in sports, ranging from the debate over who should win the Most Valuable Player award in the National Basketball Association to the validity of statistical analysis compared to past methods of sports analysis.

The group will reconvene at their next meeting Monday, April 17.