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Michigan Sports Analytics Society builds a supportive route to industry skills, standout portfolio

The Michigan Sports Analytics Society leadership board poses with a banner that reads “School of Information welcomes Michigan Sports Analytics Society” at the Michigan Sports Analytics Symposium, March 30, 2022 in North Quad Space 2435.
The Michigan Sports Analytics Society leadership board (left to right: Andrew Wolfe, Tej Seth, Michael Hymowitz, Benjamin Riela and Tejas Kadambi) at the Michigan Sports Analytics Symposium, March 30, 2022 in North Quad.

Monday, 04/25/2022

The University of Michigan School of Information has become a home base for sports analytics.  

Master of Science in Information alumnus Rohit Mogalayapalli founded the Michigan Sports Analytics Society (MSAS) in 2016. He quickly earned the support of Dean Thomas Finholt, who helped the club build a productive partnership between UMSI and Michigan Athletics.  

Now, MSAS is a peer-led one-stop shop for University of Michigan students seeking to cultivate skills in the expanding field of sports analytics through discussion, workshops and research. 

At the club’s recent Michigan Sports Analytics Symposium, MSAS members presented 14 personal research projects using statistics and data to produce athletic insights. Students presented on a variety of topics, including how injuries impact NBA players’ performance and how the FIFA ’22 transfer market differs from world soccer’s real-life transfer market.

Prominent sports analytics experts Eric Eager, VP of research and development at Pro Football Focus, Meghan Chayka, co-founder of Stathletes, Inc., and Arif Hasan, staff writer at The Athletic, spoke about their experiences in the field.

A seated audience directs their attention to a virtual guest speaker, whose presentation is projected via Zoom.
Attendees listen to Eric Eager, VP of research and development at Pro Football Focus, during the Michigan Sports Analytics Symposium.

“What I took away from the talks as a sports fan is that analytics are slowly getting integrated more and more into common sports speech,” says Benjamin Riela, MSAS co-president and senior Bachelor of Science in Information (BSI) student. “Now on Sunday Night Football, they’re incorporating analytics into the broadcast. We’ve increasingly got sports journalism contextualizing sports analytics in writing that sports fans without a data background can engage with. This all means the ball that’s begun to roll for sports analytics over the past few decades is now beginning to really pick up speed.” 

Coaching: the language of learning

U-M students interested in joining MSAS aren’t required to submit an application or have any experience with coding or analytics. All they need, says Riela, is a passion for sports analytics and an interest in learning.

Riela and co-president Michael Hymowitz, as well as the leadership board of Bachelor of Science in Information students Tej Seth and Andrew Wolfe and engineering student Tejas Kadambi, coached MSAS members through programming tutorials with example sports data sets to set them up for success with personal research projects. Additionally, they organized guest lectures from U-M experts like School of Kinesiology professor Stefan Szymanski.

“We also had a course recommendation meeting to give members an idea of which U-M classes offer good foundational skills that can be applied in sports analytics,” says Hymowitz, a statistics and data science senior and incoming analytics intern at Nike. 

The MSAS leadership board’s recommended UMSI classes include: 

Incoming BSI junior Naren Edara says UMSI’s information analysis curriculum, and its emphasis on both industry and humanity, sold him on the degree. 

“I knew I wanted to gain technical skills but I also wanted to use those skills to positively impact people, and that is exactly what the BSI focuses on,” he says. 

Edara teamed up with U-M students Ryan Barber and Ryan Kim for the project “How Injuries Impact Player Performance,”  which they presented at the March 30 symposium. 

Project poster, "How Injuries Impact Player Performance"

The project tracked NBA injuries seen in the last 10 years and how they affected players’ stats. The students then determined which changes were statistically significant and how results could be useful in building and managing NBA teams. 

“This research can be applied in a variety of ways in the real world,” Edara says. “In addition to informing NBA teams’ rosters, players can also gain insight into how certain injuries may impact their game and modify their recovery and rehab strategies accordingly.” 

Homerun portfolio pieces impressing industry titans

Brandon Huggard gestures to his project poster as two symposium attendees look on.
Brandon Huggard speaks about his personal research project during the Michigan Sports Analytics Symposium.

Meaningful personal research projects coming out of MSAS are helping members land professional roles in sports analytics.

BSI junior Brandon Huggard recently accepted a tech analysis internship with Adidas for summer 2022. He says, “I owe a huge debt to MSAS for providing me the skills and opportunities to round out my resume and stand out as a top candidate at such an industry titan.” 

At the March 30 symposium, Huggard presented “A Comparative Analysis of the FIFA ’22 Transfer Market with True Player Valuations from Transfermarkt.” 

Project poster, "FIFA '22 vs. Real Life Transfer Market Valuations."

He accessed a publicly available database that contains salary and market value data for soccer players in the FIFA ‘22 video game, comparing that with data on players’ real-world current salaries and transfer market values. Using the free pandas software library for Python to conduct basic statistical analysis, Huggard found that FIFA ’22 typically overvalues players from Central and South America, while European and African players in the game more closely align with their real-life transfer valuation. 

“My overarching goal was to demonstrate that data science can truly be for everyone,” Huggard says. “Focusing less on advanced coding techniques and using basic tools that anyone can become familiar with helped show that production-level sports analytics can be picked up by anyone with an interest in learning and a few extra hours a week.” 

Regarding his upcoming role with Adidas in Portland, Oregon this summer, Huggard is looking forward to demonstrating both the technical prowess and emotional intelligence he’s developed at UMSI and in MSAS. 

“MSAS gives members the ability to focus on topics they’re passionate about as well as the assistance to put together production-level products, which is a separating factor in any internship or job hunt,” he says. “These projects can strengthen any portfolio.”

Find more information about the Michigan Sports Analytics Society on Maize Pages.

 

RELATED: 

New Intro to Sports Analytics elective brings competitive edge to UMSI Master of Applied Data Science curriculum

BSI student Charlie Logan takes first place in MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Hackathon
 

Martha Spall, UMSI writer