Sloan recap

Here’s a summary of an exciting two days at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC).

1) Research paper contest (the posters)

While I gave the organizers of SSAC a hard time for how they handled the initial research paper contest (Part I is here), I have to give credit where credit is due. First, SSAC changed their policy, and gave all poster winners one free ticket. Second, the placement of the posters was optimal: directly in the middle of the hallway between the ballrooms and the conference rooms. I honestly had a hard time making it to panels with all the people who stopped by my poster to talk sports, statistics, and hockey’s point system.

For those interested in future submissions, there does indeed appear to be a reward for poster recipients. Greatly appreciated.

2) Research paper contest (the presenters)

The Second Spectrum group won for the second time in three years, for their paper (linked here) titled “The Three Dimensions of Rebounding.” Congrats to them, and they made some fans in the audience, to go along with the money

For what its worth, I’m of the opinion that new blood in the contest would be a good thing, and that past grand prize winners should be ineligible for future prizes. Such a policy is how many academic prizes – and even radio contest giveaways – tend to work. Please note that this is not a knock in this year’s winners. But when two out of the last three prizes have been awarded to the same group using (roughly) the same proprietary data looking at the same skill, it gets repetitive.

3) I’m not trolling, but people asked

Top-8 Research Papers: 4 basketball, 3 baseball, 1 soccer

Next-8 Research Papers: 3 basketball, 2 baseball, 1 hockey, 1 football, 1 ultimate frisbee


Top-8 Research Papers: 6 proprietary data sets

Next-8 Research Papers: 1 proprietary data set


Top-8 Research Papers: 6 Harvard/MIT connections

Next-8 Research Papers: 1 Harvard/MIT connection


The posters (here) and papers (here) are all worth a read.

4) The worst part about Sloan is also the best part

Sloan is most definitely a place to be seen and to people watch. Several famous sports personalities, successful coaches and general managers, and representatives from more than 80% of professional sports franchises are in your midst. It’s great, and on a personal level, it was really cool for me to explain my work in detail to, among others, 76ers GM Sam Hinkie and Buffalo Bills Analytics Director Mike Lyons.

The obvious downside of having so many famous people is that many of the panels turn from conversations about what analytics can offer into confusing and misguided discourse on what they can’t. 

Further, all too often did I hear anecdotal evidence used by team officials to justify their unwillingness to accept an analytical point of view. Don Sweeney would’ve been missed by hockey analytics? Well then shame on them.

Of course, I’m not the only one with this perspective:

Anyways, thanks to all the MIT students for their efforts, and to all attendees whom I met up with. Not sure I’ll be a yearly Sloan attendee, but its definitely an event worth checking out.



  1. Great meeting you at the conference, Mike. Let’s keep in touch. One proposal for Sloan on the proprietary dataset issue is that they create two awards: one for analytics that is reproduce-able, and another one for those involving proprietary datasets. That should address some of the issues you raised in a prior post, while also creating additional incentives for private companies to continue innovating by spending the time and money to collect new data that researchers can analyze.

    Also, one thing I just noticed last night that another major benefit of being in the “Top 8” is that ESPN the Magazine had a 2-page spread (I think like last year) that gave those selected papers very high exposure, and where fans could vote on their favorite. That exposure could be even more valuable than presenting at the Conference with a much smaller audience (but not as much as that $20k prize).

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