For the past few years, I have always wanted to attend the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) in Boston and hosted by MIT but for one reason or another, I never did. Of course taking time off from work for a conference that is not quite relevant to my current career as an educator probably would not sit well with my employer. Interestingly I am a married man with a newborn son so one would think attending this conference would be even more challenging. Thankfully I have a very supportive wife!
If you are a sports fan, you should attend this conference even if you are not a big numbers guy. It is fascinating to see how data collection and analysis can truly influence how teams perform but also how we perceive our favorite sports. The talk shown in the photograph is a panel titled "Silver Asks Silver" and was one of the more well attended talks. Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight.com and Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, discussed a variety of topics regarding the NBA. I would have to say that in my 30+ years of watching sports, Adam Silver has to be my favorite commissioner. He doesn't strike you as elitist (like Roger Goodell and I am sure Bostonians would agree) and in fact is all about the fans. The guy even shared his e-mail address with everyone and asked fans to reach out to him!
What I found more remarkable about Adam Silver is the way he presents himself as a strong leader. The NBA is in a really good place right now given that prior to Silver's rise to the top, the NBA had experienced two labor stoppages under the previous commissioner. The recent collective bargaining agreement made the NBA players a lot of money but in turn also brought in an insane amount of TV revenue for the NBA and its 30 teams. Silver is forward thinking and seeing him in person discussing a sport so many of us love was simply amazing.
Nate Silver did not answer many questions. Of course the question many of us in the audience were dying to ask is how his model for predicting the US Presidential Election was so off last year when his model as so spot on in 2008 and 2012 and made him famous and very wealthy. Of course there is no place for politics at a conference like this so maybe I will ask him that question politely in passing!
The SSAC lasts for two days and usually there are about 6 - 8 talks per hour. It is a whole day affair so prepare for talks from 8 AM - 5 PM but all of them are very interesting, especially the one about Marijuana in Sports and Stop Punting which was about how analytics can dictate the decisions NFL coaches make during the game.
If you are into fantasy sports, gambling, sports science, or just want to hear insight from the top sports personalities today, you need to come to Boston for the SSAC. It is well worth the trip!