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Old 03-05-13, 03:00 AM
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Spurs among geeks at sports analytics conference

I was waiting in line on the third floor of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Friday to pick up a boxed lunch before heading to a presentation on "Predicting the Likelihood of Field Goal Success with Logistic Regression" when some guy milling around nearby ran into someone who was either a buddy or business associate.

"It feels good to shake your hand, man," I heard him say. "I've gotten so many dead fishes today."

Limp handshakes can strike anywhere, of course, but I suspect that at the annual Sports Analytics Conference hosted by MIT's Sloan School of Management, their percentage relative to total glad-handing might be a little bit higher. (If I were as academically rigorous as so many of the attendees, I might already be hard at work devising a study to measure this. We could call the resulting stat QualGrip or Squeeze Versus Threshold or something.) Of course, there's also the strong possibility that there are fewer firm grips because there are just so many more hands being shaken. Now in its seventh year, the SSAC has grown from a small meeting of the minds in a few empty MIT classrooms to what feels like an entire ecosystem. That it was held this time around in Boston's massive convention center and heavily sponsored by ESPN only added to that vibe.

There were an estimated 2,700 attendees this year, a mix of students (really low QualGrip with that crowd), writers, employees of start-up companies whose names are all various puns on the word "analytics," front-office bigwigs and lil'wigs, accented academics, and — according to the official attendance list that everyone loves to pore over on the first morning to see whom they want to mildly stalk — one Reggie Love. 1 It's a funny environment. Mark Cuban stalks the halls trying out video games, trailed by aspirational geeks like a pasty Pied Piper. Michael Lewis, hosting the keynote discussion "Revenge of the Nerds," looks over at America's most adored prophet, Nate Silver, and casually remarks that he can't remember whether he interviewed him for Moneyball. (I wish my own memory lapses were as highbrow as that.) There are basketball-shooting robots in one room, and guys giving talks about tracking the eye movements of soccer players in the next. One night, while out to drinks with a few colleagues and others, I turned to one of those others and was about to politely inquire "So, what do you do?" Before I could, a bunch of the other guys at the table started peppering him with questions about the San Antonio Spurs. As it turns out, he was R.C. Buford, the team's GM. Nice guy!


Sports analytics and the MIT Sloan Conference - Grantland
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