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3 Must-See Presentations at this Year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2020

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Boston became the center of the sports world once again this past weekend with the brightest minds in sports business all convening at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Great discussions centered around “what comes next” in the sports business and analytics fields, created fantastic learning opportunities for everyone involved. This year was no exception as panelists and presenters tackled tough topics ranging from leveraging data in sponsorships to what the sports world can learn from chess. Students and professionals alike appreciated panelists’ insight as many new connections were made through abundant networking opportunities. The conference is a student-run event with founders Daryl Morey (GM, Houston Rockets) and Jessica Gelman (CEO, Kraft Analytics Group) lending a hand when need be. The whole team did a fantastic job providing a wide variety of presentations for conference-goers to attend. That being said, here are three of our favorite presentations from the weekend.

Player Empowerment: I’ve Got the Power

Moderator: Jackie MacMullan (Senior Writer, ESPN)

Panelists: Stephen A. Smith (Analyst, ESPN), Kendrick Perkins (Analyst, ESPN), and Michael Rubin (Co-Owner, Philadelphia 76ers)

While this is an academic conference with the purpose of advancing sports, it’s always a good idea to sit in on a presentation that’s just fun, no matter how off-topic it can get. When you put these four all on one stage, it’s clear that you’re not always going to get a short and concise answer to a question (although it’ll always be truthful). While they did discuss today’s athlete and how things have changed over the years, topics ranged from Kendrick Perkins’ recent social media dispute with Kevin Durant to how bad Stephen A. thinks the Knicks organization is. There was a lot of knowledge to be gained from the four great sports minds on the stage, but this presentation was more of a show than a learning experience. When you’re about to dive into a full day of analytics and sports business talk, it’s not a bad idea to warm up a little bit with some healthy, “First Take” style debates.

Tackling Name, Image, and Likeness in College Sports

Moderator: Warren Zola (Executive Director, Boston College Chief Executives Club)

Panelists: Saquon Barkley (Running Back, New York Giants), Gerry Cardinale (Founder, RedBird Capital Partners), Martin Jarmond (Athletic Director, Boston College), and Stan Wilcox (Executive VP of Regulatory Affairs, NCAA)

With a similar topic to the panel I previously discussed, this presentation was completely different in nature. A more defined focus and a more specific topic guided these six to an extremely in-depth discussion about the NCAA’s reaction to the current changes in legislature and how different entities are affected by the organization’s decisions. While it seemed that all of the panelists were finding the most politically correct ways to share their views, great ideas were passed back and forth between them as to what needs to change in the future. Stan Wilcox, the NCAA representative, seemed to be the center of focus, and rightfully so. Most of the discussion being related to his organization put him in an interesting spot among the other panelists. It created a dynamic that you’d only be able to find behind closed doors, but instead with a crowd of a few hundred. At points, this discussion felt like it was becoming a debate, but it never actually took that form. It’ll be interesting to see how all of these entities work out a solution in the near future.

Numbers Don’t Lie: Using Data in the Weight Room to Enhance On-Field Performance

Presenter: Jeremy Jacobs (Strength and Conditioning Coach, LSU)

Presentations with star athletes and higher up sports business professionals tend to draw the bigger crowds, but some of the gems of the conference can be found in the smaller Competitive Advantage talks. One of my favorites from the weekend was centered around how LSU uses analytics in the weight room to promote performance and recovery. Jeremy Jacobs is responsible for teams other than Football at LSU, but that’s the sport this presentation was mainly based around. Jacobs gave an in-depth look into LSU’s various analytics-based programs and technologies that you can find throughout their weight room. Using the data gathered from this technology (such as pads that measure force when jumping), LSU uses computer programs to determine how hard their players should be lifting during the season. Depending on their schedule, these programs will tell the coaches exactly how much weight each player should be lifting the week before a game. This changes from week to week as their opponents become variably more or less difficult. These programs were deemed successful after players began recording personal bests in speed and weight lifting in the week leading up to the National Championship.

I highly recommend this event to anyone trying to innovate and move the business of sport forward. Whether you’re analytics minded or not, there’s a lot to be learned about the games we love and operations outside and inside the lines. The wide variety of topics covered and professionals in attendance will ensure that if you’re looking, an opportunity to better yourself and your network will arise. Thank you, MIT Sloan and everyone involved for another fantastic weekend!

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