Published on September 5, 2018 by Morgan Black  
Sports Analytics Students4

Sports teams try to squeeze out every last bit of talent to gain a competitive advantage on the field. That’s also true in college athletic departments and professional team offices, where entire departments devoted to analyzing data hunt for sports analytics experts that can give them an edge in a game, in the stands and beyond. To create this talent, SAS, the world’s largest privately held software company and leader in analytics, will collaborate with Samford University’s Center for Sports Analytics to support teaching, learning and research in all areas where analytics impact sports, including fan engagement, sponsorship, player tracking, sports medicine, sports media and operations.

The collaboration, and in-kind partnership, was announced at a university-wide event on campus by Michael Hardin, Samford Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“Samford anticipates future skill sets needed by its graduates and seeks to prepare students today,” said Hardin. “Analytics and digital literacy are clearly important areas in which to develop new expertise and capabilities.”

The Center for Sports Analytics affords opportunities for students to work with real-world data provided by partners from the sports world to provide customized solutions. Many top sports properties will provide data, including teams from major international soccer leagues, the NBA and NFL, college athletic conferences and some of the world’s largest apparel companies.

SAS has helped the New York Mets, Orlando Magic and Boston Bruins, as well as top Fortune 500 companies, gain deeper insights into athletes, as well as fan engagement and revenue. Many athletic organizations are collecting data on ticket sales, fans, games, attendance, athletes, mobile apps and web traffic, venues and much more. However, they struggle to pull this disparate information together and use it to improve performance on and off the field.

Samford students will have access to SAS machine learning, data visualization and other technologies as they will have the chance to tackle projects that span all aspects of sports. In addition to data-driven player analyses, students will work with data from teams and companies to better understand fan engagement and sponsorships. Samford students will not just analyze data from sports franchises, but from the companies that want to maximize the value of athletic sponsorships.

“By applying industry-standard analytics to a breadth of sports challenges, students will gain analytical fluency that will give them a wide variety of opportunities in the world of athletics,” said Hardin.

The potential of sports analytics is just beginning to be realized.

For instance, on the field, Dutch sports analytics company SciSports uses streaming data and applies machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence to capture and analyze a variety of soccer data, making way for innovations in everything from player recruitment to virtual reality for fans. The company’s SciSkill Index evaluates every professional soccer player in the world in one universal index, using machine learning algorithms to calculate the quality, talent and value of more than 200,000 players. This helps clubs find talent, look for players that fit a certain profile and analyze their opponents.

“It’s an exciting time to enter the world of sports analytics,” said SAS spokesperson, Rob Harper. “People with the skills offered by Samford’s Center for Sports Analytics will be greeted by a dynamic and opportunity-rich job market.”

“The beauty of this new collaboration is that we will be able to combine the powerful analytics platform of SAS with the deep sports industry expertise of the Center for Sports Analytics – a surefire way to give Samford students unique learning opportunities that open the door for them to gain employment in sports analytics when they graduate,” said Darin White, executive director for the Center for Sports Analytics.

SAS skills are not just in demand in athletics. With more than 83,000 customers around the world, SAS skills are valued across industries. SAS technology will be available for all Samford students and faculty interested in analytics. SAS collaborates with higher education institutions around the world to meet the enormous demand for analytics talent and offer learners rewarding careers. SAS has helped launch nearly 80 master’s programs and more than 200 certificate programs in analytics and related fields.

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About Samford University – Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 4th among regional universities in the South. Samford enrolls 5,619 students from 44 states, the District of Columbia and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference.