A Discussion with Dr. Ghosh about new iSchool Course: Sports Analytics
Published: November 14, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor
As part of the iSchool, I have learned just how impactful and varied the information science field can be. This spring, the iSchool will unveil a new Sports Analytics course in the Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Data Analytics degree program.
The 3-unit course, ISDA 150 – Special Topics in Information Science and Data Analytics – Sports Analytics, will be taught by Dr. Pramod Gupta for Spring 2024. The course was designed by Dr. Souvick Ghosh and I was able to interview him about this new and exciting iSchool course.
What is your role at the iSchool?
I joined the School of Information (iSchool) as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2020. I was the Program Coordinator (2020-2022) and am the Academic Coordinator (2022-2023) for our undergraduate program, Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Data Analytics (BSISDA).
I specialize in Information Retrieval and Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) and am the Director of the Intelligent Conversational Agents and Neural Networks (ICANN) Lab at the iSchool.
You developed a new class for the iSchool, Sports Analytics. What inspired you to develop this class?
The iSchool had previously explored the idea of Sports Analytics for our MLIS program, but it didn’t work out. In August 2022, Mat Keplinger, the assistant baseball coach at SJSU, reached out to me to explore the possibilities of building an analytics team for the baseball team.
I felt it would be wonderful to have an analytics team driven predominantly by students. It would be a great opportunity for our students on many levels. On the one hand, it is a real-life application (the baseball team uses data collected from Rapsodo and Trackman) and an exercise in problem-solving, in addition to being a nice resume builder.
I coordinated with the iSchool Director, Dr. Anthony Chow, to set up a Sports Analytics Club and met Mat and the analyst for the SJSU baseball team. However, we quickly realized that our students needed more training to be comfortable with these tasks, something formal and hands-on, before they could fully contribute to a result-driven role. That was the inspiration for me to design the Sports Analytics course, where our students can learn the required skills to analyze data not just from baseball but any other sports like basketball, soccer, or cricket.
Why would an information professional need to know about this unique subset of data analytics?
As information professionals, one goal is to transform data into meaningful information. While Information Science and Retrieval focus on interdisciplinary approaches to data collection, management, and analysis, Data Analytics is all about processing the data. With the popularity of sports worldwide, the only challenge is getting the right data and knowing what to do with it.
If you have watched the movie Moneyball, it is based on the book, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis. There are so many opportunities for sports analysts today. Every major sports organization recognizes that they need a team of data analysts to help them make in-game and transfer decisions.
So, if you are an information professional, you should think about ways to get employed by these organizations. But you need to have the required knowledge, and that’s why you need to know about this unique subset of data analytics.
What sort of learning outcomes will students gain from taking this class?
Once the students take the course and complete it, they will understand what sports analytics is and the different types of sports data and metrics. Gaining this knowledge is the first step for anyone new to this domain. Next, they will be able to use programming languages like Python and R to process this data and analyze it to develop insights for the coaching team or the audience. In the end, sports analytics is about influencing decision-making, so the students will learn how to use machine learning to analyze the data and make decisions.
Let’s take a hypothetical example. It is fourth down, and the coach needs to decide whether to attempt to advance the ball (go for it), kick a field goal, or punt the ball to the opposing team. Given the historical data on success rates for conversions, field goal attempts, and punts in similar field positions and game situations (e.g., score differential, time remaining), our students should be able to make the optimal decision on fourth down.
Whether they want to do it for fun or as a professional, this introductory course will help them get started on this journey.
Do you have any suggestions on what type of students should take this class?
If they love technology and they love sports, they are the perfect fit for this class. There will be a learning curve involved (sports terminologies and rules, machine learning algorithms, and databases), but the rewards are high. If you are already in a data analytics program, you are passionate about data analysis, and you want to develop your knowledge while you are in school. And also, these are high-paying jobs, where you could be working for your favorite teams, helping them win games!
Are there plans to expand sports analytics courses in the iSchool beyond this class?
The plan is to create a specialization in Sports Analytics with a cluster of courses. We are starting with an introduction course, but as we receive student feedback, we will know which areas they are interested in, and we will focus on designing more courses to help our students be successful.
What is your favorite sport and sports team?
I am a huge soccer (I call it “football”) fan. I grew up playing soccer and watching the English Premier League with my family. My favorite sports team is Manchester United. They are not doing so well presently, but if you look at the recruitment in recent years, they need to revamp their recruitment analysis team and build a more data-driven scouting network. This shows you the power of analytics and how they define the winners and losers in modern-day sports.
Many appreciations to Dr. Ghosh for taking the time to chat about this exciting new iSchool class. Spring registration is currently open if you’d like to take ISDA 150 – Sports Analytics with Dr. Gupta.