Math and Sports

Tim Chartier, Associate Professor of Mathematics,
Davidson College

UPDATE:  Check out cool presentation from Jason Ronsenfeld, Director of Basketball Analytics, Charlotte Hornets to local AP Statistics teachers working group.  Part 1 and Part 2.

A batter stands at the plate, or two basketball teams match up in March Madness.  Mathematics can indicate what may happen along with its likelihood.  Sports analytics is a popular and ever growing field of study and one in which students can engage.  Sports teams are often ranked by the fraction of wins over their total games.  Other times, more methods are employed.  For instance, the teams that play on New Year’s are selected by the Bowl Championship Series.  Two of their ranking methods use systems of equations.  Sports also include topics beyond these avenues of study – If one looks at a plot of lap times in NASCAR, one sees that the cars tend to slow down each lap after a pit stop.  Why?  Their tires are wearing.  If Usain Bolt were racing Jesse Owens, by how many feet would Bolt win the 100 yard dash if they both ran their gold medal times?

Charlotte offers a rich resource for exploring math in the field of professional sports.  The following possible resources would need to be confirmed but are clearly possibilities for the seminar:

*   Visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame and head of education.  What field trips can be conducted at the museum?

*   Visit a minor league team and learn about how sports analytics influence their game.  How real is Moneyball in their training or the manager’s decisions?

*   Visit the Bobcats or Panthers to learn how math influences their game.  What ways can we see math in the arena — from the hash marks on the football field being 10 yards apart to other aspects?  How do they mark off the field?

*   Connect with a Davidson coach about their sport.  What data do they use?  How do they analyze it?

Participating Fellows