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Penn State Football: John Urschel Gives Keynote Speech At Analytics Convention

by on April 13, 2018 2:30 PM

Former Penn State football player John Urschel returned to Happy Valley Thursday night to give the keynote address of the Penn State Sports Analytics Conference presented by The Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society.

Urschel, who retired from the NFL days after the New York Timespublished a controversial finding about CTE and is working on obtaining his Ph.D. from MIT, discussed the intersection of mathematics and athletics at the State Theatre. Urschel started his discussion in a broader sense, letting the audience know about what mathematics is exactly, the discoveries it has produced, and how it’s a universal language.

He then went into greater depth about math, and just how exactly it can be used in athletics today. According to Urschel, math can be used in sports to increase player performance of a player in two ways. It can help them understand the game from a new perspective and convince them that this understanding is both insightful and useful.

Urschel also touched on what the role of an analyst truly is in athletics today, and how “it requires the ability to convince coaches, people who don’t believe in your models and analytics, that it is useful and will help them win.”

The former Baltimore Raven discussed how certain games like checkers, tic tac toe, and chess have been solved mathematically to find the optimal method of winning by tracing patterns. However, Urschel believes the game of football will never be figured out mathematically. There are simply too many complications.

Urschel mentioned that even though the analytics are very important to coaches and staff, they’re just as important for the players in the game. They are intimately intertwined, and analytics should be side by side with the player because without one, the other is lacking something extremely valuable.


Hayden Christ is a Penn State student and writer for Onward State.
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