Advantage or obstruction?

A look into varying athletic advantages

By Amelia Nowicki and Robert Maddox

To many student athletes, sports advantages are anything but new. Whether these assets include cutting-edge equipment or a thought-out game plan, it is apparent that teams and players have various ways of giving themselves the upper hand.

For example, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis describes the Oakland Athletics’ usage of data analytics to create a strong team despite low funding. Varsity baseball coach David Martin believes that statistics tend to play a part in most sports, particularly those that require careful planning.

“The game of baseball is one of the most strategic games. I think it’s a chess game out there, all the time,” Martin said. “It’s a game with percentages and tendencies, and having data on opposing teams certainly plays a role each and every day from tendency charts (to) hitting spray charts.”

Research from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management states that the use of data analytics in baseball became the norm only after they were put under the spotlight. Prior to the 2003 publication of “Moneyball,” only five teams in the Major League Baseball had used sabermetrics. By 2008, more teams had begun utilizing data and the comparative advantage of the practice had diminished rapidly, with roughly 75 percent of teams using it by 2013. 

However, baseball is not the only sport that utilizes data. According to the study, the practice also became popular in a majority of sports, and even some professions including the likes of business and government.

Despite its wide-spread nature, statistics teacher Julie Pappas hopes that access to other teams’ data is only used for good, as she believes statistics are a crucial part of athletics and should not be used solely for an upper hand.

“I don’t think (the advantage) is fair to be perfectly honest because you could spend money on certain people and things like that,” Pappas said. 

In addition to statistics, boys track coach Ed Lazar thinks that there are multiple ways a team could have an advantage, one such being the equipment they may be using.

Launching in 2017, Nike’s “Vaporfly” running shoe was built to give runners a boost and dramatically cut their running times. According to the brand, the shoes have been proven to help average runners move up to four percentage points faster.

While this seems like a dream come true for many, Lazar is wary of the use of such tools in competition.

“Can’t say I’m a big fan,” Lazar said. “I think if it becomes an accepted piece of equipment, then it’s okay. But otherwise, I don’t think it has a place, I really don’t.”

For senior and varsity softball captain Brenna Marsin, statistics and equipment both play major roles in her sport. Although she believes certain tools can be seen as unfair or unneeded, Marsin believes that others are important to the growth and development of a team’s skills.

“Stats play a huge role,” Marsin said. “They allow the coach and the players to see improvements and who is the best in each situation.” 

To Martin and Pappas, statistics and data analysis hold a high priority no matter the context, and they believe everyone should have a basic understanding of how to use them.

“Statistics don’t lie,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the most bang for your buck.”