Sports are increasingly becoming a data-driven pasttime. Baseball has long had sabermetrics, and devotees of analytics, such as Billy Beane of the Oakland A's and Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox and now the Chicago Cubs, have used analytical data to develop winning teams. If you follow SB Nation's Bill Connelly, you may be familiar with his advanced stats and how it can be used to analyze football teams.
Now sports analytics is coming to the Huskers with the hiring of Tucker Zeleny, a recent PhD graduate of UNL.
The University of Nebraska Athletic Department has recently added Tucker Zeleny as the Director of Sports Analytics and Data Analysis. Zeleny joins Athletics after building an impressive resume in various areas at UNL.
Zeleny will head a newly formed department that will be in charge of working with Nebraska's 24 varsity sports to collect, analyze and summarize data related to team and individual performance. Zeleny and his staff will also work with support staff areas within the department to collect, analyze and summarize data related to department operations.
"I am excited that Tucker has joined the athletic department and will be leading this newly created department," said Steve Waterfield, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Performance and Strategic Research. "I have been impressed not only with Tucker's analytical skills, but also with his ability to apply these skills in a practical, effective manner that gives Husker sports teams a competitive advantage. Our sports teams and departments stand to benefit significantly from the information Tucker and his staff will provide."
Zeleny earned his doctorate in statistics from UNL in May of 2015. His dissertation involved multivariate time series on multiple time scales with applications toward weight lifting data collected by the Husker football team. Zeleny completed his bachelor's degree in mathematics at UNL in 2010 before joining the statistics department as a teaching assistant. He completed his master's degree in statistics in 2012.
"I'm very excited to be joining the athletic department," Zeleny said. "Sports analytics is becoming a hot area. There is a ton of data out there right now and with new sport technology being made available seemingly every day, there will only be more. Any additional information or advantage we can provide to the various coaching staffs, and to the department in general, is a huge positive."
A native of Carleton, Neb., Zeleny has worked as a data analyst at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory.
Bold move here by Nebraska to jump out in front of a growing trend in sports, as there are a lot of opportunities to help coaches out with data. Can insights into play calling be obtained? Does data support changing perceptions as to when to punt and when to attempt a two point conversion, for example. Is there data that can be compiled and analyzed during the recruiting cycle to help identify under-the-radar hidden gems or overhyped targets who may not pan out once they arrive on campus.
It'll be Zeleny's job to help compile the data and begin assisting coaches and administrators in understanding what the data shows. It'll take time to identify and validate these approaches, and maybe even longer before it makes a real impact. All the better to start now and be near the forefront of the research and development of these metrics.