Massey echoed those sentiments. Despite his name recognition and despite helping a couple of Major League Baseball teams several years ago, he never pursued a career in sports, preferring instead to maintain his Massey Ratings website as a hobby rather than a career. He has even expanded his ratings to sports such as soccer, hockey, volleyball, and handball.
In 2005, he joined the faculty at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, and today, he works there as a data analyst while also teaching math courses.
“I would advise students not to intentionally restrict their career path to sports,” Massey said. “Try to get working knowledge of other industries as well and have a general understanding of math and statistics and analytics that you can apply to a variety of problems.
“I do know it’s a pretty competitive field to get a job with a professional team. Some people can do it, and if you think those opportunities are there, then that’s great. Do like I did and start a hobby website where people can find your work, so you have a portfolio that people can see what you’ve done. But the great thing about math is that it can be applied in a lot of different domains.”
Isabella Shaher heard the message. The junior from Centreville, Virginia, is pursuing a degree in computational modeling and data analytics, known more commonly by its acronym CMDA, and dreams of working for her favorite NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“That’s a big dream of mine, but more realistically, I’ll probably be a data analyst,” Shaher said. “If it’s for a sports team, that would be fantastic, but if it ends up taking me down another route, like insurance, for example, that would be great as well. Being a CMDA major, everything is generalized, which I think is cool. You get to do a bit of everything. You should always dream big, but realistic.”
Shaher and two of her classmates are having some fun and gaining real-world experience at the same time by working on a project with the Virginia Tech volleyball team, with the goal of helping the team improve. Merkes requires the group to give a presentation to the class toward the end of the semester.
“They’re Division I, and it’s just a big opportunity,” Shaher said. “I was very excited about it.”
While pursuing her doctoral degree, Merkes worked with computer scientists, engineers, and even the Virginia Tech softball team on various projects. That’s a big reason why she half-jokingly insists that every student pursue a degree in statistics or computational modeling and data analytics.
Data drives today’s world, and those with the ability to organize it efficiently and effectively will be in high demand. The Introduction to Sports Analytics and Sports Analytics Statistical Research courses were designed in part to help meet that demand.
“You get to play in everyone’s area, and I think that is so cool,” Merkes said. “I just want to keep exposing that to the students. Whatever your passion is, I promise you somehow stats is related. You have to analyze data, forecast, understand how the data is working, and if I can get students to realize that stats is important, and it applies to all these different fields, then I’m doing my job and hopefully more kids will come to our classes.”