#DigitalPPG is a recurring column by Charisse Lambert, a writer specializing in the convergence of sports, tech, and urban brand campaigns.
Like many businesses, the National Football League is experimenting with big data to help players, fans, and teams alike.
The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. this week from Feb. 23-29. NFL scouts will evaluate top college prospects in tests such as the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, shuttle drills, and more, and these players have spent months training in these combine events to improve their stock among NFL teams. TV networks have turned the weeklong gathering into an offseason programming bonanza that includes live television and social media coverage.
Despite the advancement in technology since the combine began—and all of the focus the annual event now receives—many of assessment tools used in this process have remained relatively unchanged and test only physical attributes. And in recent years, many NFL coaches have begun to speak out against the traditional combine process and its methods as a whole. Now more than ever, they are turning to technology to study prospective players. The days of scouts keeping time on stopwatches as prospects run in the so-called “Underwear Olympics” are rather played out.
On Feb. 24, the league will hold its first Football Performance and Technology Symposium, featuring speakers including Dr. Marcus Elliott, founder and director of P3, which has evaluated NBA draft participants the past two years in a 3D motion analysis lab. The idea for the symposium was first sparked at last year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where Dr. Robby Sikka, Lead Clinical Research Scientist at TRIA Orthopaedic Center, met with Matt Birk, former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman and current NFL Director of Football Development. Their discussion included the increasing trend of teams hiring sports science directors and analytics departments. The idea then became to develop a best-practices program for the NFL so the increasing number of teams interested in data, analytics, and sports science could hear from the best in the world how they are handling the vast amounts of data permeating the sports world.
Together Sikka and the NFL Football Operations team developed the symposium, where attendees will have the opportunity to hear from sports science directors; management from top college football programs; analytics executives from NBA and MLB teams, including last season’s World Series and NBA champions, as well as English Premier League teams. Experts from TRIA Orthopaedic Center, Harvard, the U.S. Air Force and other institutions will also be present to discuss the future of technology and data in football.