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Commentary: Revenge of the nerds -- analytics and March Madness

A few weeks ago, Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer put the kibosh on Yahoo's telecommuting perk-policy; terminating the popular-among-tech company employees' practice of working from home for Yahoo employees. The following weekend, MIT Sloan held its annual Sports Analytics Conference. This week, the [M]adness of March tips-off; as the NCAA's great panjandrum, it's basketball-based bread and circus, the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament gets under-way on Thursday.

My knowledge of the inter-workings of the Internet(s) is limited to my ability to log-on, to hit control-alt-and-delete to "trouble-shoot" (of which I'm yet to figure out the Mac-based equivalent), and my ability to make passing references, when in the company of my software engineering friends, to the zeros-and-ones of some version of coding language. But, my impression is that Ms. Mayer was able to tell from the usage of bandwidth, or lack thereof, of certain work-from-homers, that little work was actually being performed remotely.

Sports analytics was brought to the (relative) mainstream by Michael Lewis' book (or, more appropriately, the movie adaptation of said book), "Moneyball;" about "Sabermetrics" and the application of statistics and analytics in and to baseball.

March Madness is college basketball bacchanalia; the win-or-go-home, Cinderella-slipper-fitting, epicurean-styled feast of college basketball at its best.

What do Ms. Mayer's recall of workers to the Yahoo offices, Sloan's Sports Analytics Conference, and March Madness have to do with one another? The latter's pernicious effect on work-place productivity, and the formers' potential ability to create an analytical measuring tool therefor.

If you are an employer - particularly of men of the age of 21-55 - this Friday will likely set the high-water mark for half-day (afternoon) sick-days for your year; and, the low-tide of work-place productivity for those employees who do post to their posts post-lunchtime on Friday.

Perhaps the sports-analytics folks can borrow Mayer's investigative techniques for uncovering worker-non-productivity; turn around and package such an analytics tool into some sort of software (or via an "app for that") that would allow employers to chart and track (i) the percentage of employees who (predictively or preemptively) call-in sick this Friday, and/or (ii) the decrease in productivity of employees, broken down by demographic information like age and gender. Then, Yahoo can create some sort of catchy info-graphic to illustrate the trends and information gathered from the analytical tool.

The potential silver lining to the employers reading this - hopefully, the employees who call-out sick on Friday afternoon will feel a little bit of guilt; and, therefore, won't call-out sick or come in hung-over and equally unproductive on Monday.

And/but what about those brackets and pools? More fertile ground for analytics and info-graphics?

Do you know who finishes last in most pools? The guy(s) who thinks he knows the game; the guy who watches a relatively high amount of basketball; the guy who played the game. Do you know who finishes first? That guy's girlfriend/wife, who makes her picks strategically; basing those picks on things like, if the two team's mascots got into a fight, who would win; which team has prettier colors; whose players are hotter; and, the default setting (and not a bad strategy) of picking the higher seeds throughout.

Like the Bishop (said) to the barmaid, let's try this again. Not to take away from the fun of filling out brackets or joining-in pools; and, not to dampen the spirit of the anything is possible, Cinderella'd storylines that will unfold in the coming weeks (hello to all you No. 12 seeds playing No. 5 seeds; and, to you, the interesting No. 8 seed potentially playing a No. 1 seed perceived to be weak in the second round - this year that weak No. 1 seed is likely you, Gonzaga; at least here in ACC country, with our East-Coast bias).

But, do you know the first thing teams must do if and when they make it to the Final Four; who their very first meeting is with upon arriving in the host city? The (gun-toting) sports-gambling-focused task-force of the FBI; when and where the team will sit through an hour-plus presentation on the pervasiveness of gambling in sports; particularly, the presence of corrupt and potentially corrupt parties within and throughout the game. The most guilty parties? The referees.

You want a sports analytics tool that would prove to be equal parts fun and maddening(?); a metric that charts the number of first-half fouls called on a team's top three players/scorers throughout the season (and/or the players' careers) vs. the number of first-half fouls called on those same players in the tournament; with a particular focus on the Final Four games. [Why this statistic? Because most coaches have a rule whereby if a player picks up two fouls in the first half, the coach sits that player for the remainder of the half; equal parts momentum killer and handicap.] Sounds like a conspiracy theory, right.? The beauty of the revenge of the nerds in sports statistics - numbers don't lie.

Statistical analysis of sick days and productivity, bracketology strategies and pools, conspiracy theories aside - enjoy the games and the Madness! The bittersweet chorus of One-Shining-Moment comes too soon.

Matt Laczkowski is an athlete, coach, and sports columnist living in Westminster. Email to coach@with-character.com.

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