By Robert Toews
The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) hosted an all-day forum on Friday entitled “Sports Economics and Policy,” featuring several big-name speakers from the world of athletics.
The forum included talks from professional sports agents, professors and athletes as well as a panel discussion with four championship-winning Stanford athletes. Lecture topics ranged from data analytics to the business side of sports.
Jon Wertheim, a longtime Sports Illustrated journalist and author of the popular sports book “Scorecasting,” gave the keynote address. Wertheim spoke about the psychological biases that operate in sports and can influence the outcome of contests in ways that run contrary to conventional wisdom.
Another prominent speaker during the morning session was John Huizinga, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the agent for NBA superstar Yao Ming. In his talk, Huizinga discussed his research into the “hot hand,” the idea that a basketball player can get on a streak during the course of the game and become much more likely to make baskets.
Though the existence of the “hot hand” is a widely accepted phenomenon in sports, Huizinga’s research suggested that it does not exist in reality. According to the data, an NBA player is significantly less likely to make a shot if he has made his previous shot, the opposite of what we would expect if a “hot hand” effect were operating.
Huizinga also discussed his experiences representing Yao Ming over a period of several years and the unique insights that being an economist and a business school professor provided him in that job.
The afternoon session kicked off with a discussion panel of four current and former Stanford athletes: basketball player Mark Madsen ‘00, tennis player Lindsay Burdette ’10, basketball player Nneka Ogwumike ’12 and gymnast Nick Noone ’10.
Madsen played on the Stanford men’s basketball team in the late 1990s, including the 1998 Final Four team, before going on to a nine-year career in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career boasted two titles with the Lakers. Madsen spoke about how important a supportive, cohesive group dynamic is for any successful team.
“I can remember a time playing for the Lakers when, coming back from an injury when my rhythm was really off, I airballed two straight free throws in Staples Center,” Madsen said. “It was very humiliating for me, and I felt awful about it, but after the game, Shaq came up to me and joked about it and was very supportive about it and made sure I didn’t let it get me down. And that was something that made a big difference for me.”
Ogwumike, a current member of the Stanford women’s basketball team, responded without hesitation when asked what the defining moment of her athletic career at Stanford had been.
“Dec. 30, 2010, the day we broke UConn’s win streak,” Ogwumike said. “I could sense in my teammates how much we all wanted it. I’ve never heard Maples that loud in my life. That was, without doubt, the greatest moment of my basketball life.”
Bob Bowlsby, the director of Stanford’s Department of Athletics, also spoke about the economic landscape of college sports and some of the key issues he has dealt with in his five years on the Farm.
“People talk about there being a West Coast bias in college sports coverage, but I think this is something that we will see changing in the coming years,” Bowlsby said. “The fact is, the Pac-10 has won twice as many national championships as any other conference. With us expanding to 12 teams and looking at a new television cable deal, I think really exciting things are in store.”
Other featured speakers included Stanford professors Roger Noll and George Foster, San Diego Padres executive John Abbamondi and current Stanford undergraduate and Daily staffer Nikhil Joshi ’11.