Lots of Smart People in Boston

Just got home from the second annual MIT Sloan Sports Business Conference in Boston.

It is a multi-faceted one-day conference with a heavy NBA (and especially Celtics) presence -- because one of the founders of the conference is former Celtics executive, and current Houston GM, Daryl Morey.

Getting to know Morey a little -- let me be the latest of many to say he's a great guy to meet -- was one of the highlights. I would point out that while Morey is in love with qualatative analysis, the man is more swashbuckler than "nerd" in demeanor.

Spurs GM RC Buford, Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace, ESPN's Rick Carlisle, stats legend Bill James, Celtic CEO Wyc Grousbeck -- those are some of the people who were speaking or attending this small conference. I especially enjoyed hearing from very smart people like Dean Oliver -- the dean of modern basketball statistics -- and Michael Zarren who is the statisical mind of much of what the Boston Celtics do. And remember the 2007 TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown? John Hollinger, Justin Kutbatko, and Jeff Ma were all in Boston too.

Lots of interesting stuff. A random sampling of what I recall:

  • This is kind of the conference on basketball statistics, and Wyc Grousbeck -- bless him -- opened it with a keynote address saying, essentially, statistics ain't all that, and a lot of what's great about sports defies measurement.

  • R.C. Buford talked about a generation of players enmeshed in a "culture of entitlement," and suggested that one antidote to that was having players like Tim Duncan and David Robinson, who created a work setting that attracted players who were interested in being good teammates. Buford also said that before taking over their own D-League team, the Spurs spent some time with the Cleveland Indians, studying their farm system.

  • Bill Polian, the president of the Colts, trotted out a quote that he did not invent, but is nonetheless magnificent. Regarding injuries: "The most important ability is availability."

  • Rick Carlisle tossed around some ideas to make the game more exciting, including a slightly bigger basket. Other things that were at least mentioned, but not necessarily advocated, were a bigger court, four on four, and an idea that has been used in the CBA: to base the standings on a system where seven standing points are awarded for each game -- one for each quarter, and three for the game. Makes it so there is something to fight for at all times in the game. Carlisle played with those rules during a bries stint in the CBA, and said it was excting. He also pointed out that a rim that was just a half-inch bigger would likely increase current NBA scoring averages to 105 points per game.

  • Former NFL player, and current investment banker and consultant to the sports industry Randy Vataha had a fascinating bit of news. Some research he had seen showed that the key to the NFL's popularity is third down. Here's the rationale -- good TV has something to make you stop talking, sit down, and really focus on the screen at least every couple of minutes. TV writers know this to be fact. But while baseball and basketball have long stretches where you can get distracted, football has the magic of third down every so often, when everybody really tunes in.

  • Many speaking here suggested a shorter season may have benefits, but nobody thinks the NBA will go for it because it will mess with reveues.