Avid sports fans typically have a way to check live scores and get updates on their phones.
Perhaps you go on your phone to check the score of the Rangers game or want to know who hit a homer for the Mets. Maybe you want to check how your fantasy team is doing, all in real time.
But have you ever wondered how those stats get onto your phone, or how you are able to look at the score as the action is unfolding?
“I really have no idea what the whole process behind scorekeeping is,” Matt Steccato, a junior at Iona College, said. “I just open the ESPN app, look at the game I’m interested in and never give it a second thought.”
Welcome to the mysterious world of statistics, where people reap the rewards of a statisticians’ hard work, but have no idea how the information gets to them.
“Stat Crew” is a popular statistics recording software developed in the late 1980s that Seton Hall has been using since the early 1990s. NFL sidelines may have coaches using tablets and other new technology, but it is a lot different when it comes to recording stats.
“You get this box score and you look at it and say, ‘Wow, this must be very advanced,’” Bobby Mullen, the associate director of Athletic Communications at Seton Hall, said as he picked up a standard Lenovo laptop and placed it on a desk. “But it’s quite the opposite. We have to take these machines and strip them down and knock the operating system down a few rungs just to run the program.”
The software does have its quirks, and it does not work on newer operating systems like Windows or Mac OS. But its age does not hold it back.
“In using the old software, we know it works,” Matt Sweeney, Seton Hall’s Assistant Athletic Director, said. “It’s been tried, true and tested. We attempted the next generation software briefly, but didn’t care for it. We like to stick with the stuff that works.”
Recording stats varies depending on the sport. For a slower sport, like soccer, you can get away with just one worker and a computer. But when it comes to basketball and volleyball, sometimes an additional member or two is needed.
“It’s tougher than you think,” Sweeney said. “Sometimes people think that there are five or six people sitting down to record a basketball game but in reality, it’s really one person keeping all of the stats.”
At a Seton Hall volleyball game, the statistics are handled by two people. One person calls the stats, saying every touch of the ball that happens, the sets, digs and attacks that take place over the course of a match. The other person types everything that the caller says in code, which the software translates into stats.
In the middle of a crowded Walsh Gymnasium, Tessa Fournier dives to record a dig and Sophia Coffey sets up Amanda Hansen for the kill. Amidst all of the crowd noise and commands from the players and coaches, a stat caller yells out, “Dig three, set four, attack nine, kill,” while the typer hits D1, S4, A9, K,Y.
Things get more hectic as the play gets more complicated.
These codes are translated into statistics, which are fed right into something called “GameTracker,” a program that broadcasts the live statistics to computers and smart phones around the world.
When recording statistics, the fast-paced action of some sports can lead to mistakes and errors. It is not uncommon for something to go wrong.
“I have had plenty of bad experiences,” freelance statistician Rob Manzari said. “In recent years, I tend to deal mostly with the soft- ware crashing due to incompatibility with newer operating systems. Other times I’ve had to deal with broken laptop screens after being hit with a ball in the middle of a volleyball and soccer match.”
Sometimes the problems will be a little more than a frozen screen.
“Despite all the chaos I’ve had to deal with, one of the funniest things I experienced was during a Division I basketball game a few years ago,” Manzari said. “The printer we were using to print stat sheets caught fire in the middle of a game that was being televised on ESPN3.”
With the chance for everything to go wrong, it is important for a university to have a stat crew that it can rely on. Whether the workers are hired professionals or student volunteers, the work needs to be top-notch.
“It’s imperative,” Sweeney said. “When it comes to sports information, one of our primary duties is to archive. We are essentially a history of the athletics program. We are the past, present and we will be taking notes well into the future. So it’s our job to be very conscientious in terms of record keeping and stat keeping.”
Stat Crew isn’t an easy program to learn. Whether it is calling stats or typing, it involves memorizing codes for different plays, like “Y” for a three-point attempt and “P” for a tip-in during basketball games. If someone knows how to use the program, they are one of the few people who can be utilized by universities and pro sports teams.
“If I know anyone that knows volleyball Stat Crew, then I immediately respect them and know that they know what they’re doing, because I know how difficult it is,” Mullen said. “It’s the same with basketball and hockey. There’s definitely a respect that comes with knowing the program and knowing how to do it well.”
Bobby Bevilacqua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. edu or on Twitter @rpb725.