Even before his first day at Amherst, Xander Schwartz ’23 was giving the Sports Business and Analytics Club a new kickstart.
Schwartz, a North Andover, Mass., native and member of Amherst’s squash team, came here with a passion for getting behind the numbers and learning what makes professional sports work.
“I am incredibly passionate about sports analytics; it’s what I want to do with my life. I saw the club before I entered as a freshman, and I talked to my brother who graduated last year and said that’s something I want to do. But no one was running it when I came here,” he said.
As sometimes happens with a club operated by students close to graduation, this club seemed headed into hiatus with the graduation of its founders, Jasmine Horan ’19 (now an operations associate for the New York Yankees) and William Zaubler ’19.
“So I said, ‘I’m just going to start it up,’” Schwartz says.
“He came in within the first week,” says Paul Gallegos, director of student activities. “He was very earnest and very respectful. He was just, ‘I want to do whatever I can to get this going.’ And that’s kind of the ethos of our office: if you have the passion, we’re going to make it happen, because we have the resources, and our focus is to have a really personal touch with those groups that want it.”
According to its charter, the club’s purpose is “to help students develop the necessary analytical skills for careers in sports analytics [and to] educate students about general opportunities to work in sports.”
To meet that goal, the club forges connections with Amherst alumni who work in the sports industry, and members attend sports conferences and sports analytics competitions.
Schwartz started by reaching out to students who’d been involved in the club in the past, which netted about seven members. Then he moved on to alumni.
“I spent maybe two or three hours early in September just going through the entire alumni network and trying to find anyone who is sports-related, and that included people who are in media,” he says. “It’s easy to just find people who work in the NBA, MLB and NFL or whatever it is.”
By the end of the fall semester, the club had already brought to campus Dan Duquette ’80, former general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox; Ezra Van Negri ’12, strategic planning analyst for the Oklahoma City Thunder; and Chris Fargis ’01, director of sportsbook operations at DraftKings, Inc.
What kinds of students join the club?
“It's a mix of people who just genuinely love sports and love talking about it and love learning about it,” Schwartz says. “I would say people who are sports fanatics make up 65 percent of the club.”
For the other 35 percent, those with aspirations toward the business side of athletics, Schwartz wants this to be “a way to network to meet more people, but also to learn the skills you need to be able to work in the industry,” which is difficult to break into, he says.
Of the club’s current membership, the majority study mathematics, statistics and economics, he says. Though he hasn’t yet declared a major, he said that’s probably where he’s headed, too.
One priority has been to get the club on a more frequent schedule. Since early October, it has met twice a month, mostly for events with the speakers, “but also occasionally to go over other things. We had one where we just talked about the MLB playoffs for an hour,” Schwartz says.
“We hopefully in the future will be able to start teaching certain things, R and SQL, which are programming languages,” he says. “Every single job application these days says you need to know these specific statistical techniques.”
Future plans also include attending gatherings such as the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, one of the largest student-run conferences in the country.