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Purdue Science trio wins $100K in ESPN game show, 'Bracket Genius'

Bracket geniuses

The team of (from left) Arik Kowarski, Kristen Mori and Andrew Eggert won $100,000 by competing in ESPN's "Bracket Geniuses" game show. The trio helps lead the Purdue Sports Analytics Club.

A hat trick of Purdue College of Science juniors came out of the 2017 NCAA basketball tournament $100,000 richer thanks to their statistical analytics prowess.

Kristen Mori, Andrew Eggert and Arik Kowarski -- all juniors – were contacted by ESPN in February to possibly be a part of The Worldwide Leader’s new game show, “Bracket Genius.” The network had Purdue among the 100 or so schools that were most likely to make the Sweet 16 in the men’s basketball tournament. The trio is members of the new Purdue Sports Analytics Club. ESPN found Mori’s name attached to the club online before she selected her team. The 15 other teams came from schools that made up the rest of the Sweet 16.

Thanks to Caleb Swanigan and crew’s awesome play on the court, the Purdue Science trio went to a Chicago production studio for tapings March 20 to 22. The show was hosted by ESPN anchor Trey Wingo.

The teammates recall fast and furious questions. They buzzed through the competition before finally beating their Gonzaga University counterparts in the finals. Confetti rained and they were presented with the obligatory giant check. The money will be split equally between the teammates.

“It’s going to the bank into savings,” said Eggert, an Atmospheric Science major but hardcore sports statistics fan.

Questions ranged in difficulty. Easiest ones were one point while the hardest were three – just like in basketball. If a team got a question wrong, the opponents could steal the points.

ESPN taped multiple episodes a day and were quickly turned around to coincide with the action on the hardwood. Mori, Eggert and Kowarski plowed through the competition on ESPN2 from March 22 to April 4. Reruns were aired on ESPNU.

The three played against other sports analytics clubs as well as general university trivia champs and jocks from university athletic departments.

A slam-dunk of a career field

Sports analytics is a hot career field nationwide and overseas.

“European soccer clubs are into now, too,” Eggert said.

Every professional sports team employs analytics experts as does sports networks like ESPN. There are numerous start-up analytics companies as well.

“It’s really big in fantasy sports – the daily and the regular,” explained Mori, a Statistics and Computer Science major. “Some people are doing that as a career. … Fifteen years ago, a lot of teams didn’t have a lot of people designated to analytics and now they do.”

Baseball was the granddaddy of large data sets in sports. Basketball and football followed. Eggert’s favorite sport of ice hockey is getting onboard as well. It’s much more than goals and assists now.

“Hockey is going through a ‘Moneyball’ situation slowly,” said Eggert, a Detroit Red Wings backer. “It’s shot efficiency, goalie positioning. There’s so much data now.”

Mori got the idea of forming the Purdue Sports Analytics Club after attending the 2016 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston.

Mori, Eggert and Kowarski will lead the club again in 2017-18.

Sports fans for life

During the fast and furious rounds of “Bracket Genius,” teams had to not only remember stats but general sports – as well as history, science and pop culture -- trivia as well. Mori’s New England roots got her team points for the NFL team that lost four Super Bowls in a row in the 1990s (Buffalo Bills).

Mori’s affinity for the New England Patriots gets her jeers in Indiana but Tom Brady and company helped lead her to a career path. She plans on attending graduate school before obtaining a job in sports analytics.

An Applied Statistics major, Kowarski played basketball, baseball and football as a teen growing up in Indianapolis. He absorbs all sports for enjoyment and statistical analysis. Individual sports like golf and tennis are analytical goldmines as well, he said.

Eggert’s future will focus on severe weather research or under the lights and cameras for a television meteorologist job. “Bracket Genius” was an early, unexpected first taste of television for him. Whether he works behind the scenes or on screens, the “Bracket Genius” experience was a welcomed – and lucrative – whirlwind.

“The whole thing went so fast,” Eggert said.

Bracket geniuses

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