The astrophysics hidden in sport

A basketball in space

Nick Greene’s How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius: What Game Designers, Economists, Ballet Choreographers, and Theoretical Astrophysicists Reveal About the Greatest Game on Earth looks at the way basketball can be interpreted by a host of non-professional athletes in ways you’d have never imagined.

One such way is through the eyes of Bronson Messer, an astrophysicist from the University of Tennessee who likens basketball defenses to stars “dancing around each other”:

“[…] There’s certainly a dance that comes along with basketball offenses and basketball defenses and what they move like. This happens more in the NBA now that you don’t have to play only man-to-man. There is a rhythm to a defense.”

via Slate

(It’s like Space Jam but without the Looney Tunes.)

But this isn’t the first cosmic foray into the world of sport. In 2015, Oliver Roeder wrote a piece for FiveThirtyEight called Can An Astrophysicist Change The Way We Watch Sports? that looked at how unpredictability could be predicted.

For decades now, sports-crazed statheads — the sabermetricians and forecasters and moneyballers bent on winning their fantasy leagues, assembling an actual professional team or simply understanding the sports world — have been honing their techniques, trying to find the signal hiding in the noise. […] The movement is trying, in other words, to predict the unexpected.

And one astrophysics student combined the theory with the practical. In 2019, a third-year linebacker from Gatineau called Trevor Hoyte did a cosmic dance of his own with his astrophysics major, aiming to get into medical school, and being a Canadian Football League (CFL) hopeful.

Upon graduation, Hoyte hasn’t decided between academic or athletic pursuits. Nor does he feel he has to. 

“I want to go to med school at McGill and hopefully get in and do it while doing the CFL. Half and half.”

While for most people, attending medical school or joining the CFL seem to be sufficient goals individually, Hoyte thinks with some accommodation he could manage both.

“The CFL is only for six months of the year. Maybe I could take online classes then.”

Hoyte currently plays football for Carleton University where he’s also Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Astrophysics department.

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