What Happens When Big Data Just Disappears?

2016 Team USA Media Summit - Press Conferences
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 09: Basketball player Sue Bird addresses the media at the USOC Olympic Media Summit at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for the USOC)
Photo: Todd Warshaw 2016 Getty Images

Analyzing data about athletic performance has become big business in modern sports as evidenced by league and team execs and athletes speaking at last week’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

That data can, if used properly, help minimize injuries, increase performance, and even win games. But what happens if that data just disappears one day?

That’s not a theoretical. It happened to WBBState, a website that collects data on women’s college basketball. As of late last month, that site went dark, as reported by the FiveThirtyEight website.

WBBState is part of another company, National Statistical, which on March 4 posted a statement saying that WBBState had been offline since Feb. 29 because its hosting provider of seven years had moved its gear out of a Miami data center. The move included “servers and disks with our data and backups,” according to the statement.

That hosting company, ServerAxis, had not returned calls or email since March 1, it added.

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Now, there are other data sources on women’s basketball but as FiveThirtyEight’s Ian Levy pointed out: WBBState.com had advanced stats including things like true shooting percentage, pace-adjusted player statistics, and adjusted team ratings.

A March 16 update on the site was only slightly less dire. It said the hosting company was now redirecting web traffic from the former Miami data center to a Chicago facility.

“However, our service has still not been restored. It will take us several hours to resync our statistics once this occurs. Please stay tuned for updates.”

I am summarizing here, but the whole statement thread (and embedded links) is a fascinating read.

As of the morning of March 18 the site is still down. Talk about bad timing: This comes just as the women’s NCAA basketball tournament is ramping up.

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On Friday morning, National Statistical, responding by email to a request for comment, said “we are declining all media inquiries on this issue and focusing on restoring service to our customers.” Chicago-based ServerAxis, which is apparently having problems that reach beyond WBBState, did not respond to a request for comment.

The use of statistical data analysis to cull insights in sports is growing—but only as long as the data’s actually available. There’s a cautionary tale here about choosing your hosting or cloud partners carefully, of course, but in the meantime there’s also an issue of data disparity between men’s and women’s sports, something that WNBA and U.S. Olympic basketball star Sue Bird bemoaned in a recent article in The Players’ Tribune and again at the MIT conference.

For a look at fantasy sports, watch:

Compared with men’s professional and collegiate basketball, there is a dearth of good statistical sources for the women’s game, which is one reason the WBBState snafu is so infuriating.



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