CBS Sports Dives Deeper Into Analytics in Year 2 of ‘Beyond the Box Score’ College-Hoops Broadcasts

By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor, SVG

CBS Sports this week is launching its second year of Beyond the Box Score broadcasts on CBS Sports Network, with analytics-focused presentations of Richmond at George Mason on Feb. 9 and Loyola Marymount at BYU on Feb. 24. Featuring in-game segments, graphics, and analysis, the broadcasts will highlight how programs are using advanced statistics to gain an edge.

“We’ll be using new and cutting-edge technology to tell the story of how teams are winning games in the modern era,” says Kimani Morales, who is co-producing the games alongside James Peretzman. “We believe that, by showing how these teams prepare, practice, scout, and play, we are bringing fans of those teams and viewers at large closer to the heart of college basketball.

Analytics-Centric Production Philosophy in the Truck, at the Announcers Booth

Production elements will include a constantly updating points-per-possession tracker as well as segments on shot quality, scouting reports, player ratings, and lineup optimization. Through stats and specially crafted graphics packages, CBS Sports will offer the viewer insight into team and player performance beyond conventional stats.

“The production strategy is a delicate balance in a show like this,” says Morales. “We are loaded up with extra graphics, technology, and information, but the game is still the driving force. We’re trying to be informative but keep it within the context of what’s happening on the court.”

Basketball analytics pioneer/guru and Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Hollinger (former Memphis Grizzlies VP, basketball operations) will team up with play-by-play announcer John Sadak and analyst Chris Walker to call the action.

“We have an all-star group of announcers who will be able to connect the statistical information on the screen with what is happening on the court,” says Morales. “We’re very excited to be working with John Hollinger, who has been on the forefront of basketball analytics and invented PER [player efficiency rating]. John Sadak and Chris Walker are back with us after doing our first ‘Beyond the Box Score’ game last year, and both have a unique ability to weave stories and analytics into the telecast while keeping it fun and entertaining.”

All four teams have provided CBS Sports with access to coaching staffs for a look at how their programs value advanced stats and use them in various ways. Loyola Marymount–BYU was the inaugural matchup for the analytics-driven presentation last year; Richmond–GMU will be making their Beyond the Box Score debut.

“We call our approach an ‘inside-out’ approach,” says Morales. “We start by interviewing the head coaches, their assistants, and some players. Based on what they tell us they value, we build our statistical game plan. Doing this, we are bringing the fans of these teams inside practices, inside film sessions, and inside how their favorite teams create scouting reports. We also want to help bring additional, modern statistics into the telecast. By explaining and incorporating these stats into more telecasts, the hope is that it will become more commonplace.”

Graphics Philosophy: Pre-Built Advanced Stats, Enhanced Live Elements

The philosophy on graphics for Beyond the Box Score productions is two-fold, according to Morales. In addition to using a sizable number of pre-built graphics based on numerous coach interviews and intense statistical research, the production team plans to deploy live enhanced graphics and technology provided by SMT during the telecast.

CBS Sports relied on Synergy Sports as a key source for player and team analytics and has also partnered with ShotQuality, an emerging source of analytics in the basketball community.

“ShotQuality’s main function,” says Morales, “is to grade each shot taken across college basketball and give it an expected value based on numerous variables, including the relative skill of the player shooting. By doing this, they essentially take the luck variable out and give an expected score of the game based purely on the quality of shot taken.”

SMT is providing an enhanced stats package for CBS Sports’ regular insert-graphics look on both the Chyron insert graphics and the scorebug. For example, instead of field-goal percentage, the production team can show a player’s effective field-goal percentage.

“We are also using [SMT] to show virtual shot charts during the game,” adds Morales. “We will use the above-the-backboard camera to show a shot chart virtually overlaid onto the court to demonstrate how a team or player is doing using the physical zone on the court.”

Morales and company will also have a HEGO virtual graphics/analysis system in the truck to help visually illustrate concepts and stats to the audience.

“For example,” he says, “Richmond is a very good cutting team, so we can use the HEGO to annotate Richmond cuts to the basket so the audience can see how the play developed.”

Mainstream Aspirations: Bringing ‘Beyond the Box Score’ to the Masses

Before the launch of Beyond the Box Score last year, Morales and Peretzman — both veteran CBS Sports college-basketball producers — had begun to see that coaches, players, and programs were using much more than traditional stats to evaluate teams, run practices and films sessions, and evaluate transfers. The pair envisioned a telecast that showed how programs use stats to gain an edge and ultimately win basketball games.

Peretzman pitched the idea of presenting the game in a way that both connects with the hardcore fan and offers more in-depth statistical data than the traditional telecasts. They would like these Beyond the Box Score broadcasts to lead into a more analytics-aware approach to hoops coverage.

“The hope is that the appetite for analytics grows and that elements of what we do in these games will start trickling into more-traditional productions as well,” says Morales. “The technology aspect is yet another way we distinguish ourselves: these Beyond the Box Score games offer a testing ground for new and emerging technologies.”

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