CHAMPAIGN — Kingsley Osei-Asibey looks at more than 280 data points in every single play of a football game and analyzes them to detect tendencies in the opposing team.
The Illini’s director of analytics and football technology creates dashboards with a software program called Tableau and works with coaches to prepare the football team for each week’s opponent.
But on game day, he relies on more rudimentary technology: binders and printed-out cards.
“There’s cards that I hold during the game to try to see if some of the tendencies are holding true, so I work on those, and then put them together in a binder,” Osei-Asibey said.
The NCAA limits the technology that can be used during the game, though Osei-Asibey said the reason for doing so makes sense.
“If we’re able to upgrade our stadium with technology when we play the smaller schools, we’re going to have a huge competitive advantage,” he said. “I’m pretty sure some time in the future they’re going to find a way where we could utilize technology in the coach’s box.”
Osei-Asibey spoke about his role as during the University of Illinois Research Park’s annual Big Data Summit last week at the I Hotel.
His journey there was perhaps an unlikely one.
He attended Gage Park High School on the south side of Chicago, focusing on athletics more than computers.
It wasn’t until college at Purdue that he started studying computers after the Y2K scare.
“I was like, yeah, computers are fascinating,” Osei-Asibey said, prompting him to switch majors. “It was a real challenge because I didn’t know anything about computers. I remember sitting in a computer lab, for a Java programming class. I’m sitting there for the whole three hours, and I get done with the three hours, and I still didn’t know what I was doing. It took a few semesters before I started adapting to it.”
After college, he worked as an IT manager, then with the Chicago Bears, where he worked for Lovie Smith.
Osei-Asibey ended up following Smith in 2014 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and later to the Illini.
When he started, Osei-Asibey said data analytics in football was just becoming popular, starting in the NFL.
“Right now in the NFL, every team’s adopted some form of analytics, whether it’s one person or an entire department,” he said. “In college, it’s starting to get there.”
The information he collects and analyzes could be the difference between the quarterback getting sacked or not, he said.
“They’ll make changes if I tell them, if you’re in this formation and you’re in this situation, you’re going to get a blitz over here,” Osei-Asibey said.
There’s a limit to the analytics, he said.
“There’s no tendency that’s 100 percent because the team could change on the fly,” he said. “I try to see if the patterns hold. Good teams will make changes on the fly.”
But he considers it a success “when a coach comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, you gave me something this week that I would have never picked up.’”
“Sometimes there’s small things that the data is telling you, and they can overlook it,” Osei-Asibey said. “Whether we win or lose, I know that I did my part to help them prepare for the game.”