A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Turning Passion into Profession

By Mason Spirit contributor on May 3, 2016

If you followed your favorite NFL team on ESPN this past season, there’s a good chance Brian Burke, MS Operations Research ’15, provided the reporters you saw on camera with in-game analysis information. Since joining ESPN in June 2015 as a senior analytics specialist, Burke has worked to ensure reporters receive best-in-class football analytics from his home office in Reston, Virginia.

Burke had an unorthodox start for a career in sports analytics, flying combat missions in the Navy after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Brian Burke. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Brian Burke. Photo by Evan Cantwell

After leaving the Navy in 2005, he was a single dad with two young children at home. In the evenings, once the kids were in bed, he devoted time to his hobby—football analysis. In 2007, his hobby turned into a website, AdvancedFootballAnalytics.com. That’s when Burke started to receive national attention that led to him becoming a regular sports contributor to the New York Times while working as a defense contractor.

His passion for sports led him to Mason’s Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research in the Volgenau School of Engineering and to associate department chair Andrew Loerch. With their similar backgrounds (Loerch is a retired Army colonel who specialized in military operations research and a New York Giants fan), Burke found a mentor and decided to enroll at Mason.

“I decided to make the night job into the day job and go for it full time,” Burke says.

While in the program, Burke took advantage of course electives focused on military topics because of his naval background. He finds there are similarities that can be drawn by studying military tactics as they relate to sports analysis.

“The best thing about sports is that it’s a great training laboratory for analytics and analysis,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at two companies, two teams, or two countries. It’s just numbers at the end of the day.”

Burke now teaches sports analytics as an adjunct professor in Mason’s Data Analytics Engineering graduate program.

When he’s not analyzing football, he spends time flying a Cirrus SR-20 and training for triathlons.

—Kathy Dodd

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