Play On! The Art and Analytics of Sport

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Evening and Weekend
Class Size: 25
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Vauhn Foster-Grahler
mathematics, education, anthropological mathematics
Mark Harrison
theatre, opera, film, performance studies

"Through sport we can see the human condition cut to the bone.”—Sebasatian Coe, Olympic Gold Medalist and former Member of Parliament

Sport embodies an ideal of performance and meaningful action. Since ancient times, we have engaged in spectacles of play, utilizing formal and complex actions governed by rules, rituals, and aesthetics. As audiences, we derive meaning through winning and losing; through the art and analytics of performance. We construct narratives and project values onto players and play.  Through conflict and collaboration, sport reflects our deepest individual and cultural identities and values. 

Students in this program will be challenged to re-imagine the way we think about performance and competition as an interdisciplinary undertaking. In its numerous iterations, sport is a singular form of human play where success and failure are by and large determined by numerical outcomes. Hence, we will develop tools to engage in data-driven assessments of performance. We will also study the aesthetics of performance and art forms (plays, literature, film) that reveal myriad ways to understand and analyze performance. Our study will encompass the psychology of play and playing, constructions of time and space, and the intersections of aesthetics and technique. Like the performing arts, sport involves “players” who compete in formalized performance spaces. We will learn about Title IX and the rise of women’s sports and issues of race in sport dating back to the Olympics in Nazi Germany. We will also consider the ways we mediate performance (through film, television, and other media) to generate excitement, meaning, and profits. 

Fall quarter we will develop a working vocabulary and examine diverse intersections found under the umbrella of play and performance. To some extent, our study will align with seasonal sports. Fall readings might include Giamatti’s Baseball as Narrative, Death of a Salesman,Arthur Miller’s commentary on sport and the American Dream, or Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay about the spectator in “The Carnavalizing of Sport.”

Winter quarter will include project groups where students research, analyze and write about the Super Bowl as a sporting and cultural event. We will also examine the psychology of violence and extreme sports, and the impact of media on spectators and athletic performers. Expect to engage through readings, films and other media, seminars, writing and statistical assignments, and independent and collaborative work. Active learning in the form of workshops, exercises, and field trips to sporting events and performances will be central features of our learning experience.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

education, statistics, media studies, american studies, and performance studies.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$50 each quarter for admission to performances or sporting events.

Class Standing: Freshman–Senior
Class Size: 25

Scheduled for: Evening and Weekend

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - 5:30 pm
SEM 2 D2107 - Seminar

Located in: Olympia