“The Worst Abuse of Microsoft Excel Ever”

A NYTimes article on analyzing video of basketball games contains the delicious quote, ” ‘It’s probably the worst abuse of Microsoft Excel ever,’ said Kevin Pauga….” Pauga is apparently referring to the use of Excel rather than a database to track all the stats associated with every play of every possible opponent in college basketball’s “Final Four” national championship tournament.

I think he’s wrong. Excel is well suited to doing exactly this kind of rapid data entry, data mining, and analysis, especially with its powerful pivot tables. Technologically, there are more sophisticated ways to set it all up at little additional cost, and I sure hope they’re backing up to a server every few hours.

But look at their apparent criteria:

  • Ease/speed of data entry
  • Analysis along hundreds of axes — who takes what kinds of shots, does a particular player shoot better when he moves to his right versus his left, and a gazillion more that I don’t know how to think about because I’m a baseball junkie and actually used to have nightmares about basketball.
  • Vast quantities of limited-scope data that while theoretically relational can be captured effectively in a single table
  • Stability
  • Ease of developing add-ons such as a basketball-focused interface

To me, that sounds like a good match for Excel. Not a great theoretical match, but a very practical one nonetheless.

So in my capacity as an Excel maven with 38 years of using spreadsheets for all sorts of things the designers never envisioned, I hereby absolve you, Kevin Pauga, of Excel abuse. Indeed, I think this is a pretty cool use of Excel. Hey, MS-Office team, if you’re listening….

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