Jacob Tschume was stressed.
The Mississippi State University mathematics professor was in his first year on the stat crew for MSU’s women’s basketball team when a horrific tragedy occurred.
The internet was gone.
During a game pitting the fifth-ranked Bulldogs against No. 9 Oregon at Humphrey Coliseum, Tschume and his fellow statisticians were thrown for a loop when Mississippi State’s internet crashed.
“No one had internet, so pretty much the only people who knew what the stats were … were me,” Tschume said.
Instead of inputting stats into the StatBroadcast platform for media and the NCAA software that displayed them inside the arena, Tschume was forced to resort to primitive methods. He printed out statistics from the contest and did his best to distribute them, despite increasing agitation from the TV production truck.
“ESPN was calling, yelling, but nothing we could really do,” Tschume said.
The technological downgrade meant Tschume’s stats had to be accurate. Evidently, they were.
“It turned out fine,” he said.
Now in his 10th year working with the Mississippi State athletics department, Tschume has had plenty of moments like that. He has worked on the men’s basketball crew ever since being hired as a professor in 2012.
And he’s learned plenty of lessons along the way.
“I’ve had to learn over the first couple years doing it that I can’t be a fan,” Tschume said. “I have to actually pay attention to what’s going on — all the minor details where someone hits a big shot and you want to cheer, but you have to see what’s happening 10 seconds later to make sure that you don’t miss anything.”
Only when the MSU baseball team won the 2021 College World Series could Tschume enjoy the moment, as he doesn’t work with the program — not yet, anyway. This year, Tschume picked up two new responsibilities, assisting with stats for the football and volleyball teams.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he said.”
Like in basketball, volleyball points happen fast, which can make things tough. Tschume helps call defensive stats for football, peering through binoculars from the press box to see which players are involved in defensive plays. Often, it’s hard to tell.
“Some games are faster, like for example the Egg Bowl when Ole Miss wants to run up tempo,” Tschume said. “It’s a little bit more challenging because if we miss something, TV doesn’t always show a replay, so we have to kind of make sure we’re on our p’s and q’s to not miss a tackle or something.”
A new purpose
At MSU, Tschume teaches mostly Introduction to Linear Algebra along with Calculus 1, 2 and 3.
And he’s used his mathematical knowledge for a different purpose altogether.
Tschume found he had to have something else to do when Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide shelter-in-place order April 3, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we couldn’t leave our houses for three weeks, I needed something to not go stir crazy.”
He found data on COVID-19 cases and deaths from the Mississippi State Department of Health website and hospitalization numbers from the OCH Regional Medical Center site. Using Microsoft Excel, Tschume created models to post to Twitter.
He also made others using the Wolfram Mathematica program, but he keeps those to himself.
“If I posted those, nobody in the general population would know what I was doing,” Tschume said.
At first, he gave daily updates with five-day averages of cases and deaths, often receiving comments from just about anyone. Some thanked him for the updates; some used his work to try to prove their point.
“Early on, I got — I’ll call them crazies — from both sides of the spectrum: the ones who don’t want to see it because they don’t want to believe it’s real, or the ones who are trying to use my data to show that we’re all going to die soon,” Tschume said.
Currently, Tschume posts models of virus case rates, OCH hospitalization numbers, deaths and more in Mississippi every Friday, trying to publicize charts the health department doesn’t update often.
Many times, Tschume has to work with data that are incomplete or missing altogether if an MSDH update is delayed. He’s run into other problems, too: He realized quickly that many of the deaths MSDH reported were backdated by weeks or months.
“Some of the more rural hospitals don’t report deaths as quick, or it gets lost in the shuffle or whatever,” Tschume said. “I wish there was some more clarity on that.”
Tschume said modeling COVID-19 data has hammered home the seasonality of the virus. In both 2020 and 2021, the pandemic reached a peak in summer and again in winter.
The latest peak, driven by the Omicron variant, blew previous numbers out of the water. But the death rate remained fairly steady, a sign the latest variant is less severe than the Delta variant that raged this past summer.
“The cases exploded this past month or so; the deaths didn’t really go at the same rate,” Tschume said.
He said learning how to live with the virus is the ultimate goal. Exactly how?
Tschume might be great with numbers, but that’s beyond his scope: He’s no immunologist, after all.
“Obviously, everybody wants to get back to normal, and we’re starting to see that more and more every day,” he said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.