Game Changers

Gadgets and gizmos that could change how the games are played on and off the field – technically speaking

Technological advances change our lives on a regular basis.

A decade ago, who would have thought you could watch your favorite television show while hailing and paying for a cab ride home, all from your cellphone?

This system can track all the players and the ball with a wireless technology similar to Bluetooth. Sensors worn by players and placed in the ball are tracked by eight to 12 beacons placed in the ceiling and walls of the arena.

The technological advances have had an impact on the world of sports, too. Today’s high school seniors have never known a time when you weren’t sure if a ball carrier made a first down during a televised football game – those dark days when there was no yellow line indicating the spot needed to move the chains. The technology was unveiled during an NFL broadcast Sept. 27, 1998; now football fans can’t imagine a life in which the first-and-10 line isn’t clearly marked on the screen. Innovation has a way of making you wonder how you survived without a certain gadget or device.

Some conferences are using a wireless communication system to help ease communication between football officials in the 2015 season. All the officials are equipped with a transmitter, earpiece and microphone.

Viewers now watch their favorite sports with broadcast tools that show the bat exit speed and launch angles of home runs, or K-Zones that show the position of the ball on each pitch. They can track how a PGA Tour golfer shapes a tee shot, spot if a shot is in or out in a tennis match and track cars in their favorite auto race.

College sports use similar technologies to find improvements and efficiencies on their fields and courts. But as much as technology can revolutionize, it can complicate, as well. While advanced information can enhance a broadcast, it also can lead to questions about whether unfair advantages may be gained. While tracking and measuring enhancements can improve coaching and aid athlete well-being efforts, it can come at a price that for some is just the cost of doing business in a high-tech world, but for others is a luxury beyond their reach.

This technology measures heart-rate data of players and can help coaches make more informed decisions regarding practice and training routines.

It leaves the NCAA’s playing rules committees in each sport to debate whether the next innovative invention should be allowed within the playing rules. While advances are all made with the goal of enhancing a particular sport, the playing rules committees must weigh the options and determine if the use of technology leads to any unintended consequences.

These considerations raise a consistent question: What advances should be allowed in intercollegiate sports?

This device measures how high an athlete jumps in real time. It is also a good way to measure how many times a volleyball player jumps in practice.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, the group of conference and campus administrators with representatives from all three divisions that approves all proposals made by the sports rules committees, has discussed whether a uniform policy addressing the use of technology should be created. But the nuances of each sport have prevented that type of umbrella approach.

“It’s good that there are different cultures across sports,” said Jon Steinbrecher, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel chair and commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “There are different technological applications that are used in different sports. For instance, we have replay in football, but we don’t have replay available in every sport.”

While technological advances can be exciting to fans because of the world they open, the rules committees must take a sober look at their sports when discussing which innovations to embrace. Does it enhance safety of the athletes? If it is approved, will it create a competitive disadvantage? And would a rule addressing a particular technology even be enforceable?

This system is used in football, ice hockey, soccer and rugby to measure an athlete’s workload during practices and games. The data can be used to help coaches plan practices and workouts so their athletes can reach peak performance.

So while new technologies can charge up coaches and fans who see obvious benefits, those charged with preserving fair competition must slow down and question how far the shock waves of each change could reach. And as new wonders emerge each year – as microchips increase their abilities and wireless technology opens new doors – the discussions become more complex.

“Who knows? In the future, everything could come to the point where electronic devices are allowed on benches in all the sports,” said Dan Calandro, the director of the NCAA playing rules staff in the national office. “We may look back and see we were too cautious about technology. Time will only tell us the answer to that. Our sports rules committees are considering: How much do you want to allow on the bench? Is it going to delay the game because they are looking at more information?”

This has become a trendy technology throughout society. Some college programs are using them to film practice footage, but users should be aware of federal and state laws regarding their use.

One of the difficult parts about technological rules proposals is no one can be sure about what is coming in the future. How far are we, Steinbrecher wonders, from the day when a microchip implanted in a football indicates when a first down is reached, rendering the traditional chain-gang measurements obsolete? Could the same chip indicate when the ball crosses the goal line, wiping out controversial calls, debates among fans and the replays that fuel them?

One thing is for sure when it comes to technology in intercollegiate sports: It will always be a hot topic.

“It is an ongoing and dynamic discussion,” Steinbrecher added. “It will probably be a neverending discussion, and that is fine. We live in a fascinating time in so many ways. As more and more of this wonderful technology continues to evolve, people will find ways to have an application for it in the sports world.”