Forget about instant replay or enhancing the in-stadium WiFi experience for ticket-buying fans.
With respect to college football, the NCAA shouldn’t be in a hurry to enter the 21st century in one regard: The use of in-game video technology along the sidelines.
If this advancement is truly destined to become “one of the greatest game changes in college football history” — the upbeat words of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema from Tuesday’s SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla. — then why not give the participating schools more time to process the enormity of what’s coming?
And why not devote a year of intense evaluation and introspection to this innovation, as a means of working out the bugs and sidestepping potential landmines?
Yes, the NFL and even high school football levels have experimented with electronic technology along the sidelines (and during halftime). But that’s no reason for NCAA officials to blindly rush into the mix, at least not until certain questions can be addressed:
- What percentage of the FBS-level stadiums possess the electronic capabilities to be hard-wired for in-game video?
- Would the NCAA have a uniform provider for all electronic technology? Or would the individual conferences be allowed to solicit (lucrative) bids from various companies? (It’s worth noting: The NFL’s $400 million deal with the Microsoft “Surface” tablets has had its share of ups and downs.)
- Does each Group of Five program (American Athletic, Mid-American, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West) have enough staff workers assisting in video production? (We’re assuming the Power 5 schools, along with independents Notre Dame, BYU and Army, have this realm sufficiently covered.)
- Would the respective conferences be tasked with establishing their own rules and protocols for overseeing the in-game video process?
Put it all together, and there’s a lot of vital minutiae which needs to be hammered out before the launch of the 2017 college season. In other words, thank goodness the NCAA isn’t shoehorning these decisions into the next three months.
There would also be three competitive-fairness issues to solidify (if not more):
1. Both teams competing in a single stadium would presumably have the same access to the video technology during the game — including halftime adjustments. It’s the same measure reserved for press-box communications among coaches (upstairs/along the sidelines).
For example, if Wofford travels to South Carolina for an in-state, non-conference clash, both programs would be granted the same hard-wired access at Williams-Brice Stadium.
And when SEC teams forge rare road trips to Group of Five schools — like Vanderbilt’s 2017 voyage to nearby Middle Tennessee — then the Commodores would be at the technological mercy of Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium.
For better or worse.
2. The Power 5 conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC) must be on the same page here, in terms of co-opting/enforcing uniform video rules for league games, non-conference clashes, neutral-site outings (similar to this year’s Alabama vs. Southern California or LSU vs. Wisconsin) and College Football Playoff events.
3. The positional coaches should be mandated to attend an in-game-technology orientation. On the surface, this seems like a pointless requirement for coaches who already spend countless hours watching digital practice and game film.
As a counter to that, do you remember Charles Barkley‘s woeful (or “turrible”) performance with the ‘touch-screen’ technology throughout CBS/Turner Sports’ recent NCAA Tournament Selection Show (men’s hoops)?
It was a funny, but scary reminder that not all 50-and-over sports worker bees are experts with modern electronics.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.